I think people get caught in traps around “informal” meetings or groups. You hear from someone in a professional context that they just want a quick, “casual” coffee or something like that, and suddenly you have no idea what that means.

When something is formal, it has – by definition – rules. And rules make things easy. They give you a set of things to do (or in some cases, tactically not do), which also means you know how to prepare.

Let me take the mystery out of an “informal” meeting for you – it also has rules. In fact, it has pretty much the same rules, but you don’t wear a tie.

Here are the “rules” – for any meeting:

  1. Before you go in, think about what you want to come out with. Don’t think about the meeting, think about the time after the meeting. How do you want your life to be different? If you don’t have a goal, then it’s just hanging out. That’s fine if that’s what you want, but it probably isn’t if you’re having an “informal coffee” with a potential new business relationship.
  2. Now that you know what you want (people very frequently skip this step, which is why none of the rest of this makes sense), write down three different ways to ask for it. Just ask directly, but three different ways. If a potential client wants to grab coffee, write things like “What do you need from your website development,” and “Tell me about your biggest challenge on website development right now,” etc. Those sound really similar. They are. You want to have options – you might ask all three with variations, or you might just want to have an idea of what you can use in an adaptable conversation.
  3. Ask those questions, write down the answers. Be polite. That’s about all you have to do during the meeting.
  4. Use the answers to follow up after the meeting. Take those answers and ask yourself “how does this new information get me closer to the thing I said I wanted?”

Don’t make this more complicated than it has to be. That’s how you get value out of every meeting – formal or not.

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