Article

Matt Bowell
Matt Bowell 3 February 2016

There's No Such Thing As 'Nothing To Prepare': How To Nail Your Meeting Preparation

Think you don't need to prepare for this one? Think again. Every meeting needs some form of preparation and here's how to do it right.

A client recently described a bit of creative as ‘poppy’ to me. As I reached for my jargon dictionary, I felt a rant coming on. Hands up if you’ve heard the following clichés around the office or in meetings:

“There’s no ‘I’ in team” (cringe)
“Low-hanging fruit” (gag)
“Let’s park that thought” (vomit)
“Let’s diagnose the root of the issue” (what?)
“Let’s run it up the flagpole” (no, please, just stop)

Awful, aren’t they? Some of my team may look at the above and say, “But I’m sure I’ve heard you say a few of these Matt…” And I’d disagree…

I’ve said them all. And I hang my head in shame.

But there is one phrase I can’t abide. It’s overused, it’s cliché and, I believe, factually inaccurate:

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”.

Why don’t I like this ghastly phrase? Well for a start, I don’t believe for one minute any of us would not prepare at all. Even thinking ‘I’m not going to prepare’, is preparation in itself. We may not spend hours perfecting a slide deck, but there aren’t many situations in life where our brain wouldn’t think at all about something upcoming.

Let’s apply this phrase to a meeting situation…

There isn’t anybody, surely, who would not apply any thought whatsoever to an upcoming meeting. You might have talked about it in the previous meeting; you could have seen the date looming in your Outlook calendar; you may have checked the time and date of said meeting. This is the bare minimum, but it still counts as preparation.

Realistically, even those who claim they ‘don’t need to prepare for this one’ actually do. The reality is that you’re preparing in your mind, even if it is subconscious; what time do I need to leave the office to get there? Who’s coming with me? Who’s going to be attending? What are we going to talk about? What happened in the last meeting? Has anything significant happened since that will need to be discussed?

Even those who calmly announce that there’s ‘nothing to prepare’ will have most probably thought about these things in ‘preparation’ for the meeting. Even asking the client ‘is there anything I need to prepare?’ is great preparation, showing them that you’re proactive and willing to arrive armed with any specifics the client might like to discuss.

But what should you be doing to prepare for a meeting? I’d break it down into the following neatly packaged categories:

1. Audience

Like you would for any event, you want to be sure about who’s attending. As well as practical things like room size, equipment and printouts (if you’re old-school), the audience can impact the meeting’s dynamic and share of voice. But most importantly, your audience will impact your content. You’ll need to ensure everything you present is tailored to the participants in attendance and that it hits the mark with each and every one of them.

2. Communication channel

Are you armed with a PowerPoint deck? Ready to huddle around an iPad? Or are you tempted to whip out the markers and a flipchart to make the meeting interactive? Go for it. Of course, you might simply be ready to go with notes on a pad and thoughts in your brain. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this if appropriate for the situation. The key is thinking about your method and preparing ahead of the meeting. And it doesn’t hurt to give the client the heads up on how you’ll be playing it so they’re prepared as well.

3. Content

Content is king (I’m allowed one per blog), so go ahead and stamp your authority on your area of expertise with quality meeting content. This could be the story around the results you’ve achieved, a proposal you’re putting forward for an upcoming campaign, or best practice case studies you’ve seen from the industry. Or it could be all of those small bits of added value, insight and advice you provide throughout a meeting situation. With a bit of thought, this can mostly be pre-empted and prepared in advance.

4. House-keeping

A nice little pre-read is recommended along with the meeting agenda. This is a key part of your preparation – it can help confirm attendees, give an idea of how much time you’ve got to play with in the meeting and also pre-empt any curveballs the client might want to throw your way in the catch up. Lastly, don’t forget minutes – agreed actions can then be circulated with owners and timings after the meeting.

5. Optional extras

Once you’ve got the main points covered, you’ll need to start thinking about the little things. While they might not make or break the success of your meeting, it’s worth giving the following some thought before you go in.

The greeting

The greeting is a bone of contention amongst our team. Do you stay businesslike with a firm handshake, play it cool with a raise of the hand or throw caution to the wind and go in for the kiss? It sounds trivial, but we’ve seen many awkward moments where hesitant team members have been surprised by a client’s advances or clashed heads during the cheek-peck. So, to avoid embarrassment and injury, this is worth a little thought ahead of your meeting.

Non-work chat

There’s a fine line between reading up on the client and downright stalking them. I think a couple of key nuggets is enough – maybe one personal topic of conversation and one light-hearted, work-related snippet that can be dropped into the intros to break the ice. “I see you went to Edinburgh over the weekend…”

Gift giving

This is a tricky one. Of course, whether or not you take a gift depends on your relationship, and should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. I’ve always been against bringing a gift unless there is a practical or really special reason to take something along. Having said that, we’ve been known to turn up to a long morning session with some pastries and fruit, but this is for practical and borderline selfish reasons – though I do recommend it if you’re unsure whether the client is going to feed you or not. Go with your gut, so to speak.

There can be nothing more satisfying than coming out of a meeting knowing you’ve nailed it. I’m not saying I’ve ever high-fived a colleague on leaving the room (honest), but the triumph of a positive and productive meeting can go a long way in the agency-client relationship, and that’s what’s most important here. Just make sure you don’t ‘fail to prepare’…

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