“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.” – Arthur Ashe
Like it or not, every business meeting is a forced performance. You are on stage. The people you are meeting with are your audience. What you do, how you act, what you say, your gestures, and your tone of voice all combine to make an impression on them. It can be good, bad, or indifferent. It might improve your image, tarnish it, or reinforce an existing prejudice. To make sure you make the right impression — one that will further your personal and/or business goals — you have to plan ahead.
First and foremost, you need to know exactly what you want to achieve as a result of the meeting. (“I will leave the meeting with an agreement from Jeff on the new product.”) And you need to have some idea as to the approach you will take to make that happen. (“I’ll make him a quick, logical argument — and if he doesn’t go for that, I’ll remind him of the favor he owes me.”)
But if you’re the one running the meeting, you have to do even more: You have to make sure it provides an opportunity for everyone else to benefit too. Here’s the way to do it:
1. Set a reasonable goal for the meeting. If you want to close a deal but realize it can’t be done at this particular meeting, settle for something else, such as an agreement on one part of the deal “if and when” it comes to fruition. If your goal is to improve the other person’s impression of you and you know he thinks you are a scoundrel, don’t press too hard. Be happy with showing him that you are perhaps not all that bad.
2. Translate your objectives into benefits. Ask yourself “How will achieving this goal be good for the other person/people as well as for me?” If you can’t come up with anything, your objective may be unreasonable and you should reconsider.
3. Make the purpose of the meeting very specific and make sure all the attendees know, beforehand, what it is.
4. Set and maintain a reasonable time limit for the meeting. Most meetings are much longer than they need to be. Set a shorter time limit than you think you need and press people to finish on time. If you do, they probably will.
5. At the beginning of the meeting, state your purpose. It’s sometimes a good idea to let someone else, the next-most-senior person in the room, do this to give you a chance to make sure you are on the same basic track. Then, ask whether there are any objectives that need to be added to the agenda before you go any further.
6. The meeting should be broken up into at least two parts. During the first part, the problem or opportunity should be presented and commented upon. Keep the discussion as “open” as possible, while trying to limit the number of objections that come up — including your own. During the second part of the meeting, deal with any problems that were identified during the first part. Agree to a plan of action and a way to implement it.
7. When people ask for your opinion, turn the question around and ask “What do YOU think about it?” Make a mental note of anyone who hasn’t said anything. After others have chimed in, ask his opinion.
8. If you can’t engineer a sensible plan of action with the group, put one together yourself. But talk about it as if it had come from them. (And, in fact, much of it should have come from them.) Ask the next-most-senior person to put it in writing, including specific deadlines and the names of the people who will be responsible for implementing each aspect.
9. Before closing the meeting, make sure everyone has had an opportunity to get something out of it. Then, end on an upbeat note.