The big meeting. In some instances (like finally getting in front of senior leadership or scheduling a meeting with a sales prospect), it’s the culmination of months of persistence and tireless effort. In other cases (like a town hall meeting for damage control), it’s an unwelcome, but necessary endeavor.
Regardless of the reason for the gathering, you’ll want to make sure you’re ready to knock it out of the park. To that end, I’ve put together this two-part series on preparing for the big meeting. In this article, I’ll give you tips for crafting your message. Then, in the next one, I’ll cover how to get yourself mentally ready to put your best foot forward.
1. Clarify your purpose
The first step in determining your approach to the big meeting is clarifying your purpose. Do you need to persuade your audience to take an action? Or, do you want to inspire them? Do you need to inform them of something? Whatever your intention is, you will know that you’re clear on your purpose when you can easily answer the following questions:
- What is my desired outcome for this meeting?
- How do I want the audience to feel?
- What do I want to audience to do?
- What would success look like?
With a well-defined purpose in mind, you’ll position yourself to craft your message to your best advantage.
2. Engage in necessary research
While you’ll obviously want to research your topic, the research that I’m referring to here is geared towards better understanding your audience. In particular, it can be helpful to make sure you understand any past history or political sensitivities that could cause people to come to the table with preconceived notions. While you may not always be privy to this sort of information, if you do happen to have a relationship with someone who can bring you up to speed, it can help you to anticipate potential objections and address them appropriately.
For example, I once had a business development opportunity with an organization in which many of the executives had previous experience with a management consultant who had violated their trust. Having this knowledge helped me to address their concerns by reinforcing my commitment to ethics and confidentiality. (And I got the job!)
3. Take your audience’s perspective
When building an argument, we can tend to spend more time thinking about what would convince us, as opposed to considering what will convince them. Therefore, as you’re reflecting on what you are going to convey, make sure to take the perspective of your audience.
If your big meeting will be one-on-one with someone with whom you’re familiar, think about his motivations and drivers, and make sure to address them. If it’s a prospect who you haven’t previously met, it can be helpful to consciously put yourself in her shoes and think about what her pain points or concerns might be, and how you can address them. If you’re presenting to a large group, then your best bet is to try to cover a lot of bases by speaking both to their heads and their hearts. It can also be helpful to run your thoughts past others who tend to have different perspectives than you do. In that way, you can get valuable feedback about how your message resonates with different types of people.
4. Determine the key takeaways
It can be tempting to try to cram as much information as possible into a big meeting, in order to show just how well-informed you are about a given topic. However, this approach can often backfire for a number of reasons.
- First, you might bore your audience. If this is the case, they will likely stop paying consistent attention, causing them to miss important points.
- Second, assuming you have more expertise on the topic than they do, you could overwhelm them, leaving them in a position in which they simply don’t know what to think. As a result, they may end up drawing the wrong conclusions.
- Third, you might make them impatient. Particularly if your audience is filled with busy executives who have a high sense of urgency, they may become frustrated that you are taking too long to get to the point. (As you might suspect, in most cases, creating a sense of impatience in your audience works against you).
Therefore, it’s critical to have a clear sense of key takeaways when preparing for the meeting. And, while it’s always a good idea to have all the details ready in your back pocket for those who request them, by consistently communicating your main points, you’ll make sure that you are hammering home your intended message.
5. Read books on influence
Given that influencing others is a key business skill that you will use throughout your career, you’ll give yourself an edge by familiarizing yourself with the research on the topic. Three informative, yet very actionable books that I frequently recommend to clients are:
- The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Revised Edition
- To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others
So now that you know what you’re going to cover, how will you handle the pre-meeting nerves that often come when the stakes are high? Read next week’s article to find out!