Meeting in Person

… a core concept in Leadership Skills and Atlas 109

MeetingInPersonConcept description

This concept (effective practice) deals with meeting people in person to help advance a public management goal.

The value of face to face

The first resort of most of us is to contact prospective supporters and allies by email. But there is no substitute for meeting in person. Rene Siegel, a communications consultant (reference below), lists five things one can do in an in-person meeting that cannot be done by email, or even by phone:

  1. You’re off the record. In Silicon Valley and many other places, there are few private offices. Many of my clients work in cubes and can’t have private telephone conversations with me or anyone else. This means that when I talk to them on the phone, I might not get to hear the most important information they can share: the unique team dynamics or executive’s personality quirks that would make or break our ability to match an expert consultant. Over sushi or a latte or a walk around the block, my clients can let me know more – with more color – than they can over the telephone or in an email.
  2. Make use of not-so-small talk. Most business conversations are focused on solving a problem quickly and efficiently, while business relationships are built when people take the time to share and learn more about each other. That happens more naturally in person than over the phone or in an email. What cements a bond between people? Small talk about a favorite team, passion for pecan pie, parenting challenges, and the other bits and pieces that make us unique and interesting.
  3. Make an impression. I bought a new handbag. It’s faux ostrich and it’s pink. Really pink. I’ve received compliments on it from every woman (and one man) I’ve met with in the past two weeks. I had worried it was perhaps not professional enough for business. But the style and color were bold, “spring-y” and made me smile. Who knew my $60 knock-off handbag would be such a great conversation starter and deliver such a strong personal statement? How do you do that over Skype?
  4. Read the body language. Facial expressions often communicate so much more than words. We host consultant coffees and invite a handful of independent consultants to our office in order to better understand the nuances of each professional in a relaxed setting. We need to know what isn’t on the resume that makes each person unique. In their eyes and in their body language, we can see confidence, empathy, fear, friendliness or sincerity. That ability to “read” a candidate beyond their keywords is a huge competitive advantage for us.
  5. Learn where the action is. I find out so much when I visit one of my clients in their office. Is the lobby bright and inviting with recent accolades proudly displayed? Do employees seem happy? Is there free juice and healthy snacks in the cafeteria? Brand new Herman Miller chairs in the conference room? Is everyone moving in slow motion or is there a palpable buzz? The environment speaks volumes and may factor into your business proposal or plan. By understanding company dynamics, we can communicate more effectively to meet their needs.

Arranging a meeting

If the meeting is important, do not rely solely on sending an email request for a meeting. If the person is unlikely to reply quickly to an email or a voice message, or had not replied, find out if the person has an assistant responsible for scheduling, or someone in a position to ask the person if they would be prepared to meet. With enough effort, using contacts and networks, it should be possible to find someone who can help set up the meeting.

A meeting where you are asking for something

Bill Berkowitz’s article on personal meetings in Community Tool Box (reference below) discusses effective practices for using an in-person meeting for a specific request – to participate in a community project. However, many of his suggestions apply equally to other kinds of requests. He states:

“Making personal contact with potential members is not always easy. To be as successful as you would like takes time and skill, both patience and persistence, both assertiveness and sensitivity. It calls fully upon the best qualities you have to offer.”

Berkowitz notes the importance of making a good first impression:

“Research shows that people form impressions quickly, that those impressions stick, and that they guide our behavior. If you are going to make an impression in any case, it might as well be the best one possible. So you want to smile, make eye contact, show social graces. You want to dress for the success of the occasion. And you want to display all the good manners you were taught by the time you reached junior high. This is so obvious, and so fundamental, yet it’s not always followed.”

He notes the importance of preparation before the meeting:

“Do some homework about your target person. What do you know? And what can you find out? What is their background, their work position, their special interests? What have you observed, or what can you learn about their personal style, or way of doing business? The more you know in advance about your potential members, the better you will be able to present your case so that it will meet their needs, and in a manner they can easily hear and appreciate.

“Think about the meeting ahead of time if it’s a scheduled meeting. Visualize what will go on. Visualize how you see the other person responding – what he or she might say, and what you might say in response. Also visualize the outcome of the meeting: What outcome do you want? What do you want to walk away with? Then visualize yourself walking away with that outcome in hand.”

