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brett, Author at Less Meeting

How to Schedule a Meeting With Someone You Don’t Know

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So you are looking to schedule a meeting with someone you don’t know very well…

  1. What is the correct protocol to ask for a meeting ?
  2. How do you get the meeting without seeming like a jerk?
  3. What if they turn you down?

These questions can cause you anxiety, especially if you’re an introvert who is not good at talking to new people (like myself).

Below are my tips for how I approach getting a meeting with someone new:

NRF

How To Get A Meeting

1. Have Context

I generally avoid asking someone for a meeting that I don’t have context for. I define “context” as a point of reference… either you met them at an event, or you know someone who knows them, or you’re a big fan. Context is anything reason valuable enough for you to reach out to them.

Request a follow-up meeting on the spot

If I talk to someone at an event, I try to get a follow up while the conversation is still fresh.

Example: “I would love to chat more about ABC, would you be interested in grabbing coffee or lunch sometime this week?” If possible pull your phone out and send a meeting invite right away.

Get their business card

Make sure you write some information about the discussion on the back of the card to refresh your memory if you send out an invite later on. When you send out a email after an event, be sure to mention where you met them and what you discussed, e.g. “It was great meeting you at the fundraiser on Friday. I enjoyed chatting with you about ABC. Per our discussion, I would love to grab a meeting this week to chat more about ABC.”

Find mutual friends or contacts

LinkedIn can be pretty useful for figuring out who knows who. If someone you know has a connection with the person, don’t be afraid to ask them for an intro. e.g. “Hey Jamie, I am looking to reach out to Kris Smith to pick his brain about mobile UX. His presentation on his blog really resonated with me. I saw on LinkedIn your are connected to him. Would you be able to introduce me?”

The key is giving them a sense of why you want to talk to the person and allow them to filter the information in advanced of introducing you. The more details the better. This will allow them to provide as much information as possible.

Important: Do not burn someone who referred you. If someone refers you and you piss off their connection, they may never refer you to someone again.

You’re a “fan” of their work

Being a fan of someone’s work can be flattering, but it can also come across kinda creepy. I would recommend having a strong reason to reach out to someone if you’re a fan. If you aren’t able to meet the person at an event or get a referral, you have to go with the old “cold request”.

When you send a cold request, you need to be very clear about why you want to meet them. If you send a email that reads: “Hey, I would like to have a meeting with you. Thanks!” – you probably won’t get a response. Your intro should be very clearly crafted.

Example: “ Hi Kris, My name is Brett Cooper and I do mobile dev work on iOS projects for a company here in Atlanta. I saw you speak last year at Web Afternoon, and I really enjoyed your presentation. I was wondering if could buy you lunch and pick your brain about a mobile problem that I’m looking to solve around multi screen size format. Do you have any availability this Thursday or Friday? Thanks!”

2. Scheduling the meeting

So they respond back to your meeting request with “Sure, what time do you want to meet?” Your objective is to quickly get something set on the calendar.

  • The calendar game – My rule of thumb is to ask for 2-3 time slots within the next 5 days. If they can’t meet any of the time slots, ask them for some alternatives.
  • Target the morning – Try to get something first thing in the morning (e.g. a coffee meeting) so you are less likely to get bumped because one of their other meetings ran late.
  • If all else fails, try the phone – If you are struggling to get something scheduled, ask if you can do a quick 90 second phone call to resolve calendar alignment issues.
  • Pick a specific location – Try and pick a specific location near where they work or ask them if it would be most convenient to meet at their office. The more specific you are in the request, the more likely it will be to that you successfully schedule the meeting.
  • The invite format– When you schedule a meeting, send out a calendar invite to make sure each attendees time gets blocked on their calendars .

The key things you should include in a meeting invite are:

1. Title – the Title of the meeting invite should be clear on what the meeting is about.

2. Location – Include the location in both the location field and body/comments. Preferable the the address if you are driving there.

3. Summary – Have a summary of the meeting request in the body.

4. Objective – Clearly state the objective of the meeting.

5. Agenda – When you send a meeting invite, make sure to have a clear agenda (with some time-boxing). Thinking about the agenda and time boxes ahead of time will help you get a clearer picture of what you want to talk about and whether you actually have enough time to cover everything.

6. Notification – Be sure to included a notification equal to the amount of travel time (or 5 minutes if it doesn’t require travel).

