29 August 2012

Wednesday 101s: Running a kick-ass meeting

Wednesday 101s
I'm trying out something new this week  called a Wednesday 101  where I hope to give you the info you need to do business-related things (think: meetings, invoices, writing proposals, taking minutes, preparing a tender, business plans, etc) in 10 steps or less. You know, all that stuff that people assume you'll already know how to do, but don't. I've been there... you shouldn't have to! So if there's anything specific you'd like to see, pop me an email or leave a comment. Thanks.

For me, this is a week filled with meetings. And while incredibly exciting and full of promise, I can’t help but get a little crispy: meetings are one of my pet peeves. They’re necessary, I realise, but in a former life, my boss firmly believed in death by meetings. And, for a solid week every month, we’d sit in life-sapping, ego-bashing, ball-busting meetings allegedly designed to keep us “all on the same page”. And every month, I’d pray to whichever deity was listening that I’d be sick, away or have some sort of crisis that would get me as far out of that boardroom as I could be without needing a passport and injections! They were a waste of time, energy, and had a direct negative impact on productivity and morale.

Some really smart entrepreneur – think it was Steve Jobs – once said that if a meeting lasts more than 30 minutes, leave. And I’m inclined to side with him on that one. There are ways to run successful , yet efficient meetings as an entrepreneur that don’t mean being trapped – an hour or two at a time – with potential clients who love the sound of their own voice, yet have no power to make the final decisions. And when time is money, you know what I mean.

Here’s how to get the most from your time in a meeting:
1. Deal only with the decision-makers: Meeting with “minions” rather than the person with the power to cement decisions will only result in more meetings to seal the deal, so you’ll essentially be stuck on repeat. Expect some “corporate gate-keeping” but avoid it if you can.

2. Schedule a date, time and place: In writing, via email calendar or in person. Also make a list of how many will be in attendance and who they are in the business.

3. Confirm two days before: Via email, issue an agenda of key points you want to discuss in writing (make note of the time spent per agenda item) and confirm attendees in order to prepare presentations, visual aids, printouts, etc.

4. Prepare! Don’t ever come to a meeting unprepared – you’re wasting your own time and theirs. Know your stuff, anticipate potential questions and your responses, and ensure your equipment is working. Many a lucrative business deal has fallen flat at the first meeting due to lack of preparation.

5. Don’t cancel at short notice. Securing time with certain decision-makers is a rarity, so if you’ve managed to get a slot in the diary, this is your one chance. Don’t blow it! Short-notice cancellations for flimsy reasons may make you appear unprofessional.

6. Arrive early: You never know how long the signing in procedure will be, nor how long it may take you to set-up in an unfamiliar environment. Anticipate this.

7. Stick to the agenda and be respectful of people’s time: Once you’ve made the introductions and shared business cards if this is a first meeting, run through the agenda points and stick to time you’ve allocated to each point. If it looks like you’re veering off-course or if attendees are having offline conversations with each other at the table, put a halt to it and divert attention back to the matter at hand. Remember, your business is not the only work that attendees have to do today – be respectful of that.

8. End the meeting with clear next steps: Decide what the next steps are per agenda item, delegate who does what and agree to a deadline to resume discussions. Exit gracefully and with thanks.

9. Same-day email of thanks and summary: Ideally you should send a mail of thanks to all attendees post-meeting (on the same day) with a quick summary of what was discussed as well as next steps, just to confirm that you’ve not misunderstood anything that you spoke about and to give the opportunity to correct issues if they arise.

10. Follow up: If you need to follow up by email post-meeting, allow between five and seven working days to pass before hitting send. Too soon after the meeting may seem naggy and desperate; too long and you may come across as uninterested and wishy-washy. Neither are good for business.

What irritates you most about meetings and how have you worked around it?

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