The company I worked for my first year after college was producing a commercial, and my boss sent me and a coworker to meet the head of the production company we’d hired to film it. The man was, according to the online bio I read before the meeting, a “former Hollywood guy”… whatever that means.
When we got to his office — a nondescript building in a small industrial park — he invited us into his conference room and asked if we’d like a drink. As I took my seat, I politely declined the drink.
He sat down across from us, leaned back in his chair, shook his head in mock-disapproval, and said, “Clearly neither of you two know the Hollywood Rule.”
“The Hollywood Rule?” my co-worker asked. “I’ve never heard of it.”
“The Hollywood Rule,” the production head explained, “is to always accept a drink when someone offers one at the start of a meeting.”
If I could travel back in time to that moment, I would have asked him why. But, at that moment, it didn’t occur to me. Instead, I’m pretty sure I meekly asked for a water, and then we continued with our meeting. As a result, I’ve spent the next 15 years wondering why, in Hollywood, you’re always supposed to accept a drink when offered one during a meeting.
Even though I don’t know why I’m supposed to, ever since leaning the Hollywood Rule, when someone offers me a drink in a meeting, I always accept it. Plus, when I meet with someone and offer a drink, I get a little annoyed if they don’t accept it. I think it’s a useful piece of advice, so I’ve come up with my own reasons why.
Reason #1: Demonstrate Absolute Comfort
Maybe you’re meeting with a powerful investor. Maybe you’re meeting with a potential customer who, if you win the deal, could propel your business to massive success. No matter how important the meeting is, or how nervous you are, by accepting a drink you’re demonstrating absolute comfort in your environment. Why? Because people who turn down drinks are people who don’t want to feel like they’re imposing or causing trouble. But people who close big deals are people who never worry about imposing.
Reason #2: Get Used To Your Environment
Thanks to millions of years of evolution, when entering new environments, humans are naturally focused on their surroundings. Sure, this comes from having to worry about things like saber toothed tigers unexpectedly leaping out at you, and you’re not likely to encounter many of them in a conference room, but instincts are difficult habits to kick. As a result, when entering a new space ahead of a meeting, some part of your mental energy will be tuned to your surroundings.
By accepting a drink at the beginning of a meeting, you’re giving yourself a few minutes to acclimate to a new environment. During that time, your hunter-gatherer subconscious can do its thing, which means it’ll stay out of your way once the meeting starts.
Reason #3: Cool Down
Even low-pressure meetings require some level of additional effort beyond what you expend staring at a computer screen. That additional effort leads to things like breathlessness, an inability to focus, and, in some cases, sweat. Lots and lots of sweat.
An easy way to avoid being the kind of person who sweats through your shirt during a meeting is to accept a cold beverage. You probably won’t realize how much it’s helping you stay cool, but maybe you’ll notice the lack of pit stains.
Reason #4: Make Your Host Feel Good
While you might think you’re creating extra work, accepting a drink is actually an easy way to make your host feel good for doing something nice. Making your host feel good will put that person in a more receptive state of mind, which may come in handy if you need to make any kind of “ask” during your meeting.
Reason #5: Establish Control
Conversations are about control. Do you like to be the driver of your conversations, actively pushing them in the directions you want them to go? Or do you tend to be a passenger in your conversations, going wherever other people want to take them?
Being passive during conversations isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, there are plenty of scenarios where you should let the other person lead. However, if you need to control a conversation, accepting a drink is a good way of doing so because it immediately makes you the beneficiary of the other person’s effort.
If you want to establish even more control, request a drink before you’re even offered one. A simple “Could I trouble you for a glass of water?” as you’re walking in the door is a polite way of taking charge at the beginning of a meeting.
And, for those times where you want everyone in the room to know you’re the “alpha,” request a drink the other person surely won’t have:
Person You’re Meeting: “Before we get started, would you like something to drink?”
You: “As a matter of fact, I’d love a Mountain Dew Code Red if you’ve got one.”
Person You’re Meeting: “Umm… I don’t think we have that.”
You: “Then let’s just get down to business. So… what can I do for you?”