You know networking is key to career success, but when you hear the words “we should grab coffee” your sweat glands go into overdrive. Not even a truckload of deodorant could save you from your body’s betrayal. When you do make an effort to connect, you crash and burn in a mortifying display, desperately wishing you could evaporate like the steam from your coffee.
After a while, you just stop trying. Why bother? You’re better off hanging back, leaving the caffeine-fueled socializing to others, right?
Wrong. You can’t afford to skip the coffee (or the tea) and hide behind your email signature any longer. Career advancement is all about relationships, so you’re at a significant disadvantage by not participating in the ever-crucial coffee meet ups. Even so, you’re still intimidated, scared, and not sure you can sweat your way through one more networking disaster.
Fear not, I’ve got just what you need. Incorporate these 10 killer strategies and you’ll be chatting and sipping your way to #bossbabe status in no time.
#1: Intentionality Paves The Way
When scheduling, be clear with the other person about what you want to accomplish when you meet. This is huge for combating anxiety. If you know what you’re going to chat about, you can prepare yourself ahead of time.
Since coffee meetings are shorter and more casual by nature, having set goals allows you to actually cover the topics you need to discuss (just make sure your goals are realistic). You don’t need a massive itemized agenda, but communicating expectations beforehand can eliminate awkward pauses and wasted time.
Having predetermined start and end times is key too. This helps keep everyone on track and it can help keep your anxiety down. Instead of feeling pressure to ramble on to fill time, you can pour your energy into being engaged and productive. You’ll cover what you need to in the allotted time, no endless meetings in sight.
#2: Know Your Motivation (aka “Lessons From An Actor)
Walking into any meeting without understanding your ultimate motivation is a one-way ticket to career hell. Don’t do it. If you don’t know your objective, how will you ever accomplish it?
Do you want to be considered for an upcoming promotion? Maybe you want to nab a spot working on that new project. Whatever it is, articulating it exactly helps you form a plan of action for achieving your goal before you even walk in the door.
Actors are masters at this concept, and learning to think like them can be the key to networking nirvana. Let me explain.
Before a scene, an actor reviews her lines and thinks, “What does my character want?” Chatting with her mom in the kitchen may be what’s physically happening, but behind that banter she may really want to borrow money. Or perhaps she’s casually delivering mail to her boss, but she’s really after an invite to an exclusive event. In both situations, the physical action isn’t really the goal of the character, but her internal desire influences her every word and action.
Did you catch that?
Your internal desire influences how you talk, behave, and your body language. If you know what that desire is, you can become insanely effective in actually getting what you want. Not in a manipulative, sneaky way, but in a highly precise way.
For example, if you want to speak at an upcoming event, don’t lean back in your chair or mumble. Sit up straight, be alert and speak articulately with energy and a positive attitude. Each of these actions are conscious decisions on your part that influence your listener on an subconscious level, and that is astronomically more powerful than simply stating what you want.
Instead of just thinking about what you want, now everything from your posture, movements, tone and attitude, becomes a tool for achieving your goals.
This one should be obvious, but don’t be late. Even better, show up early.
So many people fail at this, and it can have disastrous results. Timeliness not only shows that you respect the other person’s schedule, but that you’re prepared and place a high value on this meeting. By demonstrating this with your actions, you’ve gone one step closer to being seen as someone worthy of trust and responsibility.
#4: “The Ellen Entrance”
We’ve all seen clips of guests appearing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. If you haven’t, watch now before reading on (you only have to watch the guest’s entrance).
The scene is always the same. Music is pumping, the crowd cheers, out comes the guest, and everyone from Ellen to the sound guy seems to be having the time of their lives.
However, look closer – something crucial is happening here. Before we lay eyes on the guest, Ellen has paved their way. She’s excited to see them, and that excitement is contagious. The viewers wait in happy anticipation, and the guest feels welcomed and appreciated. As they enter, Ellen rises for a hug, and then everyone relaxes for what is sure to be a fun chat. It’s one of the most popular talk shows to guest on, and one look shows you why – everyone belongs.
