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Tips for meetings. Don’t be a sponge, don’t be late

No coffee no workee

Meetings are a staple of modern life. There are social meetings, of course, and meetings for you to get to know someone new. But most meetings are linked to work in one way or the other. These fall roughly into three categories:

  1. You want to get something from the other person.
  2. They want to get something from you.
  3. You are working together to get something done.

I’m going to write (or rant) today about my recent annoying experiences with Category 2. I get quite a lot of requests these days to meet people who want my help with something, normally to do with expeditions, writing books, or the motivational speaking world. I try to help when I can, because lots of people have helped, and are helping, me.

But boy, oh boy, I have had my patience tested by a few of the people I have met recently. They clearly had not read this bit of Advice on Seeking Advice. Here then are my top tips about meeting etiquette:

  1. Don’t be late.
  2. Don’t be late.
  3. What are your objectives for the meeting? Think about these beforehand. Don’t just sit back and expect to have a monologue of golden, hard-earned information poured into your lap.
  4. Why did you ask the other person to take the time and trouble to meet you? Could it have just been done via phone or email?
  5. Do some research in advance. Don’t just treat the person you are meeting as a human version of Google. (On that point, don’t email people lists of questions that you could have just typed into Google. It’s annoying. And lazy.)
  6. Don’t be greedy. Asking for help, information, contacts is all part of the game. But don’t be so obvious in your attempts to hoover the other person dry.
  7. What can you offer in return? You may not be able to help the person you are meeting; they may not need or want any help. But at least try. Think who you know or what you know that you can give back. Try to make it a two-way thing.
  8. So I’ve given up my time to meet you, given you loads of information, and you’re not even going to pretend to make an effort to pay for the cups of tea? Shall I punch you in the face now or shall I just go home and write a grumpy blog post?
  9. Did I mention not arriving late? And if you are late don’t use the excuse “I’m so busy at the moment.” You’re on the verge of getting a Chinese Burn.
  10. Say thank you. Did your parents not teach you anything? Do you want the person to help you again in the future? The person you meet won’t expect fawning thanks and everlasting gratitude. A quick email to say thank you for their time and help is all that’s needed. Fail to do that and you deserve hunting down for a giant Wedgie.

What do you think? I am just old-fashioned, grumpy and over-sensitive? Leave a comment with your thoughts…

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  1. Carly Rudrum Posted

    I absolutely agree with you. A lot of what you say just comes down to simple manners; something that people seriously lack these days.

  2. You are really generous to meet people for helping. It is at your honor
    But nowadays people have no more education. And thanks is out of the vocabulary. I had some of the same experience even if i did not meet people face to face but beeing late on skype is crazy too.
    And yes people are lazy and prefer to ask a question than searching. And also maybe you are becomming a little famous in the british adventure world people want to meet you to say that they are your friend

  3. Well put! Especially Number 8. I can not believe that these types don’t even offer to buy you tea. Still, a grumpy post is better than punching them in the face! Punch bag in the garage Alastair?

  4. Spot on. Inspired post. Nothing like a good old rant.

    The other solution is just to emigrate to somewhere warm and exotic and field all requests via email and 10 minute skype chunks!

    Esc team aiming at Rio. Sept 2011. See you on Skype: escthecity


  5. I am hearing you Al. Dig to help folks but not without them making a bit of an effort themselves.

  6. About n. 7, if someone is meeting with you and they are not able to give you any needed information or concrete sponsorship, they can make it evident that they will support you in other ways: 1) buy your book, 2) promote your blog, 3) spread the good news about what a great guy you are, 4) attend your talks and bring along a friend… there are endless ways to give in kind.

    Also, in this age in time, it is not necessarily important to give in kind directly back to those that help you, but, like you, pass the gesture of giving onward. So, even if you do not directly profit from this connection, you would be undoubtedly pleased to know the people you help are doing their darndest to help others.

    I know this is very old fashion, but I still send thank you notes to those who show kindness to meet with me or give me an job interview or offer assistance in any other way.

  7. I am trying to see how you can see some positive side to meeting an unplesant and rude person. All I can think of is that it is an oppotunity to practise patience and tolerence. Good skills to aquire!

    Also, a bit off topic, but I noticed the Thesiger collection under your ibook and wondered if you have read any of the other Great Journeys series. I really enjoyed these…
    Adventures in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird
    Hunt for the Southern Continent by James Cook
    Jaguars and Electric Eels by Alexander von Humboldt

  8. thanks for the meeting and all your advice

    sorry I was late!

  9. John Thompson Posted

    Where I used to work we seemed to spend so much time in meetings that we had the idea to create an application where you could input the level of each person in the meeting (Director, Manager, person who actually does the work) and then press start and it would calculate the total cost of people sitting their. As it turned out that was too much of a faff so instead we just put up some rules very similar to the ones that you’ve listed.

    By the way I really enjoy the wikipedia wedgie post. For some reason they felt it necessary to show a male and female wedgie as these are so clearly very different.

  10. That’s hilarious, Al 🙂
    Agreed though and precisely one of the reasons I offer hourly consulting on Skype because it gives people an idea what an hour of time is worth to me.

    I generally only meet people in person if there is already a clear, agreed agenda – or if they have a clear online platform where I can see there is a more of a parity in creative exchange (or they are really interesting!)

    I am pretty hardcore about protecting my time these days, precisely because of all this.
    Remember, we are all small businesses these days 🙂

  11. Garry C Posted

    You are more than justified in your rant but it does seem a lot of people have not been taught any better (we don;t have great role models these days, politicians – no, bankers – no etc etc, parents – have you seen the programme Skint?? ). You could send them a post meeting evaluation of their performance, and add that you won’t charge a consultation fee but they should consider donating to your chosen charity!!

  12. Esther Posted

    Wow, sounds like you’ve had some pretty crappy encounters recently. I’m shocked that people don’t feel the need to do these things, or don’t do it automatically. I just hope all above things didn’t happen in one meeting!

  13. Great read…I feel the pain.

  14. Catherine P Posted

    Spot on! At least 5 hours of my week is spent in meetings with an unclear agenda/ managers in conversation with themselves to fill the time.

  15. Nice article Al. As a keen pant wearer I particularly enjoyed point 10 and the wikipedia Wedgie entry…I may have laughed so hard I even cried a little. Had no idea about ‘atomic wedgies’ and that a teacher gave a 10 year old student a wedgie. Food for thought.

  16. My old boss only had 3 rules for meetings: be on time, be prepared, and be engaged.

  17. Yes, yes, yes! I agree with everything you have written Alastair.



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