How many times do people ask to meet up about a specific problem, challenge or project, yet of all the meetings you’ve had in your life (think about it for a minute,) how many evolved into something that moved your business forward in a meaningful way? I’m half-convinced that we meet just to put off making decisions or taking actions. At least that’s been true for me.
Most of us can decide what is best for our businesses by measuring our priorities against our resources. I’m not against information or intelligence gathering, in fact, I’ve anchored my business mission exactly in that – educating entrepreneurs – as much as for my own edification as for my community. But meetings need to have a raison d’etre – a reason for being. My only position is that you find yours before gathering the troops or asking someone to give you an hour of their time.
1. If you are the one running a group meeting, run it like a pro. Start on time. End on time. Control how many people talk and for how long. Stay on topic. Do everyone involved a favor and take control so that when it ends, you’ve been productive, illuminating and can then take action.
2. Brainstorming. Love it when it’s mutual, but not everyone wants to wander the world wide web of ideas with you. If that’s what you’re looking for, say it. I don’t like to be bamboozled into a “pick your brain” session unless that brain is someone’s I want to get inside just as much. On the other hand, there is a time and place for this – see # 11.
3. Consider whether taking a meeting is actually furthering your mission. If not, just make a decision. Don’t be shy about rejecting a meeting if it doesn’t make sense for you. Having said that, never alienate. I have often given the principle behind a graceful “rejection” of an idea so that people “get” why I’m a non-contender. Conversely, I also sometimes just don’t have time for that idea right now and want to revisit it in a few months.
4. Practice “giving good one-on-one meeting.” If you do make a meeting, go into it with a list of what you want to discuss and don’t waste people’s time with off-topic chitchat. Women are notorious for not getting to the point. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. You don’t want to seem overly ambitious and crude. But craft the conversation in a way that brings your agenda into view while considering what the other person could gain from jumping on board.
5. A good meeting has an appropriate venue. Does a chain coffee retailer really represent the vibe you want to give off? Or would a neighborhood joint with the best espresso in town be more revealing about you and your brand? I’ve chosen a patio of a friend here that perfectly embodies my dream meeting space!
6. Before you even approach someone to meet, ask yourself: Why would working with this person be better than doing it independent of them? Then, why would they want to work with me? Have an answer in your head for both, even if it’s “I don’t know yet but I plan to find out.”
7. Put what you can in email as it makes it more efficient for the other person to make a decision. People can often give you answers without talking. Please bullet point and make it as short as possible.
8. Do the work. Don’t expect others to figure everything out for you. Consider a pre-meeting to prepare for the “real” meeting that tightens up your agenda and allows the person in a decision-making role to actually do that – versus wade through your lack of preparation and then have to wait for answers. This will work in your favor pretty much unanimously.
9. In a group, consider whether your comment is valuable or you just want to hear yourself jabber. Boy we love the sound of our own brilliant ideas even when they aren’t relevant or have already been addressed!
10. Meet with someone with potential. So many people have met with me who didn’t need me for ANYTHING but just wanted to help me. They gave me a hand, made a connection, gave me the rules of engagement. Do charity meetings for the sheer fact that people have done it for you and you need to return the favor by paying it forward. Just be strategic about your precious time and an hour is plenty. You’ll feel good and you’ll have made a fan for life.
I could go on an on. I do believe, however, that nothing will ever replace face to face meetings, and that no amount of Twittering, Facebooking, emailing or texting is as productive as human to human in the same room. We engage in a different way and can respond uniquely. But none of us wants to waste time or use meetings an excuse to avoid decisions. Gather information. Compare your goals to that agenda. Get some key input from people you trust. Then take action. Analysis paralysis is a business bummer. Make your meetings lead to DECISIONS.
Amy Swift Crosby is the founder of SMARTY, an in-person community for entrepreneurial women based in Los Angeles and currently expanding throughout North America and the world.