Ever been in a meeting that seems to drag on forever? Or where you spent more time in back-and-forth emails to schedule the meeting than actually having a discussion?
How can you think about meetings to help you make the most of your time—and the time of your colleagues?
When you think about it, there are four types of meetings. To be most effective, you need to know what type of meeting you’re in and tailor your preparation and message appropriately.
1. The Meeting: Selling people on a new idea.
The first kind of meeting is selling people on a new idea. In the “sell” meeting, you need to be clear about the “ask.” What do you want? Do you need funding, or just an okay to proceed with the team you already have? The goal of the meeting may be to get an initial “okay, that sounds good,” or to agree on an approach to take when moving forward.
To succeed in the “sell” meeting, make sure you can:
- Get people excited
- Be memorable
- Hold their attention
Use a simple message, with what they should know, what you need their reactions to, and a moderate amount of preparation. You don’t need to create a perfect PowerPoint, but you do need to anticipate potential objections and show why your idea is worthwhile.
2. The Meeting: Discussion.
The second type of meeting is the discussion meeting, typically held to eliminate a ton of back-and-forth emails. The discussion meeting is just that—a discussion. So you definitely shouldn’t create a fancy PowerPoint because the whole purpose is to have a conversation about something.
To succeed in the “discussion” meeting:
- Think about the core issues—this requires clarity of thought
- It’s okay to have less formal preparation
- Have enough materials, and the right materials to get to the heart of the discussion
These materials could be an article, an image, or a one-page outline in a Word doc you can build upon in the actual discussion.
3. The Meeting: Presentation of results.
The third type of meeting is the presentation of results meeting. If you work in management, consulting, finance, or advertising, you may have one or more of these a week. The important part about the “presentation” meeting is that you have to prepare, prepare, prepare. If you have a long time to prepare—say, six to 12 months in advance—brushing up on your public speaking skills is a good idea. Toastmasters International is an affordable and convenient way to practice giving speeches. There are thousands of clubs around the world, and dozens of clubs in major cities.
To succeed in a “presentation” meeting, make sure you:
- Tell a story
- Have quality content that shows you did the work
- Speak confidently and persuasively
Be prepared to outline the findings of your work in a clear, compelling way. As human beings, we all love stories. This is true whether you work in Hollywood or on Wall Street. For consultants especially, the difference between a “fact pack” and a true presentation is the difference between a “data dump” and something on which your client can take action. You should be able to tell the story with no notes at all. If you need a document as a crutch, you haven’t refined your thinking enough to make it a real story. (Throwing everything into a PowerPoint deck and hoping that everyone will “get it” isn’t enough.)
The process should look like this:
Data > Discovery > Synthesis > Further Synthesis > Success Story
Another thing to consider: Does your presentation pass the “pencil test?” This means that you want to follow the implicit organizational boundaries of the page. Keep labels and titles where they belong. If you want your thinking to be taken seriously, package it with care. Think about how Apple products come in custom packaging—not just any old bubble wrap. Your clarity of thought is reflected in white space and design. Consider designing your PowerPoint slides like a place setting with silverware.
4. The Meeting: Formal decision-making.
The fourth type of meeting is the formal decision meeting. This could be as simple as scheduling 30 minutes with your manager to get an approval for a new project, or it could be as complex as an annual board meeting that lasts for one or several full days. The thing to remember is that people will be judging your ideas with more scrutiny.
Preparation for this kind of meeting matters, but in a different way from the presentation meeting. While you should be prepared with the materials and your arguments in advance, the challenging preparation you may need to make involves lining up all the relevant stakeholders in advance so that they can approve your project or idea. You don’t want to wait until the day of the formal decision meeting itself to find that someone hates your idea and you can’t implement it, so some informal advance reconnaissance work is strongly recommended.
To succeed in the “formal decision” meeting:
- Prepare your answers to issues well in advance
- Decide which issues can be deferred until after the meeting
- Meet with all the relevant stakeholders, especially potential detractors, in advance
This could be as simple as stopping by their office or making a phone call.
I hope that this helps you classify your organizational landscape. Once you know what kind of meetings are in your calendar, you can prepare more appropriately to turn your ideas into reality.
How do you take your work meetings to the next level? Share in the comments!