Ginger, the dog in the cartoon, cannot possibly understand what her owner is saying to her. He’s not even speaking her language! Would you be surprised if you heard one of your sales people say something like, “Did you understand a word of what our boss was saying in that last meeting?”. Most meetings, across the board, are incredibly ineffective and fail to accomplish a specific goal. In order to avoid creating an environment where your sales staff turns into Ginger The Dog, you need to think about how you can avoid wasting their time and, instead, develop productive meetings.
Being prepared for a meeting goes beyond creating an agenda. An agenda is just the price of entry. It’s like wearing clothes to a meeting—it’s just expected. Let’s put a little more color on this ‘be prepared’ thing.
We like to think of preparation as three things coming together that, done well, will differentiate you in every meeting you run.
3 Ways to Properly Prepare for a Meeting:
3CP – Three clear points
If you do an agenda, that’s great. But now distill that agenda down to its “three clear points” such that you can say them (not write them). If you have these top of mind as you walk into a meeting, you will be better prepared to start the meeting off properly using your purpose, benefit, check. Most meetings are inefficient at best, and people crave structured and efficient meetings. If that’s true, why not provide it? The three clear points of any given meeting not only provide the straw man structure, but they give everyone involved a sense of accomplishment once those three things have been discussed. (We’ve all fallen victim to the pain of a horrible conference call. Don’t let it happen to you or inflict it upon others!)
We are believers that if you are meeting, then by definition a conversation has to take place where ideas, plans and concerns are shared and discussed. Sounds obvious, right? But if that’s not your purpose for a meeting, then you should avoid wasting everyone’s time and, instead, send an e-mail.
So what’s the best way to prepare for a conversation like that? You need to show up having thought through two or three questions that will really get the conversation going. We call these questions “impact” questions. Impact questions cause people to think and reflect, share concerns, analyze and synthesize. This type of question is distinct and different from closed-ended questions (“Does this makes sense? Yes? No?”) and open-ended questions (“What do you think?”). Those two types of questions are fine, but they don’t often dig deep enough to unearth potential objections, hard feelings, future challenges or other issues. If you can use the right questions to get these types of issues on the table, isn’t that a successful meeting?
Ask questions that other people don’t (or won’t) ask. This is what it means to have “impact.” Ask questions like:
- “If we were to do this, what scares you most?”
- “How could the wheels come off of this, and what would that look like?”
- “When you have done this in the past, what has success and failure looked like?”
The final aspect to great preparation is to ready your pivots. You’ve got your three clear points and your impact questions. Now you just have to keep the meeting on track. Once again, you can use an agenda to help this, but as we all know, meetings never track the agenda perfectly. We like pivots better.
Pivoting is the art of transition. As you are working through the first of your three clear points, two things tell you when it’s time to move on: 1) the level of energy left for that topic and 2) the clock. You must pay attention to both. When you must move on to the next of the three clear points, you must execute a pivot. A pivot can simply be “Well, the next item on the agenda is..” That’s a fine pivot. But often, someone in the room has more energy for a given topic than there is time for. You can pivot to the next topic by saying something like; “That makes sense. Where I think we should go next is…” OR you can say; “Yes, what that makes me think is…” and pivot to the next topic. It may sound weird, but when it’s done well it’s not weird at all. The pivot simply serves as the transition that keeps your meeting moving along, giving everyone a sense of accomplishment, even the person whose subject you are pivoting away from.
There is only so much that an agenda can do for your team. The leader of a meeting must be prepared to deliver three distinct goals of the meeting, ask impact questions to encourage discussion, and pivot when the discussion moves off-topic.
We’re curious! How do you normally keep a meeting on track? Are there tips or tricks that you think others would find helpful?
Catch up on the rest of the series, 10 Ways to Optimize Your Sales Engine by 2013:
4. I Object!