7. Contact – Include your cell phone and their cell number (if possible). This makes it easy for them to reach you if they are running late.

8. Use helpful tools – There are a lot of tools out there that try to solve the scheduling puzzle. I had previously used tungle, Assistant.to, Timebridge.com, ScheduleOnce.com, and Calendly.com. These tools can be very useful for larger groups, but I would stick with emails and the phone for 1:1 meeting scheduling.

9. Try A.I. – Recently I tried out https://x.ai/ which offers a virtual personal assistant AI that will work to look at your calendar and coordinate with multiple other parties to finalize a meeting time. The experience was pretty smooth, but it did still require 2-3 emails to get the meeting finalized.

Here is an example of a meeting invite.

Title: Cooper / Kris Meeting to talk about Mobile UX Challenges

Attendees: Brett Cooper, Kris K.

Location: Octane Coffee Emory Village

Reminder: 15 minutes before

Body:

Kris,

Per our email discussion, I would like to grab coffee and pick your brain on mobile UX topics

Objective:

Discuss mobile UX challenges on iOS 8.

Agenda:

1. Intro and key problem areas – 5m

2. Deep dive into use cases – 15m

3. Discussion and Recommendations – 20m

4. Next steps / take-aways – 10m

Contact:

Brett’s cell: 855-529-6349

download (5)

3. Follow-up After the Meeting

Having a post-meeting reason to discuss things is a good way to build a longer term relationship or conversation.

Send a thank you email – Send a note thanking the person for meeting with you. I will also typically include any meeting notes and any action items that I took away from the meeting. I know some people who send classy hand-written thank you notes, but I have the worst handwriting… so I normally stick with an email thank you.

Try to followup within 2-5 days – Try to followup with any actions you had within a week of the meeting. You want to show that you were seriously paying attention and valued their help and input.

Offer reciprocal help – Be sure to offer your reciprocal help if they helped you with something. Keep it simple: “ Tina, Thanks for your recommendations on sales frameworks, this will really help me out. I owe you one. Let me know if i can help you with anything.”

Leave the door open for next steps – If someone gives you advice about a situation or challenge you are facing, have a followup status that you send them in the future to show how you resolved it or how it played out.

General Expectations

  • Mail 2-3 times before you give up. More than 3 times verges on stalking, annoying, desperate, or even worse… being a sales guy.
  • Don’t expect someone to work miracles for you.
  • Time is a very valuable commodity, don’t waste someone else’s time.
  • Get out and meet people, build valuable relationships, and help other people out… it will eventually come around to you.
  • Be grateful. Life is full of people who are looking to help out where they can. Be thankful even for small amounts of help.

5 Email Templates For Following Up On Action Items

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action itemsHave you ever walked away from a meeting with a sneaking suspicion that nothing discussed in the meeting will get accomplished? Were you right?

Early on in my career, I had too many meetings where followup items just didn’t get done.  It wasn’t because the people were incompetent or didn’t care… normally, it was just because they were swamped with stuff and the action item fell off their radar.

Being attuned to and empathizing with people’s busy schedule is one of the easiest ways to disarm a potentially awkward conversation (nobody likes feeling like they have done a bad job). Whenever I talk with someone about missing an action item, one of the key things I try to keep in mind is, “The person has not done anything wrong, the action item has just not been accomplished yet.”

Here are 5 email templates that you can use to followup on action items (hopefully, without seeming like a jerk):

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Meeting Villains: The Meeting Parrot

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Continuing our series on Meeting villains,  today we are talking about The Meeting Parrot
Boat-drinks on the Beach:
You are sitting there in the cabana of the beach bar… you look out onto the white sand beach and see all of the shirtless tanned guys and women in their new designer bikinis enjoying the beautiful aquamarine sea.   You lounge back into your comfortable chair and feel the breeze gently blow through your hair.  You slowly sip your coconut rum beverage while your friend Patrick tells you a story.

You are suddenly annoyed. You realize that parrot in the cage above the bar keeps repeating everything you and Patrick are talking about.  They should really do something about that bird…
Then it happens… you snap out of your Day-Dream and realize that you are still stuck in your 3:30 Accounting Staff Meeting.  Patrick is talking about the status of the Q2 Marketing Budget Planning.Unfortunately the Parrot is still in the room:  Adam (from the Strategic Planning Team) is repeating everything that Patrick says.You think to yourself:   I don’t know what the Strategic Planning Team does, but Adam seems to attend a lot of meetings where he says a lot, and contributes exactly nothing.

