A Good Meeting is like an Iceberg – In a meeting where the desired outcome is a decision – as opposed to an informational meeting or an update – most of the work and time is below the surface. And, if you’ve done it right, you should know the outcome with a high level of certainty before you ever commence the meeting.
Several years ago, one of our CollegePlus board members informally outlined a pre-meeting strategy for me that I have been using for board meetings and other important internal company discussions ever since. I have affectionately dubbed it “The Meeting Before the Meeting.”
Below are some of the tips he shared with me along with some others that I’ve picked up along the way. Use these tips in preparation for your next big meeting where you are driving for a decision on a key issue. I believe the result will be the most predictable, productive, results-oriented meeting you have ever led.
Identify the linchpins – Who will be the most opinionated and influential on the topic at hand? This would include both vocal detractors and ardent supporters.
The Meeting Before the Meeting – Schedule a time to meet with each of the linchpins individually or in small groups. Present your ideas and solicit feedback. You can learn much from these one-off meetings. Which ideas are easily understood and embraced? What concepts gather pushback and require further explanation, illustration, or data? Use the feedback you receive from one to refine your approach for the next.
Understand and Benefit from Your Detractors – Drill down into their objections. Make sure you understand what is at the root of their concerns and address it, either on the spot or in a follow-up e-mail or meeting. Give their objections the proper attention and make sure they feel heard.
At worst, The Meeting Before the Meeting gives you a heads up on who will be against your ideas and what it is about the ideas that they don’t like. At best, you will be able to address their concerns either by improving your idea or by providing additional data that will alleviate their concerns. Either way, you and your idea are better off than you were before you met with them.
Find a Champion – Be on the lookout for an informal champion or sponsor. This should be someone with greater or equal influence than you that has fully bought into your idea. Once a champion has been identified, work closely with them to integrate their suggestions and ideas. The more you integrate, the more ownership the champion will have in you and your presentation, making them more likely to back you in the meeting. If you do a really good job, you may even be able to get your champion to present your ideas for you!
Anticipate Objections – One of the biggest frustrations about this type of preparation is when someone voices an objection in the real meeting that they failed to mention before. This could come from a detractor or even from your champion. In your preparation, envision the discussion and potential objections in your mind’s eye. Rehearse your responses and have your supporting documentation nearby.
Don’t make them dig, but don’t download either – One of the biggest challenges is knowing how much information to present. Give too much information and everyone’s eyes roll back and you lose their attention. Give too little, and you risk appearing as if you did not research the topic or that you are hiding something. Though more of an art than a science, the balance is in presenting enough information to provide your hearers with a frame of reference to ask the right questions while holding enough information back to provide fresh answers. Questions should reveal solid answers, not raise more questions.
I hope it is clear that the strategies above are not designed to manipulate people but rather to positively influence the outcome of the meeting. If your ideas are worth their salt, they deserve the preparation outlined above in order to ensure their rightful impact on your organization.
Questions or comments? Please start or join the conversation below. No ideas or questions are too big or small to mention. My primary goal with the comments section below is that we can all learn through the interaction and build upon the ideas laid out in the post. Thanks for your participation!