Here’s another in the early sneak-peek series of material featured in my upcoming book Beyond Hello and a Handshake.
“I’m easy. Put me in an interesting location with good people and I’m there.”
~ Jane Curtin
Imagine, if you will, that you are sitting down for your first coffee with a new networking connection. You met at a Chamber lunch, had a brief, though thought-provoking conversation and both agreed that you should meet again in the near future to continue the conversation. You, knowing the value of the Immediate Follow-Up, pulled out your schedule and secured the date. Now, less than a week later the two of you are seated opposite each other at a nearby coffeeshop ready to continue building this powerful, professional connection.
Unfortunately, your conversation is punctuated and frequently interrupted by children crying, people bumping into your table, and a general loud background roar that makes it difficult to hear. By the end of your time together, your throat is sore from you trying to pitch your voice to be heard over the crowd. You feel like you’ve missed half of what your table mate said. Ultimately you worry that this may all have been a big waste of time. What could have gone wrong?
Simple. The venue you selected for your get-together wasn’t ideal for the purposes of meeting and chatting. One or more of the qualities that make a good one-to-one location was missing. The next time you are considering a venue, carefully consider whether it meets your needs in the following areas:
- Noise Level. Speaking as someone who has become a little hard of hearing over the years, places that are all hard surfaces or have a lot of ambient noise make connecting very difficult for me. I’m constantly having to ask my partner to speak up or to repeat themselves. I will admit, sometimes, after making those requests one too many times, I will fall back on just nodding and smiling when I can’t hear clearly what the other person says and simply hope that I can fill in the details from context.
- Crowding. Of course, an excess of other patrons leads to an excess of noise which is a consideration from #1 above. The other issue is simply whether or not you can find a spot to perch. If you spend the first fifteen minutes of your hour-long one-to-one simply trying to find a table, that’s a waste of time for both of you.
- Service. If you are in a location where you would be expected to order a beverage or food item, what kind of service can you expect? Do they bring the food to the table? Is there a long line to order? Any aspect of the service that detracts from the time you have with your table mate makes this venue slightly less valuable as a networking “go to”.
- Location. Is the coffee shop roughly between the two of you? Is it convenient to both of you? What if they aren’t coming from their office, but are instead seeing you after a meeting on the far side of town? I recommend you always be on the lookout for good networking locations whenever you are out and about.
- Cost. Sometimes it’s a trade-off. You can certainly find locales which are five-star on service, but you might be paying five-star prices to get that service. Especially when you are starting out, you are going to have to budget for these meetings. You might be better at first hitting the local (or even chain) coffee houses for a conversation over your favorite beverage, rather than a five-course lunch at the Four Seasons.
- Preference. A lesser consideration, but you probably should both like the place or at least be willing to give something new a try. Surprisingly, I’ve never been a coffee drinker. It just doesn’t work for me (same for tea). As a result, Starbucks, which in most locations doesn’t have anything else other than really expensive bottled water isn’t one of my favorite places. I do love Thai food, and there’s a great restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor, but if my partner isn’t into those flavors, it might not be a good place for us to meet.
- Timing. More than simply whether it is open during the times you want to meet, but also whether that’s a good time to go for this particular establishment. I’ve noticed our local Panera Bread is pretty good from 10 to 11:30 and again from 1 until 3. Do not go, however, during the lunch hour when the lines are long and the tables are scarce.
Take the time to consider whether a given location is going to work on all these factors. You want the venue to support your efforts to have a great conversation and develop a deeper connection, not be one more barrier holding you back.