Origin of the Meeting Parrot:
The quote from Saskya Pandita says “Much talking is the cause of danger. Silence is the means of avoiding misfortune. The talkative parrot is shut up in a cage. Other birds, without speech, fly freely about.

Unfortunately for you, no one has put your Meeting Parrot in a cage yet.   I am not advocating putting your Adam in a literal cage (although your meeting would flow a lot smoother).  We are advocating you learn how to identify a Meeting Parrot, and how to deal with their behavior in a constructive way.

The origin of the Meeting Parrot behavior can be attributed to many things, a few of the potential sources may be:

  • Your company has a culture where the Squeaky Wheel Gets the Attention  What can I say…  some people love attention and sometimes they are able to get attention by talking excessively in meetings.
  • The meeting parrot was formerly judged based on the amount of airtime they took up.  Maybe their boss told them during a previous performance review that “they need to speak up more“, and they interpreted this as needing to talk more (even if they have nothing original to say).
  • The Parrot is scared that people will think their job is useless, so they trying to sound important.  No one wants to feel that their participation in a meeting is useless, so they may try to gain validation by repeating what sounds like good points.

Putting a Muzzle on that Bird:

Here are a few tips for getting your Meeting Parrot to contribute more meaningful discussion to your meeting:

  1. Take good notes. Taking good notes makes it easy to call out someone who is repeating what has already been stated.  For example “Adam: per the notes, Jessica already said that and we all agreed on the next steps.  Is what you are saying different than what she already said?”  If you do this a few times, they will get the message that their repeated comments are not valued.
  2. Make the meeting parrot take good notes.  When someone takes notes, they are less likely repeat something that they have already written down.  In addition, if they need to validate their usefulness (see the third bullet point from above), taking quality notes is a good way to add value to a meeting.
  3. Don’t invite people who are not critical to the success of the meeting.   If the meeting parrot just detracts from your meeting without adding value don’t invite them.  For recommendations on controlling your invitee list re-read this post.

Sometimes you get stuck in a situation where the Meeting Parrot is one of your bosses.   Fed-Ex did a pretty good parody of this situation (see video below).  

If this happens to you, you are out of luck, you might want to read “What Color is your Parachute

Parrot Image from DeusXFlorida via Flickr

Meeting Villains: Meet-Head

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Continuing our series on Meeting villains,  today we are talking about The Meet-Head.

The Dreaded Invite:
You dread when you see the meeting invite from him.  He has scheduled 4 meetings with you already this week, and those meetings digressed into him updating a spreadsheet on the projector while everyone sat and watched.

Does he understand how unproductive it is when he calls a meeting for every single thing he is working on?

You contemplate declining the meeting, but you are concerned that an important decision will be made and you will not be kept in the loop (He never sends out meeting notes).

You have a twinge of sickness in the bottom of your stomach as you hit Accept on the meeting invite.

The Prognosis:

If the story above sounds familiar,  you may be dealing with a “Meet-Head“. Meet-Heads come in all sizes, shapes, and forms… so they can sometime be mistaken for important decision makers (Many times, they will even try to masquerade as decision makers).


The following are some tips that can help you spot a Meet-Head:
#1 They are never at their desk.   If you actually do catch them at their desk and you have a simple 10 second question for them… they will typically say: “I don’t have time to discuess that right now.  Can you schedule a meeting on my calendar to talk about it?

#2 Inability to make a decision or get anything done on their own.  They will never make a decision or  take responsibility for something.  They will always call a meeting to get people’s input or to get help doing their work.

#3 Always calls a meeting for any issue.  No matter how small the issue is, they will call a meeting for it.  They feel that everyone must be included in every issue.

#4 Have conference rooms blocked for no reason.  If you have a conference room scheduling app, they will have confernece rooms blocked even without having a meeting planned.  When you ask them about it, the response goes something like this: “Well, we may need to talk about some of the issues that might come up with the project xyz deployment this week, so I blocked off the room just in case.”
Decide to Act:

If you don’t do something about the Meet-Head, you may run the risk of an even more serious problem: Meeting Zombie Culture.  It is true… the Meet-Head can infect others with his infectious behavior.   Next thing you know, everyone in your company is slowly walking from conference room to conference room… moaning about how they can’t get anything done.

