- Alexander Graham Bell –
I am sitting in front of a very old fire place in my cozy London hotel. I love London, I love walking down Oxford Street, but instead of following the crowds, I continue my walk via the little alleys, walking on the cobble stones where the old meets the new, old houses blended with new smells. Old building housing new café places and old names mixed up with new variation of chocolate, cheese and bread.
London is an amazing city. I know my first international expansion will be to London, I know they are ready for some sweetness. And I even have a queen’s name :-).
I am not visiting London just for my own pleasure, I came on a mission. There is a new flavor of cocoa which I would like to introduce to my clients, cocoa from a 300 years old English producer. I came to London to meet Mr. Patrick. My mom joined me on this trip, her company has an accounting office in the city and she thought it would be a good time to visit, say hello and learn a few things about tax laws in the United Kingdom (boring…).
My mom and I planned to do quite a bit of shopping together, but I remembered Charlie quoting Alexander Graham Bell “before anything else, preparation is the key to success”. I knew I had to prepare for this meeting.
It has been a long journey for me to get to this point, a long journey of understanding the importance of preparation, a long journey of defining my preparation process. It has been a long fight. It was always easier (for me, how about you?) to just do it, no need to prepare, I can charm people, I’ll get what I want, preparing is such a tedious process, it involves sitting, thinking, and it is not fun. I am much better with meeting people face to face, reading them, understanding how we can work together and then just starting a business engagement. Who needs to prepare?
But I know better now. Preparation is the key to successful meetings. Let me tell you about my own steps of preparation like my recent meeting with Mr. Patrick.
First step – What do I need to know before the meeting?
The first step of preparation is to ensure I know everything I need to know before starting the meeting. I need to obtain information about my meeting participants and about my expectations. I write down the following (I have to warn you, it does require some research and some thinking, so no slacking off!):
- What do I know about the person and the company I’m going to meet? This question involve extensive “digging up” for information as well as sometimes talking with people whom I know and who are familiar with the company. I try to answer at least these questions: What do I know about his/her company? What triggers them? What are they looking for? What are they most proud of? What is the vision of their company? What are their values? What do I think are the challenges they are currently facing?
- What can I do to make the people who will participate in the meeting happy to work with me? What services can my company provide today which will be of great benefits to them? How can my company (and me) help them with overcoming their challenges?
- What am I trying to accomplish in the meeting? What are my goals? What will make me happy when I leave the meeting?
- What will make my meeting participants happy at the end of the meeting?
Second step – How to run the meeting?
In this step of preparation I write down my agenda for the meeting as well as trying to anticipate what other items my meeting partners might want to discuss. I really believe the first 5 minutes of any meeting are crucial. Usually my first 5 minutes look something like that:
- I start by thanking the meeting participants and then I let them know the length of the business part of the meeting, I might say something like “I anticipate the business part of this meeting will take 45 minutes”, that way people know that I respect their time, I am prepared and I distinguish between business time and social time.
- I described the key agenda items, I would say “Today I would like to discuss…”
- I ask if they want to add anything else to the agenda, very important!
- Depends on the participants and the situation I may state what I would like the outcome of the meeting to be.
- I let them know that I will reserve the last 5-10 minutes for summary and even more important next steps.
Third step – After the meeting
During this step and after I parted ways with my meeting partners, I write down my key learning from the meeting, what worked? What did not work? What are the key information I need to provide my meeting partners, do I have any “action items” (Charlie loves action items). I also write the outcome of the meeting and compare it to the outcome which I envisioned prior to meeting.
Many people forget this step, however it is a must, and yes, this step is part of preparation as it prepares you for the next meeting. This is the step in which you will learn the most, how to conduct even better meetings in the future. Please do not skip it! I know, after meetings all I want is celebrating (or to be sad). I do not want to write down the outcome, the learning and the action items. But I force myself to do it.
I am re-reading this post now, wow, I can’t believe I wrote it, you should have seen me few years ago…Mr. Bell would have been proud of me :-).
I would love to learn how you prepare for your meetings.
By the way, Mr. Patrick just emailed me a signed contract with his company, old style London at my little shop….who would have believed. I do!