Know What You Want (and then ask for it)

Just a head's up: this post is a rant cleverly (or not so cleverly) disguised as a helpful professional development blog post.

I have been to too many meetings, informational coffees, and phone conferences in the last few months where someone has asked to meet or talk with me, probably for a very specific reason, and I have left the conversation being really unclear about what they want me to be, think, or do. Did they want a grant from Headwaters? Maybe. Were they looking for a new position and wanted some advice? Possibly. Did they want me to buy into their nutrient drink pyramid scheme? I don't know because they never made the ask.

Not every conversation or coffee meeting has to have an agenda or a specific ask but many are intended to. If you want something specific to happen from a meeting, properly prepare:

Clarify for yourself what you are looking for. What end result would make you ecstatic? What is the reason that you wanted to have a conversations with this person, instead of the many others that you could have met with? What special skills, experiences, or connections do they have that would help you or your organization?

Do your research. If someone suggestions that you meet with someone, find out why. Do some online research, look for natural overlaps in interests, use LinkedIn or Facebook to see who else this person knows. Are they a connector that could open up a whole new range of contacts for you? Are they a member of the basket weaving society that you are trying to get into?

When you request a meeting make your purpose clear. Tell the person why you think it would be in both of your interests to meet. Give them a few questions that you would like for them to answer. For example: "My long-term goal is a career in philanthropy and am considering getting a Master's degree to help me reach that goal. Was your M.B.A. a help or hinderance when you applied for your position?" or "I'm new to the state and trying to increase my professional contacts, would you be willing to have coffee and give me your perspective on the nonprofit sector here?"

Make the ask. Small talk is great but make sure after you have covered the necessary pleasantries, that you ask for what you came to ask for. Don't wait until the last 2 minutes that you have scheduled to meet to ask your 14 part question, just get in out there early on. That means that the person you are meeting with can keep that purpose in mind throughout the conversation and be as helpful as possible to you throughout the meeting (hopefully).

This rant is over but the conversation is not. What tips do you have for making these types of conversation useful for both parties?