Making the most of a LinkedIn coffee date

Following on from last week’s blog on networking, I wanted to talk about the things you should do to prepare for your first in-person meeting with a potential non-academic partner. You will have most likely connected to them using one of the methods outlined in my previous blog.  Note that there are different types of pitches, and these differ based on who you are pitching to and what you want from them.

You have arranged to meet, now what? Remember that the meeting is not just about the pitch, it is also about determining if you are the right fit for each other. The worst thing you can do is to go to the meeting with the purpose of getting an outcome straight away. They might not be interested in what you are doing or what you have to offer and vice versa. Use the meeting to determine these things without further expectations at this stage. Sometimes you will attend a meeting, and everything will be perfect (cue fireworks!) but, for the most part, this is not the case. It takes time and effort to nurture, build and maintain trust.

Before you meet, you need to do some background research and preparation.

Research the person and the organisation

Find out as much as you can about the person you are meeting and any other meeting attendees. Have they been in the media, written an article or book, what types of content are they sharing or liking on LinkedIn, what groups do they belong to? Social proofing is key. Were they recommended to you by a mutual acquaintance? Are you connected by a mutual connection on LinkedIn? Similarities draw people together. Do you have anything in common? Perhaps you are both members of a professional association. Research any similarities that you may have with the person that you are meeting.

Research the organisation, are there any recent changes happening, what’s important to them, what are their values. Check the organisations website. Best to look at the about us page and the news section.

Meeting etiquette

These suggestions may be obvious, but it never hurts to be reminded. When under pressure or nervous it is easy to forget the simplest of things, I know that I do.

  • Arrive on time, first impressions are everything.
  • Remember to address all meeting attendees. The CEO may not necessarily be the person that advocates for you, in the long run, you are going to need the support of as many people as you can get. Make sure you respond to questions by looking at each of the people in attendance. Try not to focus just on one person, direct questions to different people based on their roles.
  • Don’t just tell them about you and your research, ask them questions, this is about building a relationship, gaining the authority to connect with them again. They said yes to the meeting so what is in it for them?
  • Be clear on your objectives for the meeting, it’s not about getting money or getting a decision about collaboration and partnership it is about creating a relationship and understanding the organisation’s needs.
  • Understand the next step.

Prepare your Pitch

“you need to get people to believe what you believe” Simon Sinek

In business we say, it’s not always the best product of service that wins out, it’s the best pitch! I believe this is true for research as well.

You need to prepare a powerful answer to the question “tell us exactly what you do”. You may have covered this before on the phone or through email, but you will get asked again, and you will need a solid, clear and succinct answer. This means no jargon; it is not about sounding super smart or academic, it is all about being relatable, real and authentic. There is no issue with having too short a pitch because if interested they can and will ask for more information. A pitch that is too long can bore the audience.

“Take off like an F18. A 747 needs two miles to take off. An F18 needs 200 feet. Your pitch shouldn’t be like a 747 where you provide information to build momentum and eventually defeat gravity with a logical, chronological, and intellectual tale. You need to catapult into the sky in the first few minutes while busting through the sound barrier.” Guy Kawasaki

How should you pitch, and what does this involve? I draw these guidelines from the principles of marketing and sales.

What is your story? Stories are powerful, not only do they evoke emotion but they allow you to show your vulnerabilities and values, both of which allow people to make decisions.

Why do you do what you do? Where does your passion come from?

What are the benefits of what you do for the people that you serve? Why should these potential partners/collaborators get involved. Why should they care about your research? Need to be clear on why you are doing what you are doing, what you are doing and how you are going to do it.

Simon Sinek, in his Ted talk about how great leaders inspire action, said that very few people can clearly articulate why. He suggests that “why is a purpose, a cause or belief.” Why should what you want to research matter to anyone else. What and how do not inspire action, when you communicate purpose first, you communicate in a way that drives decision making.

“Our why is about our contribution to impact and serve others, delivered well it can serve to inspire.”

When developing your pitch, think about how you can convey WHY you do what you do, or what you are all about in a way that leaves people curious and wanting to know more.

Pitching is a skill, and it may come easy to some and harder to others. Take some time to reflect on your purpose and the stories that define it and remember you only need two things to be good at something, knowledge and practice.

Next time, I will delve into presentations, tools, software and techniques that won’t put your audience to sleep.

As always…… happy translating!