You know that person who is kicking butt at what they do and you hold nothing but high regard for them? Someone who you would love to spend some time picking their brain, learning about their keys to success or tips on how to improve your professional game? Maybe it’s the top-notch blogger whose reach you’ve been trying to emulate for years, or a well-known financial consultant you would love to play a round of 20 Questions with. So how do you have the guts to ask that CEO or small business owner out for a coffee and how to get the most from that time spent together?
Well, you don’t have to shell out a million claims to spend an hour with Warren Buffet. Here are a couple of tips on how to organize and host your own networking lunch:
Be specific in your request. When reaching out to that person, be specific as possible as to what you want to learn or gain from your time together. So instead of saying, “I think you’re really cool and want to feel your elbows brushing up against mine,” say, “I really am curious as to how you managed to grow your social media following so quickly in six months.” That not only gives focus to what you want, but also gives the person an idea of what to talk about.
Keep the group small. In order for everyone to get a chance to ask questions and to keep the setting casual, keep the group to around 4–6 people, even a little smaller if you like.
Location is important. Where you decide to meet is important, not only in terms of convenience, but also ambiance. Happy hour at an upscale place might be cool, but just make the noise levels aren’t high.
Prepare. Treat it like you’re the moderator of an exclusive film screening, because you kind of are. Do your research on the person, background, and achievements. Ask participants beforehand what they want to learn and incorporate that into the “schedule.” Create a loose list of points to cover and questions to ask. But by all means have a little bit of leeway in case the conversation takes an interesting turn.
Ask for a donation from each of the participants. To cover your guest’s food and drink bill, ask that each person donate a small amount of money, perhaps $5-10 beforehand. That way people who agreed to partake have some accountability. Plus you won’t be footing the bill. Frugality points scored.*
Keep in touch. Extend the connection to after the lunch. Shoot the featured guest a thank-you email and see if they might be open to you staying in contact with them. Maybe you can meet up with them at a future event.
*If you live far away from a person, consider doing a Google Hangout or Skype session.
Jackie Lam runs Cheapsters.org, a site geared toward assisting freelancers, artists, and the self-employed thrive on a shoestring budget. Besides blogging she enjoys writing fiction, laboring over semi-colons, and digging through bargain bins.