“Can I buy you a coffee?” Here’s what to say (and not say) to earn 30 minutes with an in-demand person

by Steli Efti

When you go to events or attend conferences, you’re likely eager to get in front of the right people: influencers, industry leaders, the big shots. You want to steal some of their time to get business advice, guidance and feedback.

You reach out on Twitter, LinkedIn or over email ahead of time and ask, “Can I buy you a coffee?” Later, however, you’re probably looking at an empty inbox.

These people are busy. They have other commitments outside of the event. They are also being hit with dozens of requests to connect, grab a coffee or go for drinks.

Yup. You’re not the only one.

So how can you make them make time for you?

Why “Can I buy you a coffee?” doesn’t cut it

It’s a nice gesture. But the person’s inbox will be flooded with 20 requests just like yours. As much as he or she would love to sit down and connect with you, there’s simply not enough time.

How do you break through the noise and build a connection?

The number one tactic that’ll get the attention of an in-demand person

Tell the person how you can be a resource to them. This changes everything.

It’s no longer about taking up someone's time. It’s about providing them with value, and then getting something in return.

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Let me share a recent example with you.

Last year, I was doing a speaking tour in Europe and arrived in Austria to speak at a conference. A few weeks prior to this conference, I started receiving emails and messages on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

They all said the same thing, “Hey Steli, I heard you’re going to be in Austria. Can I buy you coffee? I’d love to just steal half an hour of your time to pick your brain about [insert need].”

I love to connect with people and I love it when people reach out. I love that they think I have something of value to offer and I want to meet and help as many people as I can.

I want to say yes to all of these people. But there’s only so much time in a day. And when I go to these conferences, my schedule gets pretty packed. There are dinners, breakfasts, networking events. There’s a lot of stuff going on.

If I get 50 requests to meet for a coffee, I’m not going to be able to say yes to all of them. Here’s how I replied to these people:

“Hey, I really appreciate you reaching out, but my schedule is super busy, it’s going to be hard for me to tell how much free time I’m going to have. But when you’re at that conference, if you see me just come grab me and say hi and we’ll figure it out on the go.”

Most people responded saying, “Cool! I’ll do that.” But I ended up not connecting with most of these people.

How to stand out

But here’s what one smart guy did. He used a tactic you can steal (and you really should) if you want to meet with someone at a conference or any other type of event.

It’s just a mindset of how to reach out to people that are in high demand and effectively get their attention and some of their time.

His message read: “Hey Steli, I’m excited that you’re speaking at this conference. I’m a big fan.”

Up to this point he said the same thing many other people had said, but what he said next set him apart and got him 30 minutes of 1-on-1 time with me.

“Steli, I know this city like the back of my hand, I know all the places, I know all the restaurants, all the bars, I know everything about this city. Let me be your personal assistant. Let me be at your service. Do you need a drive from the airport to the hotel? Anything that you can think of, I will make it happen for you. Just use me as your resource. Let’s start with me picking you up from the airport.”

That pitch was both smart and compelling.

It’s no longer about him using up my time for his own gains. He didn’t ask for my time, he offered himself as a resource to create value for me.

He continued, “You need to get from the airport to the hotel anyway. If you take a cab or if you drive with me, what’s the difference? Isn’t it more fun driving with someone who’s a fan, who’s an entrepreneur and will ask you smart questions and will be able to have a smart conversation?”

And that’s exactly what we did. He picked me up at the airport and gave me a ride to the hotel.

During those 30 minutes, he questioned me about business, entrepreneurship and his ideas.

The result? A powerful and productive conversation.

When he dropped me off at the hotel, he said, “Tomorrow I’m going to be at the front row of your talk and I’m going to be your biggest fan.”

Do you know what I did? I put him in my presentation. My presentation was all about Hustle Nation. People that put in the work and make shit happen. I thought he was a great example of that.

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I highlighted him as a local hero because this guy is a true citizen of Hustle Nation.

Create value, start building relationships

Next time you want to connect with an in-demand person, don’t offer to buy them a coffee. Don’t ask them for their time.

Instead, think about what you can do for them. Figure out how you can create value for them to start building a relationship.

That’s how you stand out.

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