Why are we here again?

I should probably do a better job of controlling my meeting schedule. I don’t and as a result end up with too many ‘networking’ meetings (i.e., where I’m on the receiving end of the networking).
I have two observations about these interactions:

1) Left to their own devices, people tend to ramble . . . ramble . . . ramble. The conversation lacks focus, direction and purpose. Sometimes this is fun; most of the time it’s a waste of time. 2) Most people don’t seem to know what they want to get out of meetings like these. This clearly contributes to the rambling – there’s no focus because there’s no clear end point or goal. To speed things along a bit, I’ve been starting these meetings of late with a simple question: “What do you want to get out of this meeting” Turns out this isn’t something that most people come prepared to answer, which I think explains why I was encountering the two problems described above and reinforces the need to start meetings this way.

I’m starting more and more meetings with this question (or the answer to it if I’m the one initiating the interaction) – not to be callous, but to get things started with an outcome in mind. Plenty has been written about how to make meetings more efficient, but for me, other than skipping them altogether (which tends to make them much more efficient – at least for me), this has worked better than just about anything I’ve tried to speed things along. Especially those pesky “networking” introductions . . . This post reminds me of my Networking 101 post from last year. Worth taking a look at if you haven’t read it yet. See point 3 for another description of what I’m talking about here.

  • Good post. I think it’s very important for all attendees to have a list of talking points prior to going into the meeting. If you’re there to just gather knowledge rather than share it, you should still have a list of questions that you need answers to. Meetings are definitely time-wasters when there’s no direction.

  • This is actually a key part of the Sandler sales technique. You ask the prospect, “what would make this a good meeting for you?” and use that to direct the flow of the conversation. The other question to ask is, “if this this meeting turns out the way you hope, what will be the next step?” Then once the meeting is up you can politely ask them if the meeting had the desired result and if in fact the next step is still the next step. It makes life easier on both sides if you can avoid making assumptions.

  • Agree with the above comment. Would add that this approach should be tempered in that sometimes you won’t actually find out what the person you are having the meeting with is concerned about until they have “sussed you out” a bit more. To this end, I sometimes call meetings “discovery meeting”; “problem definition”; “progress update” etc. etc and this helps move to the statements “what do we want to achieve in this meeting”.

  • And then you ask the “real” question, which is: “What do you expect out of this meeting” before the meeting. Just to make sure that expectations on both sides are aligned.
    Bit harsh, but more efficient.

  • It depends on the kind of meeting. Most meetings you want to work toward some outcome. But sometimes you don’t.
    In those general “catch up” networking meetings, I find it’s usually better to leave it open ended, let the conversation twist and turn, and stumble across some mutual interest or activity that strengthens the relationship. Asking for a definite outcome or goal can limit the potential randomness genereated. Some of the best connections I’ve made or ideas genereated came when I least expected it.
    Of course these kind of twist-and-turn meetings only work when the other person is interesting and fun. This is purely a matter of good screening. When a non-blogger asks me for a meeting, and if I don’t know him/her outside of the cold call email, it’s hard for me to do the meeting.

  • John McIntosh

    A brief but wonderful story. Years ago, I worked for a small startup in the enterprise software space. We were IBM’s first mainframe business partner. An IBM executive wanted me to introduce him to a good friend who was Sr VP at Boeing. We went there to visit him and my friend asked the IBM executive, “Tell me what you’d like to accomplish today. I want to make sure I’ve got you set up with the right people.”
    The exec said that his goal was to establish a business partnership with Boeing and to explore synergy between the two companies.
    My friend said, “That’s perfect. I’ve got the right person to spend a half day with you. He is in charge of partnership relationships for us.” As the IBMer was walking out the door with the partnership person, my friend added, “If you had wanted to sell us IBM hardware, I would have been the right person.”
    You’ve never seen such anguish on a person’s face.

  • Bill Posteis

    Nice post. You could always do what I do. Make sure someone uses a software like meeting sense and just get the meeting notes later. To prevent rambling, it’s a good aidea to make employees write their ideas before they come in. It kind of forces them to summarize.