In a recent post called “6 Great Reasons for Face-to-Face Meetings” I pointed out the virtues of sitting across the table more often with prospects, clients and partners.
In this blog I will walk through some ideas to help run better business meetings when the situation requires one. Before we get to that though, you first need a commitment to meet from your host or guest. Sometimes getting a meeting scheduled is simple. Other times it takes effort. For our purposes, let’s assume the meeting is worth the time for both parties and the date has been set. Now the focus is on maximizing impact and that really boils down to thought, preparation, execution and follow-up. It’s easy to overlook details and that’s why the following tips may come in handy.
#1 The Preparation
- Once confirmed, book the meeting in your calendar system right away and send an invite to all participants so they can add it to theirs. It’s a nice courtesy, plus it’s more binding than a “verbal.”
- Create a call plan. This is very important if the discussion has complexity and there will be more than just two of you at the meeting. It’s always a great idea as it helps you focus on what you’re trying to accomplish.
- If you want better business meetings, prepare your presentations and other materials well before the meeting – not 11:30 pm the night before. You only have one shot to make this a great meeting, so make it count!
- If you have materials you want to hand out, print them on a high-quality printer (preferably colour). Unless you need to, don’t hand out your hard-copy at the beginning of the meeting. It will be distracting. I prefer to say “I’ll email the materials following the meeting.” This saves you the time of printing and gives you another chance to connect and summarize.
- Confirm the meeting date and time a couple days in advance by email to all stakeholders. Make the tone assumptive so you don’t open the door for a cancellation or rescheduling.
Pay attention to your housekeeping – bring business cards, plan your route on Google Maps (if you are going to them), plan the appropriate attire, etc. Sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how when you’re busy these simple things can go by the wayside.
- Practice your talk-track. Also, think about any possible objections and your responses. The more thought you put into it, the better the results.
#2 Just Before the Meeting
- When you are visiting:
- Arrive early, but ask not to be announced until 5 minutes before the meeting time. I like getting there 10-15 minutes early for the reasons outlined in the next few points.
- If it’s your first visit, take time to learn something about the company. Look around, read signs on the wall, talk to people and get a “feel” for the environment.
- Think through your talk-track once again and get yourself in the right frame of mind.
- One of the most important things I do before walking into any high-stakes situation is a short breathing exercise. Take 10 deep and slow breathes. This will clear your mind and get you relaxed. Trust me – it works!
- When you are hosting:
- Make sure the office, halls and meeting room are all thoroughly clean. This includes any other areas your guests might walk into such as the kitchen or bathrooms. First impressions matter.
- Arrange to have some drinks, small snacks, or lunch on hand. Whether they partake or not, it’s a nice touch. As small a token as it is, people appreciate it.
- Let the staff in your office know you will have guests and to keep the noise in check. Let reception know and if you have a security desk, let them know as well. If badges are required, it’s better to have them ready when your guests arrive.
- Another thoughtful idea is a welcome sign if you have one – let people know you appreciate the visit and value their time by making them feel special.
- Set up your technology and make sure it works. This includes web or conference call services if you’re using them. Also, have your title slide on the screen if using a projector and be ready to go.
#3 During the Meeting
- Need I say it after all these years? Turn your phone off or to vibrate and make sure others on your team do the same.
- Start with an agenda or verbal walk-through of what you will cover. Ask if they agree with the flow and what they want to focus on. Be sure to help them achieve their objectives as well as yours.
- Be personable and always professional. Better sales meetings happen when you and the people on your team come across as knowledgeable, but not arrogant; and confident, but humble. Usually this is just a case of being yourself.
- Try to keep it as interactive as possible. Get feedback, ask questions and make sure you are listening and not just talking at them during the entire meeting.
- Make sure you or someone on your team takes notes. This is important for obvious reasons, but especially to clarify the key issues and actions.
- Keep track of time and stay on it. Plan your materials accordingly and stay away from “death by PowerPoint.”
- Get feedback at the end of the meeting. Leave time for questions, comments, discussion and be sure to get agreement on the next steps.
- Thank them for their time and personally escort them out. If you have an office inside a multi-tenant building, never let your guests figure out how to find you when entering or leaving. The walk also allows for more conversation.
#4 Follow Up
- Send a “thank you” email later that day or first thing the next morning. Summarize the action items, who owns them and the due dates.
- Most important of all! Do the things you said you would do and when you said you would do them.
Having better business meetings takes time and energy. You must do the work and pay attention to detail. But, if it’s worth having a meeting, then it’s worth the investment. Hopefully, having a simple checklist such as this will be a good reminder.