The Magic of Showing Up Early

The Magic of Showing Up Early

The smartest people I know operate on ‘Lombardi Time’.

They’re always early.

Vince Lombardi (1913-1970) was a legendary football coach who required his Green Bay Packers to be 15 minutes early for meetings, practices, and appointments. If they didn’t arrive by then, they were considered late.

“If you’re five minutes early,” said Lombardi, “you’re already ten minutes late.”

His teams excelled.

Showing up early in business demonstrates organization, respect, and commitment. Lateness, endemic in our early 2020s world, conveys disorder, discourtesy, and disinterest.

And yet, lateness grows.  

“Traffic was horrible.”

“Traffic was horrible,” qualifies as the most common excuse, as if bad traffic was a shocker, entirely unpredictable. The problem wasn’t the traffic. The problem was the driver’s conscious decision not to factor in a worst-case traffic scenario. 

Basically, he or she didn’t care enough.

Do you want to stand out in business?

For starters, be 15 minutes early.

My senior clients are. 

They don’t just show up for a meeting or engagement, rushed and disheveled, half paying attention, distracted by where they’ve just been, and where they need to be next.

They’re in the moment.

They’ve done their homework. Having arrived (at least 15 minutes before the scheduled start time), they make a point of introducing themselves to everyone in the room, including support staff.

Especially support staff.

They’re also keenly aware of who’s early, who’s (barely) on time, and who’s late.

You’re not going to believe this story.

I know a leader, vastly successful yet humble, the CEO of a New York-based multinational, with more than 40 offices around the world. He makes it a point to visit each office at least once a year. Given his schedule, he gets to most of them just once annually.

As you can imagine, it’s a big deal when he comes to town.

Each office holds a breakfast reception for him, and all the local managers are invited to attend. It’s an opportunity for the CEO to update the managers on company developments, and a chance for the managers to either meet, or get reacquainted with, the CEO.

Simple, right?

You’d logically think that if there was one event during the entire calendar year that every manager would be on time for, it would be this one.

You would be wrong.

Some managers, incomprehensibly, are late.

To a breakfast reception with their CEO.

For an opportunity to speak with him.

For a chance to make an impression on him.

When the CEO told me this, I went uncharacteristically silent. Eventually, I was able to choke out the word: “What?”

He nodded, and smiled, shaking his head. “I know,” he said.

I asked him if he made a mental note of who was late. 

“Oh yes,” he said. “I also remember who was early. I’m always early, so I spend a fair amount of time with the people who arrive ahead of time. We have some great conversations. I learn a lot – about the particular office, and about them.”

The extra-smart ones.

Many of the people who arrive early and engage the CEO at the breakfast receptions continue to keep in touch with him by email.

(The extra-smart ones will employ email, and the odd handwritten note.)

The managers who do follow-up almost always do so appropriately, and the CEO can’t help but take a special interest in their careers. It’s human nature. They’re standing out, and they showed up early.

Showing up early in 2023.

Chances are, you’re going to attend a fair number of business-related functions this year – conferences, panel discussions, receptions, seminars, and speeches.

Good for you. After the prolonged gloom of 2020-22, most of us are keen to get out and about, learn some stuff, and expand our base.

Preparation is the key to maximizing your event experience.

Your event guidelines

  1. Carry plenty of business cards. It’s amazing to me that people show up without them, or run out, on game day. Check them the night before so you don’t forget. There’s never an excuse to be without them.
  2. Regrettably, this has to be stated: Avoid garlic the day of (and ideally the day before) the occasion. Pack breath mints in your briefcase, purse, or pocket. Use them liberally – before the event, not during it. 
  3. View yourself in a full-length mirror before entering the venue – you’re bound to find something to fix. I always do.
  4. Determine to eat lightly and carefully, if at all. Bad things can happen when you eat, with food discernible in your teeth, and on your clothing. (I’ve had lengthy conversations with lettuce between my teeth.) If at all in doubt, hit the washroom and conduct a quick assessment. 
  5. Institute a strict alcohol limit – either no drinks, or one and done. 

And of course, you’re going to arrive early.

When you do, all kinds of good things happen.

You get to relax because you’re there, not battling traffic. You get to calmly introduce yourself to achievers who also operate on ‘Lombardi Time’, with little competition for attention, since the main crowd has yet to arrive.

Read the room.

But there’s an important caveat here – you need to read the exterior of the room before you enter it.

Clearly, if the event organizers are still scrambling to get set up, you don’t hang over them, panting to be let in. You chill, lay back, and engage with others who’ve learned the power of the early arrival. 

But you’ve got superior interpersonal skills – you can figure this out. 

It’s increasingly rare these days for professional organizers to be significantly behind schedule, but if that’s the case (due to illness, accident, weather, whatever), be stand up – offer to help out.

I’ve put a ton of brochures at table settings in my time, and was happy to do it.

Just because you’re a guest doesn’t mean you can’t be of service. 

And if you do pitch in, guess who the organizers will love for all time? That’s right. You.

Work the room.

Once you’re good to go, take the initiative. Action defeats anxiety. Introduce yourself to fellow guests with a confident smile, eye contact, and a firm handshake. 

Be strategic, in thought and action. Once a sought-after connection has been made, be brief, upbeat, and professional. That person will likely want to engage others, too. Aim to follow-up another time.

It’s really quite simple – do your thing, enjoy the event, and leave. 

When you do depart, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that by showing up early, you maximized the experience. Who knows? You may never go back to being late – or even on time – again.

Jim Gray is a Senior Communications Advisor in Oakville, Ontario.

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