In collaboration with Jacob Leachman.

Today I got lucky, I received the opportunity for a redo without having to face any consequences. I logged on to a zoom call expecting to meet with a professional and I was drastically underprepared. As a testament to my lack of preparation, I soon learned that our meeting was actually scheduled for next week. I took a deep breath, realizing that I would get a second chance. As a student, my goal is to learn, not just about hydrogen, but to absorb the knowledge and skills necessary to become a professional myself. Writing this blog post will serve as the next step in this journey.

In the HYPER lab, we often have professionals from outside the lab visit and work with us during community and team meetings. Often these professionals volunteer their time to help us. Jake has pointed out several things that help us to engage with professionals in ways that keep them coming back for more.

0. Have a plan

Professionals could be spending their limited time helping just about anyone. They will continue to spend their time with you if it feels like that time is well spent. So it’s imperative to have a plan to maximize the use of their time. Don’t have time to make a plan? Use one of the plans you developed for a prior engagement. Any plan should have some of the following key attributes.

1. Have a pitch

A key characteristic of professionals is that they tend to make more professionals. To help professionals do that, they need to hear your pitch to establish context. Why are you here? What makes you tick? What do you hope to get out of this meeting? What is your role in the meeting? It helps to practice so that your pitch is smooth and memorable. This preparation for the meeting will pay off any time you need to introduce yourself. It helps establish your goals and vocalizing them is a great way to increase your accountability and set the groundwork for the stories you plan to manifest.

2. Have questions

Professionals are the ‘pros’ for a reason and you’re working to become one for a reason too. Here’s your chance to learn. Just like in show business, you never want ‘dead air’ when working with professionals. So have questions ready. Do your research in advance to ask questions that show you studied, it’s a form of respect. Professionals get asked questions a lot and they’ll know if you did your homework. But in a pinch classic fallbacks include: “Tell me the story of how you got into this field?”; “What mentors did you have along the way?”; “Did you ever question your career path?”; “What would advice do you have for someone just getting started?”. You are a vampire trying to get their knowledge and you should leave them absolutely drained by the end of the meeting in the best possible way. Professionals like that. They like to feel fully utilized.

3. Listen

A lot will happen fast with professionals. One of the best ways to listen attentively is to take notes. Don’t benefit from notes? Try doodling. You need to make the professional feel like what they are saying is the most important thing in your world at that moment. A classic structure is the Strengths, Improvements, Insights feedback model. Professional says: “You have a really clever/neat _____. However, you might run into a problem with ______. If you change ____ in ______ way, you could turn that into an opportunity.” You reply, “Oh I didn’t think about ____ in that way. I agree that ______ is a problem and if we make ______ change, our _____ will be better.” This format tells the professional that you’ve heard and understood what it is they are saying. It also never hurts to just pause for a moment to digest a statement via, “Hang on for a minute, so what I’m hearing is __________. Do I have that right?” Lastly, listening ensures that you are honoring the professional’s time.

4. Saying Thank You

Finish the engagement by saying thank you — not necessarily literally. Here are¬†some quick ideas. The best way to say thank you to a professional is to show them that their devotion has made you a better professional and the purest form of professionalism is to finish. Finish by showing and demonstrating for them that their involvement made a difference, not only to your goal but to your own professionalism. One method of accomplishing this is to reiterate what they have taught you, making sure that they know their time was well spent and their advice was not lost on deaf ears.¬†

Do all of the above well, and you’ll find the professionals will keep coming back for more.

Need help finishing projects? One book that can be found on the HYPER top-shelf reads is “Start Finishing: How to Go From Idea to Done” by Charlie Gilkey. I recommend giving it a read.