Making the Connection: Expert Tips on How to Get Just About Any Meeting

Making the Connection: Expert Tips on How to Get Just About Any Meeting

September 17, 2014

Dorie Clark is a marketing strategy consultant, professional speaker, frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review and Forbes, and was recognized as a “branding expert” by the Associated Press and Fortune. Clark, was a former presidential campaign spokeswoman, is an adjunct professor of business administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She has taught marketing and communications at various universities and business schools. Read on for her tips on how to score a meeting with just about anyone.

You need to meet with a decision maker, but how do you identify who makes the decisions and who you need to meet with first? Should you try to score a meeting with the top dog? Or should you first try to score a meeting with someone who the top dog leans on as a trusted advisor so you can build rapport at that level and then work your way up?

Start with the connections you have to determine who the decision maker is. You can begin with a hypothesis – typically these decisions are made by the person with X title – and ask contacts you know who work in the company if that’s correct, or if they can ask someone to find out. Alternately, you may know peers of the decision maker at other companies and see if they have insight into how things work at their competitor.

Ideally, you never want to approach a top leader “cold.” People’s guard goes up if they feel they’re being targeted by someone they don’t know, who likely “wants something” from them. Even if you do get the meeting, it’s likely to be adversarial or very distanced under those circumstances. Instead, hunt around for contacts who work for or with the person you’d like to approach. Build a rapport with them and then try to leverage that into a warm introduction, so you have your contact’s seal of approval behind you. That will make the top leader far more receptive to your message. 

Once you’ve identified who you need to meet with, what are your top tips to getting the meeting, email response, or answer you’re looking for?

One overlooked strategy is using social media to build up a relationship over time and ensure they know your name. If the leader is on Twitter, for instance, you can start retweeting their posts, or asking questions. This initial engagement will build the foundations of a relationship, and they’ll be more likely to want to connect with you later. Another good possibility is finding a way to meet them in person briefly – at a conference or other event you know they’ll be attending – and then asking for a follow-up. They’ll be far more likely to say yes if you make the request in person and know that you seem normal, interesting, and intelligent (rather than just a random person over the Internet). 

Once you've scored the meeting, what should you do to prepare for it?

One mistake too many professionals make is spending all their time preparing what they want to say and the points they want to make. This is important, of course, but it’s equally important to think about what questions you’d like to ask them to draw them out and engage them. This is what makes it a successful meeting – a dialogue – rather than a monologue. Additionally, as I relate in my book Reinventing You, the eminent psychologist Robert Cialdini recommends finding a commonality early on (it’s good to research it even before the meeting), so you can bond at a peer level. This could be something you share like an alma mater, a passion for a sports team or a hobby, having kids the same age, etc.

And once you’ve had the meeting, how should you follow up?

Don’t just concentrate on your immediate business outcome (“I want him to say yes to X”). Instead, focus on relationship building. That means learning about them as a person, so you have conversational topics to build on in the future. If you learn you both love a particular football team, you now have an excuse to keep in touch if the team has a big win. And if you discover he’s particularly concerned about a certain aspect of business (say, the rise of mobile payments), you can send him articles as a way of staying on his radar screen.

These same tips will help you continue to foster the relationship so you can be on their radar screen, get follow up meetings more easily and continue to grow in your role at your employer.

To see more from Dorie, visit her website ( and check out her book, Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future. You can also follow her on Twitter at @dorieclark