Making the most of meetings

Hosting a good client meeting may seem like a straightforward task. And it can be with a little thought. It can also be a fiasco, if you don’t treat it with its due credit. A well hosted and curated meeting can be the foundation of a good first impression, making important decisions, or even closing a deal amongst other things.

You cannot underestimate the value of good preparation, facilitation and attention to detail. Of course the content you are presenting or discussing is crucial, but if the meeting framework or environment is not set up for success, it can be a non-starter. Over the years of hosting client meetings and workshops, CIID Consulting has developed some simple best practices to ensure we get the most out of those precious minutes.

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1. Comfort is king.

First and foremost—as in any social situation—you want everyone to feel comfortable and at ease. The simplest way to do this is by being direct but friendly, and aligned on the expectations for the meeting. Prior to the meeting, send out the schedule, goals, and who will be attending.

The moment just before a meeting kicks-off can often be the most awkward part. An old colleague once told me, “direct people how to act, they are looking to be told how they should behave”. This was one of the best pieces of professional advice I have received. In most cases people welcome that friendly direction and it will put them at ease.

Finally on the topic of comfort: don’t skip intro’s. I have attended many meetings where introductions at the beginning were skipped because of time constraints. When this happens, you are left trying to figure out who is who, or worried about pronouncing someone’s name wrong. Being able address someone by their name during a meeting makes the environment more comfortable and it is just basic etiquette.

2. Mix up the format.

When we host meetings at CIID, we always find it helpful to use a mix of presentation and participation formats. Whether it is 1 hour or 4, changing the dynamic in the room will keep people engaged for longer. We generally find a progression of the following works well:

  • Formal presentation with supporting visuals.
  • Facilitated ‘hands-on’ exercise that gathers opinions, feedback or knowledge in a structured and well documented manner.
  • Open discussion to cover questions, follow-ups and action steps.

If you decide to host a meeting where you are using mixed formats, it will take a little more planning and good time management on the day. Most importantly, make sure you have your own team roles aligned prior to starting; decide who will lead the meeting and keep it on time, who will present the deck, who will facilitate the exercise, etc.

All that said, you can’t predict everything! Be prepared for real life, not ideal life. Things change. The goal of a meeting may change midpoint or you may realise you need to dedicate more time to discussion. Be perceptive of the room and adjust on the fly gracefully when needed.

3. Have your basics on point.

This one sounds so obvious, but it has to be said. Make sure your room is prepared! I can’t count the number of times I’ve turned up to a meeting, the room is a shambles and the projector isn’t working. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve also hosted those meetings too, but luckily I’ve learnt my lessons. Here is a basic checklist to follow:

  • Make sure any whiteboards/chalkboards/flip charts are clean and don’t contain the remnants of another meeting or scribbles from last week’s Friday Bar.
  • Have post-its, markers, or your preferred documentation tool at the ready. Everything should be at your fingertips. You don’t want to start searching for a working sharpie halfway through a meeting.
  • Test any IT equipment in advance; projection ratio, audio, contrast are the basics. Anything technology based is more likely to go wrong. You don’t want your beautiful widescreen presentation squashed into a 4:3 format.
  • Always have a spare notebook and pen ready. Someone always forgets.

Another basic, but logistical part of hosting a meeting is serving food and coffee. I highly recommend that it’s either served right at the beginning or towards the end. There is nothing more distracting than lunch being served right in the middle of a presentation. You may be the most charismatic person in the room, but food has some wicked distraction power!