How do you set up a networking meeting? Where should you meet? What should you talk about? How should you end it?
A one-to-one networking meeting can be a great way to deepen the relationship with a new connection. When it comes to setting up a networking meeting, it is important to think it through in advance.
Keep reading for tips on how to prepare for a networking meeting to make the most of it.
Ideas for the First Networking Meeting
The first step in arranging any networking meeting is deciding what form you want it to take. For a first meeting, it’s a good idea to keep things fairly casual: You don’t want to intimidate your new contact with strict formality. To that end, here are four informal meeting scenarios you could try:
#1: Go for a coffee. The relaxed atmosphere of most coffee shops makes them the perfect setting for a casual meetup.
#2: Go for a meal. This could be breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner—whatever your schedule allows. Ferrazzi argues that food is an excellent icebreaker: Even if you and your contact can’t find anything else to talk about, you can discuss your meals’ quality.
#3: Engage in a shared interest. For example, if you both love baseball, go to a game together. If you’re both fans of a certain band, attend one of their concerts. This type of meeting is beneficial for two reasons:
- Your contact will feel comfortable and relaxed when doing something they enjoy. This means they’re more likely to enjoy spending time with you, making them more inclined to schedule a second meeting.
- When your contact discovers that the two of you have a shared interest, they’ll automatically feel that you have a “connection,” making your friendship easier to cultivate.
#4: Invite the person to a dinner party you’re hosting. Making your new contact feel welcome in your home—and providing delicious food in the process—is an easy way to earn their esteem. Here are a few tips for making a dinner party a success:
- Invite six to 10 people to the party, including a so-called “anchor tenant”—an interesting or prominent person whose presence will encourage other guests to attend. Examples of anchor tenants include CEOs, politicians, and celebrities.
- Send invites to the party well in advance to increase the likelihood that people are free to attend.
- Prepare the food in advance—or hire a caterer. If you spend all of the party in the kitchen, you won’t have the chance to speak to your guests.
- Consider theming your party around a cuisine, a holiday, or a style of dress (for example, black tie). This will add novelty to the event and serve as a conversation starter.
Arranging a Networking Meeting by Phone
Once you’ve decided what format your meeting will take, reach out to your potential contact to arrange it. Here are four steps to follow if you choose to reach out to someone by phone:
Step 1: If possible, make the contact aware of your existence before you call. For example, if you and your desired contact have a mutual friend, ask that friend to mention to the contact that you’re going to try to call them. Even more importantly, request that they say something nice about you. Your mutual friend’s backing will give you more credibility in your potential contact’s eyes, thus making them more receptive to your call.
Step 2: State what you can offer the person as quickly as possible. Unless you grab their attention quickly, they’ll make an excuse to end the call because most professionals don’t have time for long phone conversations.
Step 3: Give the other person time to respond. Once you’ve stated what you have to offer, don’t continue to “talk at” the contact—for example, ramble on about how much you respect them and want to connect with them. Instead, pause and let the other person speak. If you don’t, your potential contact will feel like you don’t actually care what they have to say. Their opinion of you will worsen.
Step 4: At the end of the call, offer a specific invitation to meet. Don’t just say “let’s get together sometime.” Instead, suggest a time, a date, a place, and a type of meeting. For example, say “How about we meet for lunch next Tuesday at 12, at the bistro around the corner from your office?” Be willing to compromise if your potential contact doesn’t sound enthusiastic. For example, if they say they’re too busy for lunch, suggest a short coffee date instead. The person will think well of you for taking their needs into account.
Getting Past Gatekeepers
When trying to contact someone by phone, one challenge is getting past gatekeepers. Gatekeepers are the people who control access to a person’s phone line—for example, their personal secretary or their company’s receptionist.
A gatekeeper’s responsibility is to decide which callers are worth a contact’s time, and which aren’t. If you don’t make a good impression, you’ll never get past them. To endear yourself to gatekeepers:
- Never be rude or argumentative to a gatekeeper, even if they’re rude to you. Instead, be unfailingly friendly and polite, even if they don’t transfer you to the contact on your first attempt. The gatekeeper will remember you positively the next time you call, thus increasing the likelihood that you’ll reach your contact eventually.
- If you sense that a gatekeeper is getting irritated with your persistent attempts to contact someone, be remorseful. Then, explain honestly why you want to reach the contact. The gatekeeper will respect your candor and may soften their attitude towards you.
- Once you’ve finally gotten through to your contact and arranged a meeting with them, send the gatekeeper a thank you note and gift. Expressing your appreciation will please the gatekeeper, making it more likely you’ll get through the next time you call.
Arranging a Meeting by Email
Another way to arrange your first networking meeting with a potential contact is by email. Email may be a more appropriate way to reach someone if you can’t find a phone number for them, or if you’re really struggling to get past a gatekeeper.