What to Do:

Get the facts: 

Metrics – Track the number of meetings that they organize.  If they are calling more than 2-3 meetings a day, they may have a problem.

Understand –  Figure out why are they calling so many meetings.   Do you have a larger issue of people in your company not being accountable… could this be why they are calling meetings?
Feedback:
Give constructive feedback – “Tom, I know everyone on this meeting invite is really busy,  can you cancel this meeting and just have everyone send you status?”

Acceptance or Denial – Figure out if they understand that the number of meetings they call is a problem.  If they don’t understand they have a problem, they will not know that they need to improve.

Support Group Other people need to understand the problem as well, you can’t take on a Meet-Head alone.  Send an email to the group reminding everyone that unnecessary or ineffective meetings can be costly and slow down everyone’s success.

Improve:

Focus on improving the meetings they organize.  Based on feedback from our users, having more effective meetings will typically reduce the amount of meetings that they need to hold.

Help guide the Meet-Head to make sure that his meetings have:

  • Well Planned Agendas
  • Meeting Minutes Sent Out Immediately
  • Action Items with Clear Next Steps (that don’t include: “Hold another meeting”)

If you can’t help the Meet-Head improve,  you may have an HR problem to deal with (or potentially you should start looking for a new company to work with).   

If you have other suggestions on how to deal with Meet-Heads,  I would love to hear them in the comments below or email me at Brett@LessMeeting.com

Meeting Villains: How to Tell if Someone is a Hijacker.

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Previously we introduced you to the Meeting Villains, this is the first installment in that series: The Meeting Hijacker.

The Hijacking

You didn’t suspect that he would turn out to be a Hijacker.

It was your first meeting with him.  He looked pretty clean cut… dressed like any other businessman… with his Brooks Brother shirt, cornflower blue tie, snazzy cufflinks… nothing to make you suspicious.
But then all of the sudden… BAAM!!  Your Meeting has been HIJACKED.

You are stunned for the first few minutes, your head is reeling and you can’t figure out how he did it.  The other attendees in the room scornfully look at you for inviting the one person who could derail one of the most important meetings of the month.

The Culprit

You are not totally to blame…  A meeting hijacker can easily blend in as anyone in your organization (not just a Gordon Gecko type with a hidden agenda the size of Santa Claus’ naughty list).

To help you quickly identify a hijacker, look for these attributes: 

  • Shows up late to a meeting without knowing what the meeting is about… after you included the agenda in the invite and your follow-up email. 
  • Brings up side topics that are unrelated to the goals of the meeting. 
  • Says things such as:  “We need to discuss __XYZ__ which is really more important than everything you have on the agenda”
  • Interjects the discussion with urgent hot-button low priority issues by saying “we need to talk about this eventually”…  and then will continue to talk about those issues. 

How to Protect Yourself.

Keep an eye out for the behaviors above.   If you see something, SAY SOMETHING.

The only way to halt a hijacking is to stop it as soon as it starts…  if you let it proceed, it will snowball into an avalanche of useless side discussion.

The following are the three tricks to stop a hijacking in progress:

#1 Have a Planned Agenda sent out prior to the meeting –  REMEMBER: It will be nearly impossible to prevent a hijacking if you don’t send out an agenda.   In your invite, be sure to include the text “Please review the agenda below and let me know if you have any updates or additions”


#2 Put Off-Topic Items Into a “Parking Lot” – If someone tries to hijack the meeting, point out that what they are bringing up “was not on the agenda you sent out last week” and ask if we can add it to the parking lot to address at the end of the meeting (time permitting) or a follow-up meeting.


#3 Keep Track of Time in the Meeting – If people in the meeting are aware that their precious 22 minutes of meeting time is quickly melting into oblivion, they are much less likely to protest adding an off-topic item to the parking lot.

You are now armed with the weapons to protect your meetings from Hijackers.    If you see something, SAY SOMETHING.  Remember: the safety of meetings is up to you.

 Photo from Flickr user istolethetv

Tell me again, Why Was I Invited To This Meeting?

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Do you work with someone who is double-booked for multiple meetings every day? Can you hear them right now… complaining about how they never get anything done because they are in meetings all day?

What keeps them from being able to manage their schedule?

If you were in their shoes, what would you do to improve this? What would you say if I told you there was a Silver Bullet to being over-subscribed to meetings, and this silver bullet would require “No Additional Effort” on your part?


