When I was in high school, I loved to be in Washington, D.C. Walking the halls of power, reveling in such free access to decision-makers, was invigorating! To this day, I believe that anyone could meet and connect with just about any influential person in the world.
Today, I’m not a high-powered lobbyist. But I connect daily with people who have busy lives and hectic schedules. As I fundraise, staff, and program our annual Community Leadership Workshop for local high school students, these connections range from student volunteers to university presidents and government officials.
In your daily walk, as you pursue your dream, you’ll eventually need to do the same thing. From your team and colleagues to potential supporters to corporate big-wigs, personal connections are paramount.
When trying to connect with someone, particularly a person of influence:
- Make a Day of It: Every two weeks, I get a weekday off. For the two weeks preceding this work-on-my-passions day, I compile a list of people I should visit or tasks I need to accomplish. I group “people I need to visit” into geographic plans and tackle them (figuratively) one place at a time.
- Call Ahead: Find out if the person you are trying to reach will be in town before you go visit. Gather what information you can about his/her schedule. Even if that person is booked, find out what meetings he/she has around the perfect meeting time, feeling around for “gap times” when an opportunity might present itself.
- Drop In: Sometimes, appointments are a must-have. I tend to take “lobbying” back to its roots, waiting in lobbies until I can find a window between 90 seconds and 5 minutes. This allows me to catch leaders and people of interest with a compelling “elevator pitch” even if they don’t have time to sit down for a chat. Connect with his/her office staff, too! They can sometimes give you helpful information or grant you access.
- Stay Alert: Don’t be discouraged if your “target” isn’t in the office. You might see him/her around campus or he/she might walk in as you’re waiting. If you know what the “target” looks like or sounds like, you can create opportunities for yourself.
- Connect Personally: Start off with a (very) brief personal connection. Did you hear this person speak recently? Are you an alum of his/her organization or program? Make the connection fast.
- Mind His/Her Time: One of the first things I say when I’m trying to access a person of influence is “I just wanted to say hello and visit for 2 or 3 minutes about a new leadership program.” I’ve created a reputation by actually only taking 2 or 3 minutes! The first thought of that person might be ‘Yeah, right, 2 or 3 minutes,’ but I’ll leave them going ‘Wow! That was fast.’ I never use all the time I announce, promising an e-mail or follow-up with more information.
- Cut to the Chase: If I’m caught off-guard, I have a tendency to ramble. It doesn’t last long– I can read “get on with it!” all over that person’s face. You’ve got to tell the “target” exactly what you want in the first 90 seconds. Phrase it as an opportunity, dress it up with value language, and believe in it with all of your heart. But cut to the chase and keep your promise of brevity.
- Follow Up: You undoubtedly won’t say everything you need to say in your brief interaction. If you promise an e-mail, send it that same day. If you promise a call, make it a day or two after your visit. In your follow-up, you can be more thorough and give more details.
These guidelines will help you connect with influential people, but it’s important to remember that every person has some measure of influence. When you value everyone’s time and contributions equally, your own influence will skyrocket.
Make your connections count. Most importantly, make them work both ways! Ah, but that makes for another post.