As a fresh faced graduate or young professional who has just begun to delve into the working world, communicating with senior executives can be daunting to say the least. How do you have a conversation with someone who has been working for longer than you’ve been breathing? In my career so far, I have had the good fortune to work closely with Director and C-Suite level professionals from a number of industries, and wanted to share my top tips for anyone who finds themselves staring at their shoes instead of jumping in feet first upon entering a room full of those who have ‘made it’.
1. Picture them naked – No, I’m joking, but this is a tip that often crops up when discussing how to dispel nerves. My take on this would be – remember that they are only human. No matter how experienced, successful or famous someone is, they are still a human being (for the most part). So speak to them like they’re human rather than trying to speak to them in code. Maybe start with ‘Hello’…
2. They are the experts – leave it to them – The instant reaction to meeting a football player is to speak to them about football. The same goes for business people, musicians, actors and so on and so forth. If you happen to meet Alan Sugar, telling him about which Apprentice candidate he should have hired instead of fired is most likely going to make him want to plan a swift escape. Funnily enough, he has probably heard it all before. Try to find something that you have in common – a hobby, a favourite TV show, where you live – and build on this.
3. Don’t be a fanboy/fangirl – relating to the above point, it is okay to speak to accomplished people about their achievements (as long as you’re not trying to one-up them). They often have a vast range of insight and knowledge which they are willing to share. But this sharing should take the form of an intelligent discussion, not a one-sided conversation in which you confess your undying love for the person and everything they’ve ever done, ever. Ask questions about their achievements, find out more about them as people, ask for advice and share your experiences too.
4. Connect – LinkedIn has made it almost seamless to connect with people you meet throughout your professional life. Business cards are not dead (yet) so always carry them with you and do not be afraid to ask for an exchange. But to really connect, just simply ask ‘Are you on LinkedIn?’ The answer more often than not is yes, in which case you ask the person if they would be happy to connect with you – another question to which the answer is usually yes. That way, when you connect, your profile picture will jog your new connection’s memory of who you are, what you discussed etc. If you just exchange cards, the next day your card is one of many in the pile, and they are less likely to remember you.
5. The art of the follow up – You don’t need to follow up with everyone you meet, and again LinkedIn has a part to play here as you can connect and stay up to date without necessarily having to reach out. However, for those connections that you want to nurture, the general rule is to follow up within 3 days. I would scrap that and say the sooner the better! But don’t just email for email’s sake. Provide something of value. If you want to follow up with someone with whom you discussed diversity, send them an interesting article you read on the topic. If you want to follow up with someone who is about to go on holiday somewhere you have visited, send them a few recommendations. Give them a reason to get back to you.
If you have any other tips that have worked for you when networking with people more senior than you, do share them in the comments below!