Be a Meeting Master Using These Seven Tips

Posted by Kristin Arnold on January 28, 2013

You’ve just scheduled a high stakes meeting with a very important client, your boss or a savvy supplier to your business.  You created the appointment in ical or outlook and then… you forgot about it until your reminder popped up 45 minutes before the meeting was to start!

Sure, you will go the meeting and have a great conversation, but will that meeting derive your desired results?  Will it have been the highest and best use of your time?

To get the utmost value out of your time together, follow these seven strategies to a highly effective and lucrative meeting:

1)   Destination.  Invest a few minutes in thinking through your expectations for this meeting.  Do you want to solidify your relationship? Agree to move forward with the project?  Brainstorm challenges and mitigating actions?  As George Harrison paraphrased the Cheshire Cat from the book, Alice in Wonderland, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”  Where is “there” for you?

2)   Map.  Once you know your desired destination, take another few moments to map out how you envision the meeting will go.  You would never take a road trip to a new destination without pulling out a map and then figuring out the route, how long it will take as well as the waypoints to stop for a gas, a bathroom break and some rest.  In the meeting world, they call this creating an “agenda.”  Identify the “chunks” that need to be discussed and then sequence them appropriately.  For example: a) Build the relationship; b) Agree on your mutual purpose for the meeting; c) Talk about what you need to cover and d) Summarize your agreements and next steps.

3)   Next Steps.  Meeting masters always conclude every meeting with a summary of what was discussed, agreements made and a confirmation of the next steps.  This is a key piece that morphs a casual conversation into action.  Just make sure that everyone at the table has a piece of the action – and that you aren’t overwhelmed with it all!

4)   Visuals.  A picture is worth a thousand words, so leverage your time together by showing your idea in the moment or as part of a larger context:

  1. In the Moment.  As you are chatting, write down key points on a legal pad (2-3 people), a flipchart (4-20 people) or projected onto a screen for larger audiences.  This allows you to refer to key points and keep the conversation focused and on topic.
  2. Larger Context.  When your meeting is part of a larger process, system or set of meetings, invest a few moments beforehand to create a visual that depicts how this piece of work or milestone fits in with the bigger picture – the ultimate and final destination.

5)   Prevention.  You’ve been to enough meetings with the same or similar players.  Think about what could go wrong e.g. you don’t have the right people in the room to make a decision, you didn’t really connect with one of the decision-makers, the conversation was rushed… and the list goes on!  What can you do to prevent these predictable problems from happening in the first place?  If you really think about it, there are lots of little things you can do to assure yourself that you will have a successful meeting.  For example, you can confirm attendance of key decision-makers, do a little research on all of the participants (people love to talk about themselves, so ask an appropriately inquisitive question to break the ice), be reasonable in your expectations given the time so you don’t feel rushed etc.  I firmly believe that more than 80% of these problem situations can be prevented when you invest a little time up front.

6)   Intervention.  What would you do if, despite your prevention strategies, these problems actually manifest themselves in the meeting?  Think through how you will handle these situations with gracious aplomb.  Then, in the unlikely event it does happen, you won’t go crazy!

7)   End on Time.  One of the first speeches I ever attended was given by Ambassador Vernon Walters who concluded his presentation by saying, “I will leave while you still want me to stay.”  Even if they are begging you to expound on the merits of your idea one more time, no one wants a meeting to go beyond the time allocated.  Be respectful of their time as well as yours.  End on time….or as close to it as possible!

Meeting Masters take a few moments to think through the destination, the process, preventions and intervention strategies even before they walk in the room.  They also use visuals to help describe what they are talking about either in the moment or prepared beforehand.  And they always end on time.

How are you doing in mastering your very important meetings?


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