Written by José-Manuel Gil
Perhaps are you are looking for support for your international trade venture, or maybe the key chapter in that new book of yours takes place in a foreign country you have not visited before and you need the inside scoop from a local. Maybe it’s simply that you’re concerned about an international issue affecting our world and you want to have a serious discussion about it. Whatever your situation might be, you require an inside look into a foreign country in order to achieve your goal. You require foreign knowledge. You require an Ambassador.
While Ambassadors are generally open individuals, they are busy people who are bound by strict rules and protocols which can get in the way of reaching them. The following tips could improve your chances to successfully invite an Ambassador to dine with you.
1. My objective is…?
It’s useful to make notes on what you want to discuss with the Ambassador, what you want to obtain or gain from your conversation, how it will help you advance your objectives, and what are you willing to give in exchange. Like most things, preparation is key.
2. Brand yourself
You will likely be required to submit a written meeting (or dining) request, so you will need to present yourself as someone who merits an agenda slot; someone interesting to dine with, someone presenting a rewarding cost-benefit ratio. Sell yourself!
3. The Digital Not-You
It is very likely the Ambassador’s protocol team will investigate who you are, and one primary source of information is the Internet. Make sure your branding is reflected in your online profiles. Those wild university photos from several years back might not score many points with the ambassador.
4. Action! Action! Read all about it!
Think in advance of an action plan that can give you a guide of steps to follow in order to invite an Ambassador to dine. For example, include research protocols to communicate with the embassy, familiarise yourself with customs and etiquette from the ambassador’s country (especially dining-related), write your pitch, draft an invitation text, and develop a timeline and step-by-step checklist.
5. Be aware of protocols
Some embassies have a process for analysing and responding to inquiries, invitations, and other requests. Make sure you know what those protocols are and follow them when submitting your invitation to the Ambassador.
6. Uses and customs
Your research must include the Ambassador’s traditions, habits and practices. You don’t want to invite an Ambassador to share a steak when their country follows a vegetarian diet, or suggest a wine toast to a budding working relationship when their customs forbid alcohol. Anticipate, adapt, succeed!
7. Gain intelligence
The ambassaor’s team could steer you in the right direction with regards to their food preferences, favourite places to dine, etc. Don’t be shy in asking for some advice. Using initiative means keeping their boss happy and comfortable.
8. Melt the ice
Sometimes starting a conversation with someone you barely know can feel harder than inviting the person in the first place. If you’re unsure of what to talk about, prep in advance. Try developing a script with speaking points and key messages you want to convey. With continued practice, your initial ideas will soon blossom into a full topic of conversation worthy of that lavish dinner.
9. The fly in the cup
Never, never surprise an Ambassador like bringing more people to your meeting without the Ambassador’s prior approval, or changing the time or place at the last minute. Above all, avoid having the Ambassador cover the bill. Remember: they are your guest and you invited them.
10. Be punctual
Arriving late not only slams the door shut on opportunity, it shuts it, locks, and throws away the key. We’re often encouraged to not waste other people’s time by arriving late to an appointment, but this doubly true when meeting with an ambassador!
11. Follow up
Your action plan probably includes leaving dinner with some action points. Be sure to follow up as agreed with the Ambassador after your meeting. Regardless of the outcome, a thank you note is a nice touch and could be the element that builds a bridge for future communications.
You are now ready to order dessert, Crêpes Suzette anyone?
*José-Manuel Gil is a communications advisor with the Government of Canada. He has professional and academic background in project and program management, and has more than 10 years of experience as a journalist.