Wait for it…
Wait for it…
You still waiting on that Silver Bullet?Too Bad… Repeat after me:

THERE IS NO SILVER BULLET TO FIX ALL OF YOUR MEETING PROBLEMS

You can, however, learn to build a better understanding of:

  1. The sources of inviting people to meeting.
  2. The reasons why you should attend a meeting.

Being able to understand these two items will help you build the insights to improve the culture of you and those around you to help you better organize, attend, and contribute to meetings.

The following are the reasons why you get invited to meetings.  As you think about meetings, use these to determine if you should attend and what you should be contributing to the meeting.

The Seven Reasons You Were Invited to A Meeting:

#1 You are an Approver/Decision Maker

If you are a key Approver or Decision maker, you will find yourself in a lot more meetings.  This is especially true if you are unable to delegate any of your decision making responsibilities to your team members.

If you are an approver or decision maker, the meeting is dependent on you attendance,  be sure to let the organizer know in advance if you need him to reschedule the meeting.

#2 You a contributor for the meeting

You fall into this category if you bring expertise or data to the discussion that would not be possible without you there.

Note:  if you are just reciting your numbers/status/figures, you could most likely just email those to the organizer in advance of the meeting and see if they still need you in attendance:

Bob, here are my numbers for the second quarter, they are pretty consistent with the estimates.  Please review and let me know if you need me to attend the meeting.  I am pretty swamped right now, but I can make the meeting if you need Detailed Analysis on the reports.  Let me know, thanks…

#3 You may be impacted by the outcome of the meeting

– If you have a stake in the decisions and direction coming out of the meeting you fall into this category.

If you work in a company culture where no one takes meeting minutes or tracks items coming out of meetings, you are going to find yourself attending a lot more meetings than you need to.   To help be able to decline these meetings, I suggest emailing the organizer:

Bob, I am not going to be in attendance for this meeting, but I am definitely interested in the outcome.  Can you be sure to email me the meeting notes, decisions, and action items from this meeting.

#4 You are the organizer of the meeting

If you are the organizer of the meeting you should always attend.  In general the organizer is also the moderator for the meeting.  As the organizer you are responsible for taking notes or assigning a note taker.  When you create you meeting invite, be sure to invite the correct decision makers and contributors.

For people who are impacted by the outcome of the meeting, invite them as optional and state in the invite:

“I added a number of you as optional to this meeting, if you are options I do not expect you to attend but I wanted to be sure you are include on any notes, decisions, and action items coming out of this meeting. Thanks… Bob. “

#5 You like to attend meetings to avoid work

I can’t really offer any guidance here… you might want to look for a job in the government.

#6 People like to have you around

This reason to be invited to meetings sounds kinda weird, but it does happen.   Sometimes, people will actually think things such as:

“Sue is well spoken, we should add her to this meeting…” or
“Adam always seems to brainstorm good points during discussions, lets add him to the invite…” or
“I need someone good to take notes…. Brian is always real organized… let me invite him”

I can hear you now saying that this never happens… but it does… I have sat through too many meetings with randomly invited people who had nothing direct to contribute to the meeting.   If you do not fall into the first 4 groups above, I recommend that you decline the meeting  (unless you fall into group #5)

#7 Your Boss invited you but didn’t give you any details about the meeting

I am sure that this has happened to you,  you received a forwarded meeting invite from your boss for “Quarterly Group Discussion Meeting”…  the meeting invite had no agenda and the title doesn’t even tell you what group it is for, your boss didn’t even put a note about why he forwarded it… Should You Attend??? It Depends, the first thing I would do is to reply back to you boss:

 “Bob, I am pretty busy focusing on project XYZ that is due in two weeks;  Can you provide some context to help me understanding if my attendance is critical in this meeting.   Also,  can you ask the organizer if they can pass along the meeting agenda to me? Thanks…”   

Does this sound Passive Aggressive to you? Good… it was supposed to.

If you send enough of these replies back to you bosses, they will eventually start to include details in the forwards (or they will stop trying to offload meetings to you.)

NEXT STEPS:Ok, you are now armed with the seven reasons why you might have been invited to a meeting. I would like you to go to your calendar for this week and see if any of your meetings fall into Reasons #3, #6, or #7… please decline them and get back to Getting Things Done.

Image source:   Awesome story by Michael Briggs about casting his own silver bullets… check it out: http://hurog.com/books/silver/silverbullets.shtml