Most meetings are won or lost before they ever start. Whether it is a job interview, client presentation, or a date, most of what you can do to be successful occurs prior to the first words being spoken in the actual meeting. I have seen quite a few detailed methodologies for having successful meetings and while I think many of these “systems” have real merit and could be valuable, I’ve had problems adhering to anything that requires too much discipline or time. Over time, I’ve developed a cut-down approach for getting ready to attend meetings that I can scale from 5 minutes to a week depending on what’s at stake and the time I’ve been given. The fact is that if your complex 14 step meeting preparation process requires 24 hours and you only have 10 minutes before your meeting, you are likely to fail. Since I am often on a tight timeline, I have scaled the many approaches to meeting preparation that I have tried down into three simple actions. I can scale these actions to the intensity of the requirement and the time I have before the meeting occurs.
- Positive – Get yourself in the right mental state. Visualize success. Run through the opening to the conversation in your mind and visualize things going perfectly. People can sense confidence, so spending a little bit of time visualizing yourself succeeding can help you go into the meeting in a positive state of mind. Try to set up some down time in advance of your meeting. During this time, you can prepare yourself mentally and ensure that you are in a positive state of mind. I try not to place two tough meetings back to back without at least a 15 minute break in between. I want to ensure that I have some time to regroup if the first meeting is contentious. Moving from one difficult meeting to the next increases the likelihood that there will be negative bleed over.
- Prepared – Know the scope, participants, and context for the meeting. Too many people enter meetings cold, armed only with the information that is important to them. You have to know what you are going to talk about and be prepared for logical deviations. In order to do this, you need to be able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Without doing this you not only risk alienating the other participants by focusing only on your concerns, but you also risk missing the point of the meeting as a whole. Just like the date that can’t stop talking about themselves, make sure you listen during the meeting. Make sure you prepare yourself to listen and understand by doing some basic research on “their” point of view. Successful meetings, partnerships, and relationships are bi-directional. It allows multiple participants to feel that they have achieved what they set out to achieve in the meeting or encounter. Putting yourself in their shoes enables you to help them meet their objectives, while you are ensuring you meet yours.
- Plan – Provide an agenda, even if it is only for yourself. Most meetings are held to get to specific decisions or drive an action. Structure your meeting so that it leads towards that conclusion. I make between 20-60 calls every day to talk to existing customers, prospective customers, employees, partners and other stakeholders of Millsapps, Ballinger and Associates. Prior to every one of those calls I try to make sure that at a minimum I have set a mental goal for the call. I treat each one like a meeting and I try to plan for the result I want. Without that step, I’ve noticed that calls have a tendency to drift into the social area. While this is fine from a relationship-building standpoint, if you don’t set specific goals you generally do both parties a disservice. Recognize that every meeting participant’s time has value and structure your meetings to derive the most value from that time. Internally, we do not hold meetings without agendas – period. Even our daily scrums (15minutes) have a specific agenda and formula that is designed to get to value by the close of every meeting.
|Be prepared. Get the right data.|
|Make an Agenda or a Checklist|
If you follow these three P’s, I guarantee that you will get more out of your meetings, calls, and conversations. None of the above should take so much time that the time invested isn’t well worth the results. After all, having an unproductive meeting ensures that any time you spent was wasted. In order to take my own medicine on a compressed schedule, I keep the tools required to do a quick version of the 3 P’s by my desk at all times. I keep a pad of paper on my desk where I can sketch quick goals for a call and I’ll often simply do a quick scan of a person’s LinkedIn profile, last few e-mail exchanges, or other biographical information directly before the call. Finally, I always put myself in their shoes. What are they looking for? What do they want to talk about? If you aren’t prepared for those, you cannot expect to get the results you are looking for out of your meetings.
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