I've been involved in (and even instigated) a bazillion shapeless, formless conversations in business. You may know the kind I'm talking about - you have a meeting, a bunch of folks show up, you talk for a while, and the meeting breaks up. Did you get what you needed out of the meeting? Nope.
Here are some of the things I've learned (some, the hard way) that can help make these conversations more productive - especially valuable for sales situations, partnering discussions, "buying stuff" meetings, and things like that.
Decide what you want
Get clear on what constitutes a successful outcome for the meeting or call. Are you looking for:
- a decision?
- permission to move to the next step?
- something else?
Decide who needs to be in the meeting to get what you want
Think about what you want: Who needs to be there so you can get what you need? Do you need to have a series of meetings to get it done?
If you need multiple meetings to get what you want, map out a campaign
Map out the series of calls / discussions and go through the process of creating desired outcomes, necessary attendees, and key talking points for each meeting.
Create an outline of key points
Create an outline of the topics you want to cover, and in the order you think makes the most sense (you can always reorder them on the fly).
Flag the most important topics - if you run short on time, make sure those get covered even if others get dropped.
Create some questions to help you flesh out the points
Being prepared with the right questions can make a huge difference. You don't want to try to listen and come up with your next question at the same time. Making up questions ahead of time takes some of the heat off of you.
Figure out if there is a way to "stack the deck" before the meeting
Preparing your participants with reading materials, having pre-meeting discussions to find out where their heads are (and maybe trying to influence their thinking) can make a huge difference.
You might also look for allies to help you make the case in your meeting.
Pre-think about your next steps
What will you do next if you "win" and get what you want?
What will you do if you "lose" or get stuck without getting to what you need?
Consider whether there is a "win-win" position you can support or champion
If you can come to a win-win outcome with the other parties involved, you may get there faster and have more support on the other side of the decision.
Some friends of mine at Thoughtbridge put me on to an approach for negotiation in which you seek to "expand the pie" when you negotiate. The premise is that everyone gets a bigger piece of the pie when you're successful in enlarging the beneficial outcomes in a negotiation. Cool philosophy.
What have you learned? I'd love to hear the tricks you've learned for more effective and productive meetings and calls. Bring 'em on!