The Perfect Plan to Properly Prepare for an Important Meeting
Whoever said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” was absolutely right. In business and in private life, judgments about your professionalism, your character and your competence are often based on first impressions. Being polite isn’t the only important tool you can use.
Dr. P.M. Forni, author of "Choosing Civility" and founder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project, says one of the reasons we experience stress in business encounters is due to lack of preparation. “It’s like an exam. If you have studied for the exam, you may be tense, but if you know the rules of engagement, you will be less nervous and project an aura of poise and charisma,” says Forni. He believes when you are prepared, you think more clearly. Instead of investing nervous energy in anticipating the situation, you invest that energy in thinking about the problems and the issues at hand.
Pre-meeting preparation prevents poor performance and gives you an enormous advantage over someone else who shows up without having done their homework. Learn everything you can about your clients. Each one is uniquely different and each has their own special needs. Do not try to use a "one-size-fits-all approach.”
During one of my etiquette seminars, an attorney told me he prepares for a business meeting the same way he prepares for a trial. Before a trial, he researches the evidence, interviews suspects or witnesses and finds out as much as possible before presenting his case. Before meeting with a client or his law partners, his preparation is similar. Very few people spend the time it takes to glean important background information, but you can be better prepared for your next client meeting by doing the following:
- Find out whom you will be meeting. Memorize the names and titles of those you don’t know. During the meeting, use the person’s name several times in conversation.
- Visit your client's website to view their company's history, mission statement, staff biographies, articles, news releases and more. Take notes and review them just before the meeting. This research is good fodder for conversation.
- Break the ice by discussing topics that interest those who will be attending the meeting. Aside from the weather and traffic, most people feel comfortable talking about their alma mater, hobbies, special interests and vacations. If you don’t know what interests your client outside of work, ask someone who knows him or her well.
- Familiarize yourself with the industry in which you’ll be working. Read trade publications and get acquainted with the acronyms, buzz words, trends and industry problems or issues.
- Brush up on current events by reading weekly news websites and one or two major daily newspapers. You’ll appear more interesting and knowledgeable if you’re apprised of what’s going on in the world.
A pre-meeting strategy is equally important when meeting with your co-workers.
- Read over the meeting agenda and familiarize yourself with the topics to be discussed.
- Know who will be attending.
- Find out if there will be any guests present from outside the company.
- Jot down any pertinent questions or issues you want to address.
- Compile any reports you want others to review before or during the meeting.
Preparation is not always fun. In fact, sometimes the hours may seem long and it might not feel like you're making any progress. Yet, success comes from preparation. The hours you spend preparing will give you more confidence and make for a more positive experience.
Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).