Stephanie Palmer author of “Good In a Room” shares her insights on taking a meeting.
1. SILENCE IS THE STRONGEST START OF ALL
Don’t start talking until the decision-maker is ready.
If there have been a lot of people popping in, urgent phone calls or other interruptions, ask the executive if he or she is ready for you to begin. Make eye contact. Then, start slowly and deliver your first line. Make sure it is dynamite. Pause. Gauge the executive’s response. Then proceed with your presentation at a relaxed pace. Remember, even though you’re intimately familiar with your project, the buyer will be hearing it for the very first time.
2. UNDERSTAND THE BUYERS’ SECRET DREAM
Even though top-level buyers can seem cold and recalcitrant, this is the result of seeing a seemingly endless stream of poorly prepared and emotionally needy sellers deliver mediocre pitches. Decision-makers don’t wake up thinking, “I can’t wait to disappoint people and pass on 30 projects today.” Instead, they hope today will be the day they discover their career-making project. Thus, you must position yourself and your project in a way that differentiates you from the masses and speaks directly to the buyer’s highest-priority needs.
3. BUILD RAPPORT. THEN, BUILD SOME MORE
People want to work with people they like.
Think about what you have in common with the decision-maker you’re meeting. Be ready to share a few brief, personal stories which demonstrate the attributes you believe will be most attractive to the buyer. Be prepared to ask a few open-ended questions that will encourage the buyer to speak about a non-business interest in a positive light.
All else being equal, you will have the edge if you can establish a personal connection.
4. MAKE YOUR PITCH MEMORABLE AND REPEATABLE
Though you are selling your project to a decision-maker in the room, after the meeting, the buyer — if interested — becomes the seller and must pitch your idea to their colleagues or superiors. In Hollywood, this is known as the “logline.” If you can’t summarize your project in a brief, compelling statement, you haven’t thought about it enough.
Remember, the more you say, the less people hear. Choose your words carefully.
5. ACKNOWLEDGE THE COMPETITION
Be prepared to answer questions such as, “What does my project have in common with other successful projects in the same industry? What were the last projects that the company purchased, and were they successful? Which of their projects is most similar to my own? What makes me the best person for this project?” Answering these key questions early in your presentation demonstrates that you have done your homework. This will encourage them to listen to what follows more closely.
6.THE BEST MEETINGS ARE CONVERSATIONAL AND INTERACTIVE
Many professionals make the mistake of performing an over-rehearsed spiel that sounds like an infomercial for their idea. Instead, pause frequently, especially when there is an opportunity for the buyer to give you a reaction or ask a question.
In an ideal world, you’d spend more time in a dialogue with the buyer, than performing a monologue.
7. START FROM THE BEGINNING – ALWAYS
Even if you had a long and productive conversation the day before, you’d be surprised how much can change in the buyer’s mind. After all, you’ve been thinking about the meeting and they have, too. Assume that they’ve done more research, talked to some people and something has changed since the time you last spoke. It’s your job to figure out what that is. After some initial rapport building, do another information-gathering session. If appropriate, ask for a recap from their perspective.
8.WATCH FOR HIDDEN OPPORTUNITIES
The buyer’s goal for the meeting may not be the same as yours. In addition to hearing your idea, the executive may be evaluating you to see if you would be a good fit for another project. Remember, when you are in the room, you are selling minimally two things: your project and yourself. Even if the meeting doesn’t result in a “yes,” making a favorable impression can be the beginning of a long-term professional relationship.
9. DON’T CLAIM YOUR EXPERTISE – DEMONSTRATE IT
Don’t just talk about your experience; show your expertise by positioning your project as it relates to the competition. Don’t brag or boast about past wins. If you must mention a past success, do it off-handedly and with humility. This is similar to the common rule about storytelling: “Show, don’t tell.” Remember, a lot of people talk the talk.
Those who are “good in a room” are focused on meeting the needs of the buyer and not on boosting their own ego.
10. SAVE THE SURPRISE FOR THE END
Plan multiple strategies to exit gracefully. Some techniques are to have a callback to a personal topic that you discussed at the beginning of the meeting, thank them for a specific, useful contribution they made during the meeting, or leave them a polished piece of material that they haven’t seen previously. Use a summary statement that you design specifically to be remembered and repeated.
Remember, last impressions last.
11. YOU ARE ALWAYS IN THE ROOM
Develop your skills so that you can handle meetings that occur unexpectedly, like on a plane, at a party, or in a waiting room. More business starts from casual interactions than formal meetings across a conference room table.
The polished professional who is “good in a room” is ready for anything. But don’t feel the need to talk business in all situations. Often the best move is to say, “Why don’t we just enjoy the party, and I’ll follow up with you on Monday.”