It’s 8am. You’re heading to a breakfast roundtable – maybe for networking, or maybe for a topical discussion.
What are two things you need?
If you said the chocolate croissant, I empathize. Within seconds of entering such a room, I have mentally ranked every pastry in order of preference (an algorithm that factors in deliciousness, crumb potential, and the likelihood of something getting stuck in my teeth) and developed a plan of attack. That’s another column though.
Let’s get more practical for now.
The first thing you need is a pen. Usually, I have one on me, but sometimes I forget, so I’ll look for any pen stash in the conference room. If you can’t find one, see if a fellow attendee has a spare. (Mental note: I should carry spare pens.) (Mental note 2: It’s not mental if I write it.)
The second is paper. I sometimes have a pad or pocket notebook, but not always. Paper is easier to improvise. At an event last Friday, I used the back of sheets that were printed with WiFi access instructions. Other times, I have used napkins.
Once you have a pen and paper, you’re set to steal my foolproof, three-step system for getting the most out of the breakfast and not embarrassing yourself too much. I even posted a visual aid on SlideShare if you want to follow along.
Part 1: Self-Introduction Notes
Every roundtable has its own rules. Some have timers, some have icebreaker questions, and most request you include something very specific, like a description of your ideal customer or a need you have that others might help with. What about you and your business should you share?
You have very little time. You need to have your elevator pitch ready, but perhaps one quickly reworked for the crowd you’re in. I often have a bunch of notes and narrow it down (I try not to sit right at one end of a table if I can avoid it so I don’t go first). At a similar dinner session recently where everyone shares an ‘ask,’ I had three solid ones and didn’t know what I’d share until I started speaking.
Also, I tend to have a fun line or two handy, and my name is easy fodder. Last Friday, in a room with three other Davids, I said, “I am David Berkowitz, Serial Marketer… and the only David Berkowitz you’ll meet born after the summer of 1977.” Several laughed, several explained this to their neighbors, and the rest had no clue what I meant. Sometimes I work a little harder, but if you’re 6’7” or you always wear unicorn jewelry or you were given the same name as a mass murderer, just own it and say what everyone is thinking. A friend of mine who worked on the famous Oreo Super Bowl tweet always leads with that, and everyone loves it because they know the reference. Sometimes, you can stop workshopping your material and use your best lines.
Part 2: Follow-Up Items
Keep a running list throughout the meeting. Who can you help, and how? Be specific in your note to yourself – “Introduce Nina to Sasha for D2C ad campaigns.” Perhaps someone there made a really good point, and you want to follow up with a question or a genuine note of thanks for the insight. For me, as a writer, I often wind up with a couple of #newsletter ideas (like this one) that I wasn’t anticipating.
After the meeting, either transcribe or take a photo of those notes as quickly as possible, and then act on them while you still remember what they all mean. You will lose this paper, and by lunchtime, you’ll probably forget almost everything important from the breakfast.
Part 3: Draw the Table
Are you great with names? Lucky dog. I’m not. What makes it worse is living in the one city where my name is particularly memorable. I have an uncanny ability to forget someone’s name even if there are name placards, name tags, and a flashing sign with someone’s name above their head; by the fifth or sixth meeting, I’m usually alright.
So what do I do at events like this? I draw the table – at least symbolically. I start with a long oval or rectangle or giant square, based on the actual table shape. Then I put little lines where everyone is sitting, while also marking free spaces with empty chairs. I put “me” in front of my seat, and then I fill in the rest as I learn everyone’s names. I add companies where applicable. And I add a few words about what they’re about and anything they’re looking for: “designer – wants agency gig” or “needs ofc for 10 – times sq.” Anything actionable then gets listed under the follow-ups.
This one illustration often takes up half the page. I got a little ambitious on Friday and started to draw the Polycom devices, outlets, and then symbols for what everyone was eating or drinking. Did I mention I was a compulsive doodler in my grade school notebooks? At least this time though, instead of sketching the latest Adventures of Micro-Cow (a comic that graced my notebook pages for at least five years of schooling), the drawings are put to good use.
So there you go. When you get to roundtable events, grab a pen and paper, and list out your rough introductory remarks, your follow-up items, and a map of the whole table with who does and needs what. To crystallize all this further, glance at the sample sheet.
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