How to get the first 1-to-1
To begin with 1-to-1s will happen mostly through referral; someone telling someone to give you time. You need to find out who can give you the referral and build relationships with them, to work your way to the people you need to know. Once you build a reputation people will start to contact you.
Determine the who
Sometimes you are not the best person to have the 1-to-1. If it is not you, then who? The who, could be the worker to the director of their factory, or the student to the union. Once you know who the who is, give them all the support they need to have a successful 1-to-1.
1-to-1s with power that make you sweat
One month ago you were an accountant. Today you’re still an accountant, with a career in humanity on the weekends. You have been doing 1-to-1s in the community and the issue of unaffordable housing keeps coming up. You have been able to get a 1-to-1 with the council leader for housing, to discuss this problem. The team you’re working with has put you forward to speak with the leader.
The team has found land in the area that could have affordable housing built. You want to plant the seed of making this happen. The meeting is next week and now you’re bricking it. The stakes are high because if the 1-to-1 goes well, it could change lives in the local area.
It is normal to feel nervous when speaking to powerful people for the first time. Most of us do not do this very often. I imagine this is the same feeling some politicians have when their assistant is sick and they have to go buy milk from the corner shop. How much is it? Is the person behind the till judging me? Why are there different coloured caps? Do they take American Express?
Preparation is key. Do some background research. What has this person been up to recently and what are their concerns? Has anyone in the community met with them? What were they like? You will gain respect if you can demonstrate that you have done some homework. You will also feel a lot better than going in cold.
Have an agenda
Have an agenda that you have written. The meeting should be on your terms as much possible. Send it to the person or their assistant in advance of the meeting for sign it off. Preparing the agenda means you are owning the meeting. Prepare what you want to say. What three minute story will you share? Make it genuine and relevant to the meeting. Tell a story about poor housing and its affect on you/someone you know. This will set the meeting in the right tone.
When you start the meeting, tell whoever you are speaking to, that you want to share a little bit about yourself. You would also like to learn a little bit about them. The person may want to interrupt your story and go straight to business. Most people in power are not used to this way of working; it can make them uncomfortable. It will inject some healthy tension in the room and that is ok. Enjoy it. Explain to them this is how you and the team work; by building relationships. Without the story, you are losing the best opportunity to build relationship and empathy for the issue.
Before the meeting, go through the agenda to time, to ensure you have enough time left over for next steps. Have the confidence to interrupt, seek clarity and hold the conversation. The best way to do this is to role-play with someone. Have them act out predicted reactions, so you can prepare your response.
Remember whoever you are meeting eats, drinks, dreams, just like you. They may have a nicer house and are not currently surviving on ready meals. Maybe not. Either way they are human; enjoy it and know you deserve to be there.
Prepare for the unexpected
People will be late, bring in surprise guests, cut your time and sometimes not show. Plan for this to happen, especially when you are starting out. You could have a backup shorter agenda, a task to handout to unwanted guests, a planned action if they go back on their commitment: what ever it is, be creatively prepared.