How to Make the Most Out of a Coffee Meeting
The other day I came to the realization that I have taken well over 3,000 coffee meetings. These meetings have resulted in everything from job offers and interview opportunities, to valuable introductions and lasting friendships. Having spent so much time in front of a cup of joe, I thought it would be fun to outline some of the things that I find make coffee meetings effective. To make it easy to remember, just think C.U.P.S.
Choose your shop - Where you decide to have the coffee meeting is an important decision. If you are having multiple meetings you may want to choose one location and have people come to you. If you are doing multiple locations, you’ll want to scope out each one ahead of time to figure out how long it will take you to find a seat and get served. Some coffee shops are very crowded with almost no place to sit and some are much more spacious. Your choice of shop can affect things like the length of your meeting if you end up in line for 10 minutes ordering and waiting for your coffee, then your hour long meeting is now 50 minutes or your 30 minute meeting just got cut to 20 min. If you decide to go somewhere where a server takes your order for coffee, then you have to plan for the time that will take. If you choose a busy shop, then it’s best to get there early so you can make sure you find a seat. Nothing is more frustrating than getting to a coffee meeting and spending the first 15 minutes trying to find somewhere to sit. I almost always get to the location at least a half hour early. This gives me a chance to scope things out and make sure there is a place to sit. An added bonus is sometimes I also have a little extra time to get some work done before the meeting.
Understand why you’re there – Is this a meeting where someone is asking you for advice? Is this a getting to know you meeting? Are you catching up with someone you’ve met before? Each of these scenarios has a different dynamic and it’s important to have a clear idea of why you’re there. I always try to get some info before the meeting, whether that be looking at someone’s website or LinkedIn profile or asking the person who introduced us more about the person I’m meeting. In many meetings I start by asking how the person knows the individual who introduced us. This usually can help establish rapport quickly. If there was no introduction, I might open with a question about how they came to the place where we met, or how they found me online etc. If they got an interesting choice of beverage, I sometimes will ask about that. I always try to make the first couple of questions of the meeting a bit low key. This gives me a good sense of how open they are to chatting about things that are non-business related. If they breeze through those questions, I can usually tell that the person in front of me wants to get down to business.
Propose a time frame – Just as I do with lunch, I try to always ask the other person how much time we have and also make them aware of how much time I have. I have made it a point to stop booking coffee meetings back to back so that if anything does run over, I don’t have to ask someone to leave the table as my next person comes in. It feels rushed and gives a different feel to the end of the meeting. When I know the time frame it’s easier for me to figure out how much time I have and what I can cover during the meeting. If someone is asking for help with something, I know how long I have to explain certain things and answer certain questions. If someone wants to learn more about my business or wants to talk about ways we can refer one another business, I’m able to know how long I should talk about what I do so that there is enough time to hear about them. I always do my best to keep the conversation in these meetings as even as possible.
Suggest a follow up – If you’ve had a great meeting have an idea of what the follow up will be. If you offered to make an introduction ask the other person if there is anything they’d like you to include when you reach out. They’ll usually send you some kind of blurb or document to use. I sometimes will suggest an event that they might want to attend or a website that they may want to check out and I send them an email with that info later on in the day. It’s really easy to let the meeting just fade away, but the way these meetings grow is in what you do post-meeting. You also want to find out if any of the follow up is time sensitive. If it is, you’ll want to make sure to add it to your calendar so that it doesn’t get overlooked.
Bonus: I often get asked about paying for coffee. I think that if you requested the meeting and are looking for advice it’s a polite thing to pay for the other person’s coffee. You can also avoid any confusion by saying when you reach out that you’d like to buy the other person a cup of coffee. Also note that some people will already have a coffee when you get there. I often will ask if the other person needs to grab something when they arrive if I already have my coffee. If I don’t, then I will offer to grab them something when I go up.
And there you have it. I hope you find this helpful in your future coffee meetings and feel free to leave other ideas that you have about making coffee meetings more effective in the comments!