Be honest, you’ve bombed important meetings before.  There have been times where you were impressively terrible and decidedly not your best, you. 

I know! I’m a coach, and I see it all the time!

Luckily, Shanghai is probably one of the best places in the world for you to goof.  A couple of months ago, I watched a young student present a novel idea with solid potential, and totally pull a Mr. Bean in front of some potential investors. He choked up, and it was a little painful to watch.

But he would then go on to ask me, “Where can I get some help with my presentation skills?”

Asking that simple question, to a person he barely knew, ended up being the first step to becoming a rockstar on stage, but that’s another story.

Say what you want about his performance, the guy was smart.  How many of your friends boasting the “next big start-up” have even gotten in the same room with a real investor? My guess is not many…

So how can you get on a VIP’s calendar? There’s cold calling. Cold emailing.  LinkedIn stalking. And then there’s dancing around the city popping in and out of every networking event on Meetup.

All great ideas!  Yet unfortunately it’s much easier to lose the game if you don’t approach the task with the proper understanding of psychology.  You don’t want to be like this poor guy failing at business development:

I’ve got questions mister…

1.    Who are you? Have we met somewhere? Or are you just scanning LinkedIn for business?

2.    I’ll admit there was an attempt at building rapport by mentioning my job at the time, but extremely superficial.  What exactly do you find great about the work I do?  Oh, you were just doing the flattery thing…

3.    “I don’t know if you’re familiar with our App…” your App with 15 beta testers?  How about trying this on, “You may have heard of our App…” or “You might have seen our App featured in…”  Small change in vocabulary gets a massive shift in perception

4.    Why am I supposed to care about your App?  My first trip to China was in 2009, my Chinese isn’t amazing, but I don’t have problems that I can’t solve using the language

5.    Special deals? Promotions?  Does that mean I’m getting something cheap? Or I get to make money with you? That could be cool…how? Oh I need to message you back for that part? Nah, I’m heading over to Facebook.

I get loads of these. They typically take me a minute to delete.  I could do it quicker but I’m busy laughing. And men can’t multitask.

Ignore my cynicism, I’ll show you how EASY it is to totally nail that introduction through a quick analogy that one of my favorite bloggers termed “The Craigslist Penis Effect.”

The Craigslist Penis Effect

On Craigslist, there’s the dating section. Let’s focus our attention to the infamous “women looking for men” tab.  A naive yet sincere thirty-something posts an ad hoping that she can skip all messy bits of dating and find love efficiently.  What does she get in return?

D*ck pics.

Dozens of them.

But you know what she also gets? Some average looking guy, with an OK job, an extra chin, and this is key, NO exposed genatalia.

In other words, Prince Charming, and this is the guy that gets the date.  My point? You can easily become the Prince Charming of this networking business by following a few simple rules.

Speak to Them Like a Human

Skip the networking events, and spend that time researching 5 key targets, people that you would love to have in your network.  Scour the Internet for their direct email—don’t be lazy; it’s there somewhere.

Find some way to demonstrate that you aren’t a friend-starved, crazy person.  Attach yourself to some well-known organization to get some credibility. Mention your clientele, but don’t be self-absorbed about it.  Open with something like,  “My name is Aaron and I’m finishing up my Masters in Economics at Fudan…” or “our mutual friend so and so thought it would be interesting for us to connect because ________.

Don’t know anyone who knows them?

First off, not true. That’s the excuse you used to use. LinkedIn took that one away from you, plus the expat community of Shanghai is much smaller than you think.

Second, if you truthfully don’t have any mutual connections, then go out and make one!  Impress a VIP’s friend or business associate, and it will be much easier to connect with the VIP through a warm introduction.

Mention Their Work

Ok, the first line of email is done.  Now it’s time to comment meaningfully on her work. This is where you thank me for reminding you to stay home and Internet stalk your VIP.  Mention very briefly, yet substantively on how you’ve been impacted by something she’s said, done, or the business that she is in.  Don’t be superficial or flattering here. Be specific and authentic and brief.  This part is key, you want to evoke some positive feelings in the reader.

Show You Won’t Waste Their Time

Move on to stating clearly what you’d like to learn a bit more about, and invite her for a coffee to have a short conversation about it.  And that’s it! Coffee is non-threatening, and doesn’t need to last long. Your VIP can come up with a simple excuse to run away back to the office if at any point she senses that you’re a weirdo. This puts her at ease, and makes the request easier to agree with.

By the way, little known secret, a recent study in neuroscience shows that having a conversation over a warm drink increases positive affect. In short, warm sensations facilitate warm feelings.  Who says humans are so complicated? I guess it makes sense why on other planets the apes are in charge…

But don’t count on your hot coco to do all your work for you! You still have ask smart questions, and more importantly you have to make sure that she agrees to meet you!

Getting a VIP’s Attention

In order to do that, you’ll have to consider the psychology of a busy person.  A subject line that is unclear or over-the-top doesn’t get opened.  An email with a fantastic headline and 30 lines of text gets read “later.”

A busy person opens her email, and there are 100 entitled messages ready to demand she focus on minutiae she likely doesn’t even give a damn about.

The purchasing department says, “In order for us to process this order, we need you to talk to our supplier about the pricing of the new widget conductors.  Our client wants this by tomorrow, so please respond by 3pm today.”

Her manager blares, “There’s been an update to the CRM system, please follow this link to familiarize yourself with the new processes, changes will take place immediately, orient your team by 3pm”

Her husband writes, “Honey, here are the three kindergarten I was mentioning.  We need to start booking interviews, so send me your schedule for the next two weeks, because it doesn’t look good if you aren’t there.  It will take 2 hours. Get back to me by 3pm please.  Love you.”

You are competing with these, and 97 other emails that are just as urgent. The solution here is brevity, an intriguing headline, and a clear call to action that she can respond to with a simple yes or no answer.

Subject Lines:

Can we meet for coffee? Or, I’m interested in your job, can we talk?

Both bad. Try

Marketing Specialist at Acme Corp., curious about your work at We Are Widgets

Call to Action:

Can we meet soon?  Or, Can we meet next week?

Again, both bad.

The busy person has to think, and make a decision about where it’s best to fit you in. She’ll think, “Sure I’ll meet her, she seems nice. I’m not sure when I’m free next week, I’ll check my calendar later and get back to her…”

And at this point, I don’t think I need to translate what later really means here.  You’ve lost her mindshare after half an hour. There are too many variables for her to think about and choose from.

Instead do the work for her. Try,

Can we meet for coffee this coming Tuesday at 2pm?  Also I’m free during the day Thursday as well.  I can meet you at or near your office, just let me know which option is best.

She can say, “Nice to meet you, Tuesday is good.  There’s a Starbucks downstairs from my office. Address in the signature.”

If you get these couple of things right, you’ll notice it becomes much easier to meet experts, potential mentors, and new job opportunities.  Learn to connect quickly and deeply.  Then demonstrate how interesting of a person you are when you blow their mind. Not with your cool stories, but with the insightful questions that you crafted beforehand.

After you frontload the hard work, it’s just a matter of not messing it all up! I’m curious about the ways you’ll find to perfect your follow-up, but with a strong opening like that, it becomes much easier to convince those VIPs you’re a real winner.


Aaron is the Lazy Man’s Guide to Personal Transformation. He coaches leaders using neuroscience to, in his own words, “help you think bigger and perform better.” If you’d like to get in touch with him, he’s reachable on email at

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