Harness that magic. When you enter the coffee shop, enter like you are Ellen’s latest guest. Own the attitude that everyone, from the guy making your coffee to the person you’re there to meet, is excited to see you. Not only that, but you’re pumped to be there too. This attitude affects your body language, facial expressions, vocal tone and your confidence.
People around you don’t even have to feel that way about you for this to work! By owning this confidence and by treating others like they belong too, you’ll go a long way towards making some coffee-meeting magic.
#5: Location Location Location
If you get distracted or flustered easily during conversations, try to avoid high traffic areas, such as by the front door, ordering counter, or by a particularly loud group. Avoiding areas with harsh sunlight can help with your concentration too – it’s hard to focus when the sun is trying to blind you.
If you are especially anxious, making sure you’ve had sufficient sleep the night before, using the restroom beforehand and making sure you’re hydrated will help fend off physical manifestations of stress. When your body is at its best, you perform better.
These may seem like trivial things, but when you’re already fighting anxiety, they can go a long way towards helping you focus on what matters – your conversation. While you won’t be able to control every little thing, do what you can and let the rest go. You’ll do just fine.
#6: Hostess Strategy
One of the best ways to loosen up and relax in conversation is to think of the coffee meeting as a little party and yourself as the host. Obviously you have something you want to get out of the meeting, but instead of thinking it’s all about you, focus on how you can put the other person at ease and make them feel valued.
Putting your focus on the other person’s needs is a practical way to stop obsessing over your anxiety by giving yourself a “job.” Take a genuine interest in how their day is going. If you’re aware of a hobby they have (perhaps they’re into fitness), ask how it’s going.
Even little comments like “Your shoes are amazing, where did you get them?” can help you cut off the energy that’s feeding your anxiety and redirect it into making the other person feel special. Not only does it help you, but it makes you stand out as an observant, caring person, one whom people will want to work with.
#7: The Warm Up
Don’t sit down with your drinks and just blurt out what you want. “Hi, thanks for meeting me, I really want your business” doesn’t show you care about them. Create space so you both can relax before you jump into your agenda – you don’t want to attack them!
Small talk is key, and the Hostess Strategy mentioned above can help you here. Using your words and actions to demonstrate you care about more than just your needs is crucial to building solid business relationships.
#8: Body Language
Attitude alone won’t save the day. You have to have the body language to back it up. Slouching, lack of eye contact, and a timid voice all communicate that you don’t believe in yourself, and if you don’t believe in yourself, why should they?
Take charge of your future by taking charge of your body. Sit up straight, face them, make eye contact, and for goodness sake, smile! You are just as valuable to this meeting as they are, so own it with your body language.
#9: Add Value
Another key way to keep anxiety at bay is to focus on adding value to the conversation and relationship. Don’t make them do all the work. If you want to be seen as a key player, you have to contribute.
This can look many different ways. Sometimes it’s offering insight or your unique perspective. Other times you add value by being an active listener. Maybe you affirm the wisdom they’re sharing with you by your behavior.
There are many ways to add value, but the key is to do it. If you do, people will be grateful because you care, and will more likely see you as someone who can thoughtfully contribute in the future.
#10: Follow Up Strong
Here’s something networking pros know: the conversation isn’t over just because the coffee is. After you leave your meeting, don’t leave massive radio silence. Following up with a quick email can be the difference between a random meet up and a valuable relationship.
It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but a short note sends the message that you valued your time together. Thank them for meeting you, reference something specific you found inspiring or helpful, and tell them you look forward to connecting again soon.
Don’t overthink this one. Everyone loves to hear that someone else finds them valuable and interesting. Taking an extra five minutes to send a quick note will set you apart as someone who values true relationships.
Wrapping It All Up
Coffee meetings may make you sweat, but setting yourself up for success can be the difference between a social disaster and a networking win. Don’t let your anxiety dictate your trajectory or define your value!
By implementing these key strategies, you can stop camping out in your office and start forming meaningful relationships, so when the next person asks, “Wanna grab coffee?” you can confidently say, “Definitely!”