The other day I was having a pint at Flat 12 — during a meeting — and I got to thinking about my life as a series of meetings.
This led to some quick mental math: I started my career 10 years ago, and Pivot got off the ground in 2006. On average, I’ve probably had 5 external meetings per week for 500 weeks for a grand total of 2,500 meetings.
I know 2,500 meetings is not a Guinness® world record, but I feel like I’ve learned a thing or two about how to have a great meeting (and how to find the silver lining in “bad” ones).
Here are a few tips for Meeting Pros and Meeting Novices…
1. Arrive well-read.
Read constantly — dive into three books at once on your Kindle. Listen to NPR. Watch the news while you brush your teeth. Browse yourTwitter feed in line at Rook. An informed person is an exciting person. I always feel energized and ready for a conversation when I’m inspired.
2. Don’t over-prepare and assume.
While I advocate being well-read, I would not extend this practice to your meeting partner’s website, LinkedIn profile, and Facebook page. This kind of research can facilitate dangerous assumptions. You’ll enter the meeting with a temptation to skip over important questions since you feel like you already know the answers.
3. Don’t avoid the reason for the meeting.
Get to the point. If this is a sales meeting, say so. If you’re not hiring, but you’re scoping out talented candidates, that’s okay — just be up front about it. Don’t let the other person wonder why you’re meeting and what the outcome of your rendezvous might be.
4. Ask interested questions.
I didn’t invent this saying, but I believe it wholeheartedly: It’s more important to be interested than interesting. Asking relevant questions with genuine curiosity is one of the best ways to have a productive meeting. Talk less. Listen more. I take copious notes in most meetings because I’m a more active listener that way.
5. Choose a unique setting.
Not only is “new” a great hook for advertising campaigns, but it also works for meetings. Invite people to meet you in an interesting place like a friendly nonprofit coffee shop, a James Beard Award-nominated restaurant, an art museum, or a co-working space. The physical environment can become a talking point and facilitate a creative conversation. As an added bonus, your meeting will be memorable.
6. Don’t race to a proposal / contract.
Slow down. Like dating, a meeting is not a race to a proposal. No one likes to feel pressured to make a decision. I might like you after one meeting, but I don’t know if you’re partner material just yet. Concentrate on the potential for “fit” in the first meeting (or first several meetings). Determine if it makes sense to partner-up later.
7. Leave with new insights and a clearer direction.
After a great meeting, both parties should feel better, not worse. In a great meeting, I learn something new, talk through a problem (mine or someone else’s), start a friendship, or determine how we can help each other. Clear next steps are the key.
I’m looking forward to my next 2,500 meetings.