How to get the most out of meetings

Matt Doyle is the founder of Launchcloud - an innovative tool to help you capture information about your business on and offline - and one of our Virgin StartUp ambassadors. Following a trip to the USA, in this post Matt talks how to make your meetings more efficient and effective when starting out (and any time!)

I’m still feeling really energised after my US trip, and I want to talk a bit more about how important networking is. This time I want to go into a bit more detail about meetings themselves. Love them or loathe them, meetings can be part of the lifeblood of a startup. If they go well they can help you to build and grow, through making new partnerships and getting people on board with your product or service. I realise I may be preaching to the converted here, but I think it’s always useful to take a step back and think about how you can make the most of networking by maximising the potential of meetings.

Knowing what you want to achieve

This is probably the most important consideration in preparing for a meeting. For a start, it helps you to make sure you’re meeting with the right people. If you’re looking for new investment, do these people have what you need? Given their track record, are they likely to want to form a partnership with you? The last thing you want to do is waste time on a totally non-productive meeting.

Knowing what you want to achieve also forms the foundation of making sure that you have everything necessary to reach your objective:

  • The right people at the meeting
  • Facts and figures to support the discussion
  • A venue, or time, that is conducive to securing the best outcome

Remember that you don’t always get everything you want so you need to look at the potential outcomes, and decide on the optimum and acceptable achievement levels. Look at it this way; aim for tiramisu but with the knowledge that a chocolate doughnut is the fall-back position. If you don’t have all this planned before you start, you run the risk of displaying uncertainty at the meeting. This is a surefire way of losing the confidence of other attendees.

Doing your research

Hopefully you know your business pretty well, but do you know the people you’re meeting with? This can be something as simple as having shellfish on a business lunch when one of the attendees is allergic. Of course, research extends far further than that. You need to know who is going to be making any decisions from the meeting. You also need to know about their businesses practices, and whether there is anything you can use to connect on a more personal level.

Don't forget the administration

Your head may be so full of the content of the meeting that you forget about all the general organisation that takes place. Being organised means you’ll be better able to handle any last minute hiccups that can happen; and believe me, you need to be prepared to deal with them. A friend of mine was working as an executive assistant and had organised a meeting of several directors in London. Many of the attendees were traveling from outside the capital. Forty five minutes before the meeting was due to take place, the venue phoned to say the teleconferencing facilities were not working. Fortunately, she had a list of all the contact numbers she needed to secure a new venue and inform all of the attendees in time.

Chances are, as a startup you may find yourself having to do the organisation for your meetings yourself, so just be prepared for all eventualities. If you are organising the meeting, make sure that:

  • Everyone has the correct details of the time and venue (if the meeting is not happening online). These details should be reconfirmed a couple of days before the meeting
  • Everyone has any paperwork you want them to have before the meeting
  • Everyone has details of directions and the area in which the meeting is taking place. This is just basic courtesy as it saves people having to do the research themselves

If you are attending a meeting that was arranged by a potential partner, the preparation is similar.

  • Have all the information you are going to need with you.
  • Know exactly where you are going. If possible it’s often a good idea to do a dry run of the journey. Yes, you can check journey times online but they don’t prepare you for the roadworks that only started a couple of days ago. There’s nothing attractive about running into a meeting at the last minute, panicking and sweaty.
  • Practice what you’re going to say. Of course, you can’t know exactly what’s going to happen at the meeting but you can at least run through some scenarios, so that you’re not caught cold.

Don’t be a wallflower

Not everyone is naturally comfortable taking the lead at a meeting. I know I haven’t always been entirely at home doing it. But no-one is going to ask you to dance if you’re sitting in a corner trying to hide. If you want those people in the meeting to trust you, then you need to exude confidence.  Be certain of what you have to offer and make sure they know what they will be getting from any partnership. After all, it’s business, and they will want to know what’s in it for them.

Making sure you perform well at a meeting isn’t the end of the job either. Getting back to you may be only one item on the other person’s to-do list, so make sure it stays a high priority. Send them an email thanking them for a great meeting, reminding them of the salient points, and saying how you’re looking forward to working together. If you make promises at the meeting then make sure you follow up on them. Remember, the meeting is just part of the process, don’t be complacent just because it goes well.


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