When sending an email, the rules of making contact by phone still apply. For instance, you should still state what you have to offer at the start of the message, and offer a specific invitation to meet at its end. In addition:
- Make your email’s subject line intriguing. State outright what you can offer the potential contact: for example, “Offer of Python programming expertise.” If your subject line is dull or vague, your potential contact won’t bother to open your email.
- Send your email at an appropriate time of day. People most frequently open their email box first thing in the morning, at lunchtime, and at the end of the working day. If you send your email at one of these times, it’s more likely to catch the recipient’s attention.
- Make the email short. It should be brief enough to fit on a single screen. People will quickly lose interest if you send them a huge block of text. They won’t even finish reading the message, let alone accept your offer to meet.
- Read your email out loud before you send it. This will help you identify any grammatical errors and ensure that your email strikes a conversational tone.
- Check your spelling multiple times before you press send. Emails with mistakes appear sloppy and will leave your potential contacts unimpressed.
What to Do During the Meeting
Now that we’ve explored how to arrange a meeting with a potential contact, it’s time to plan the meeting itself.
What to Talk About
There are four things that you should aim to talk about during networking meetings:
#1: Shared interests. As we’ve already noted, bonding with someone is easier if you have a shared interest. It gives you a natural topic to talk about and strengthens your connection.
#2: Interesting facts. These could be interesting facts about yourself (for example, unique experiences that you’ve had or unusual places that you’ve visited) or about the world (for instance, niche facts about a popular baseball team). Presenting intriguing information will help to keep your new contact engaged in your conversation.
#3: What motivates your contact. For example, are their professional choices driven by a desire for more money? Do they want to make a positive difference to society? Finding out what motivates a person will help you to further establish what you should offer them. For example, if you find that they’re motivated by a desire for wealth, you can earn their approval by pointing them in the direction of high-paying job vacancies.
#4: What you have to offer. You hopefully already indicated what you can offer your contact while you were arranging your meeting. Don’t be afraid to reiterate this point when you actually meet the person, to remind them why getting to know you is a good idea.
A Note on Small Talk
In general, avoid making small talk—conversation about trivial or generic things—with new contacts for two reasons. First, small talk is often dull, and your contact won’t want to meet you again if you bore them. Second, making small talk doesn’t create as deep a connection as tailoring a conversation to suit your contact’s interests.
However, making small talk is occasionally a necessary part of networking—for example, if your research about a person’s interests wasn’t very fruitful, so you aren’t sure what to talk to them about. Here are some tips on how to make your small talk as engaging as possible:
- Ignore conventional wisdom about the topics to avoid bringing up—for example, politics and religion. These are often the most interesting subjects to discuss with someone new; omit them, and your conversation will almost certainly be dull. It’s better for your new contact to disagree with you but be engaged in what you’re saying than agree with you but be bored.
- Reveal vulnerable information to your new contact—for example, Ferrazzi once told a new contact about his recent breakup. Your contact will take your unexpected candor as a sign that you want to form a deep connection with them—after all, why would you tell them something so sensitive if you didn’t?
- Keep up with current events—for example, political developments or sports results. This ensures that you always have timely information to include in your small talk.
- Look for things you have in common—for example, if your contact mentions liking a sport you enjoy, steer the conversation towards this topic. This converts the conversation from small talk to a deeper discussion about a shared interest.
Making the Contact Feel Comfortable
Making your contact feel comfortable in your presence is a crucial element of networking. As we’ve already discussed, comfortable people are more likely to open up to you—thus deepening your connection. They’re also more likely to enjoy your meeting, making them more inclined to agree to further contact.
We’ve already noted that engaging in a shared interest is one way to keep your contact feeling relaxed. However, here are a few other ways to ensure that they remain comfortable:
- Project comfortable body language. For example, keep your arms open rather than crossed, lean towards your contact rather than away from them, and avoid nervous actions such as fiddling. If you make it clear that you’re comfortable, your new contact is more likely to feel comfortable in return.
- Mimic your contact’s conversational style. For example, if they speak quietly and calmly, don’t respond by being loud and gregarious—you’ll overwhelm them. Instead, adapt to their mode of speech.
- Show the contact that you’re listening to them. For example, repeat points that they make, laugh at their jokes, and don’t interrupt them mid-conversation. When people feel listened to, they gain confidence and their comfort levels rise.
Ending the Meeting
Here are two tips on how to end a meeting in a polite and friendly way:
- Don’t leave abruptly or without explanation. Not only is this rude, but your contact may take it as a sign that they’ve upset you somehow, making them hesitant to contact you in the future. Instead, clearly state why you need to end the meeting—for example, because you’ve got to return to work—and try to give your contact a few minutes’ warning before you depart.
- As you leave, clearly state how much you’ve enjoyed your time with your new contact, and express a wish to meet again. Leave no doubt in the contact’s mind that you consider the meeting a success and want to continue your relationship. Hopefully, they’ll feel the same way.
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- How to build and maintain a successful professional network
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