He suggests the following points for what to do at the meeting:

  • Thank the person for taking the time to meet with you. This should be done sincerely. Sure, he or she might get something out of this meeting, and that’s largely why they’re there. But they might also be attending because you asked them. They didn’t have to come. Their coming may at least in part be out of respect to you and what you believe in.
  • Start with small talk. Anything of mutual interest – and it’s best if you know in advance what those mutual interests are. Weather, sports, mutual acquaintances, a recent community event, something in the news. Something you will both agree on. … How much small talk? Let the other person guide you. He or she will do so by nonverbal signals… Follow that lead. … small talk isn’t necessarily small; it’s done for a reason. It builds a relationship between those who are speaking. Your relationship now may make a difference, later on.
  • State the purpose of the meeting from your point of view. [State] what your role is, why you made the contact, and what you would like to discuss in this meeting. Be direct and honest and concise. Put your agenda right on the table. This is a time to present your key points in summary form. You don’t want to give a long lecture at this point – because the target person may well not be interested, and also because what you want now is dialogue. But do bring along any fact sheets /brochures/supplementary materials/reports with you, and give them… as you talk, or at the end.
  • State what you are looking for from the meeting. Be explicit. [For example, do you want the person]:
    • To come to one of your meetings?
    • To serve on a board, or advisory board?
    • To undertake a specific task (alone, or with a task group of yours)?
    • To write a check?
    • To make some other kind of gift, or donate an in-kind service?
    • To recruit others to your organization, by acting as intermediary?
    • To get involved in some combination of the above?
    • Something else?

    If there is one specific thing you want, don’t hesitate to ask for it directly. But, it may be that you want no one specific thing. You are hoping instead that the [person] will contribute or participate in any of several possible ways. In that case, you might say something like: “Here are several ways you might be able to help us. Which of these might make sense for you?”

  • State the benefits [for the person]. Speaking directly, what’s in it for him or her? You should be aware of those benefits in advance, and be able to present them without being asked. A reminder: To do this well, you should know something about the person you are meeting with, and plan your thoughts ahead of time. What are these benefits? In brief, they include:
    • Helping others
    • Gaining information
    • Meeting people
    • Solving a problem
    • Being included
    • Improving status
    • Having fun
    • Making money

    Sometimes, depending on the situation, you may want to state some benefits before asking for what you want. The order of these two can vary. In your presentation, it’s also possible to weave the two together, in a way that’s custom-tailored to your prospective member. At this point, it’s hard to be more specific. With some practice, you’ll have a better idea of how to go about it.

  • Listen to what [he or she] has to say. Give her or him some space and time to respond. They will raise some of their main concerns, without much help from you. When you listen, listen very carefully to those concerns. Sometimes other people may not state their true concerns directly, out of politeness to you, or discomfort for them, or both. You may wish to probe a little and draw them out, and encourage them to get their real reactions out in the open. That will be helpful both to them and you. Of course, you should have a good idea of what those concerns might be before you go into the meeting. And you should also have a good idea of how you might respond to them if they are spoken aloud. In other words, you want to be able to anticipate and to counter most possible objections. And to do this well, you have to be able to listen well. In listening and responding to concerns, it may help to have some fallback or alternative position in mind. So that if the target person is not willing or able at this time to commit to A, he or she could be offered B, or C, or D, or perhaps a smaller-size version of A. The underlying question is: “What can you commit to?”
  • Let [the person] know what the next steps are going to be. It might be “We’ll make sure you know about the next meeting.” Or “We’ll be sending you a card in the mail.” Or “Someone will call you and give you the details.” These follow-up steps should (again) be clear and explicit, so that the prospect will know precisely what will happen next, and when – and will not be surprised or taken aback by any follow-up contacts that might occur.
  •  Thank the person and if there is time a bit more small talk may end the meeting.
  • Follow up on what you said you were going to do.

Rene Shimada Siegel, 5 Reasons You Need to Meet in Person, My clients are just like yours: They want to Skype, email and text. But here’s why you still need face time, Inc., 29 February 2012, at, accessed 3 March 2016.

Bill Berkowitz, Making Personal Contact with Potential Participants, Community Tool Box, at, accessed 3 March 2016.

Atlas topic and subject

Building Resources (core topic) in Leadership Skills.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 4 March 2016.

Image: Fitness Revolution, at, accessed 3 March 2016.