The dos and don’ts of of a coffee date
Ah, the coffee date, where at least you know that if all else fails in the 30-minute meeting you’ve requested (or accepted), it will end with a good cup of corner-café (and a pastry, if you’re feeling frisky).
But, why leave the success of something so potentially impactful up to chance when you can prep like a champ, no matter what the reason is for meeting? Whether it’s with potential employers, partners, clients, or other networking contacts, these tips will help a whole latte with any agenda. (I couldn’t resist the pun.)
Leading Up to the Meeting
Take Madeline Johnson’s advice since coffee dates come second nature to her as he CEO of the marketing & public relations agency The Market Council. She stresses research, research, research.
“Google them. Read their LinkedIn profile. Check out their Facebook,” Johnson says. “This helps you learn more about their specialties, interests, connections, and background so that you can tailor your objectives and questions for the meeting, which is the only way you’ll be able to measure whether or not you’re getting all of what you need from the appointment.”
This not only helps you understand why this time will be most valuable, but it will also help you realize how you may help them. After all, most meetings are an investment of time from both parties, so you always want to make it worth their while as well. Use what you’ve gathered to formulate a minimum ask (or the result you’re hoping for) by the end of the meeting. This could be as small as a commitment for another meeting or as big as a closed deal.
This next recommendation may sound obvious, but is too often forgotten, says Michael Geneseo of Broadreach Public Relations.
“Turn your phone off–this should be basic, but really, turn your tones, vibrations, and reminders off. Block out some time, make sure it’s dedicated to coffee, and then focus on the person you’re with, regardless of how casual the meeting is,” he says.
“There is nothing that turns people off more than being shown that they’re not top priority, even when they already know it. And even when it’s low-value to you, you never know what opportunity can come from the conversation.”
Also, you’ll want to get there five minutes early, especially if you’re the one calling the meeting. Why you ask? Well, with your luck the line for coffee orders will be a mile long or there won’t be any tables left, which means extra time cutting into your already short meeting. You want to spend as much time talking to that person as possible–to get as much information from them as you can–not wasting it by begging people for their extra chairs.
As for the dress code, dress comfortable and professional. Since the location is usually lax, but you’ll be discussing something dealing with business, it’s safest to go with business casual in most situations.
Leaving a Lasting Impression
This tip is one of my favorites. It, too, comes from Johnson.
“Bring a small token, a small gift. Nothing big, but something memorable,” she says. “I always bring small samples of products (fragrance, lotion, new snack, etc… that represent my PR clients).”
This includes bringing your business cards–even if you’re currently fun-employed (I prefer this term over “unemployed,” by the way). You can always create a simple calling card with your contact information if you’re fresh out of college without a formal business card or currently between jobs. Either way, provide something that you can leave behind that represents who you are, what you’re looking for, and how he or she can contact you after you’ve parted ways.
Another way to stand out in the mind of your contact, says Kimberly Ramsawak of the travel, tourism, and hospitality career resource Tourism Exposed, is to avoid all questions that can be found through a basic online search.
“Be sure to ask questions that delve into the person’s background and their thought processes behind it, such as ‘I noticed that your company has a sustainability initiative; can you tell me about a project you were involved in?’
Even though she bases the question on information she learned online, she follows it up with a specific inquiry only a one-on-one Q&A could resolve.
You’re wrapping up the meeting, now what?
Geneseo reminds us to fill in any short-hand notes you took during the meeting, especially when it comes to action items:
“We all have busy lives and it’s common to say we’ll do something and completely lose track of it en route back to the office or to the next meeting. Make an action list while you’re talking and make sure to follow through, even if it’s just emailed introductions.”
If there is another appointment needed, make sure to schedule that before you leave so that you’ve both circled an agreed upon date in your calendars–or else, who knows when you’ll find the time to coordinate again? Emails are easily shuffled around and buried.
Finally, Geneseo says that a formal check-in afterward is a must.
“Always follow-up. Within 24 hours after you’ve met with the industry professional, send a follow-up note thanking them for their time. And, remember, don’t promise anything in the meeting if you’re not 100% positive you can come through. Be helpful, but don’t offer anything you can’t follow up on.”
The main takeaway here is that your time is precious, so protect it and respect it. To do this, you must be picky with meeting requests. If you sincerely don’t think the person would be a fruitful connection, then don’t waste your time, nor his or her time. Rather than simply declining, you can always refer them to a better fit within your network or ask that person to introduce you to someone they would recommend. Either way, you can’t lose.