If you have an important business meeting coming up, how are you preparing?
The chances are that you are preparing a presentation.
However, alongside the presentation, if we are to make progress, there must be conversation.
How are you preparing for the conversation part of the meeting?
There are many sources on how to prepare an effective presentation.
Here are some ideas on how to prepare for an effective conversation.
(1) Plan time for dialogue
Ensure that your meeting plan includes enough time for you to engage in discussion – and not just at the end of a long presentation. This is particularly important in a sales meeting. By the time Jo has given the introduction, Jaz has described the context, and Jan has delivered the technical presentation, is there time for real in-depth dialogue about the subject?
(2) Structure the conversation
If you are doing a presentation, prepare also the topics for discussion at each stage. Prepare questions to encourage dialogue: “These are the main regulatory issues we see affecting the market. What do you see?”
Ask questions, don’t just ask for them.
(3) Prepare to listen
You’ve spent a long time preparing what it is you are going to say. Now spend some time preparing how to listen. List the information you would like to collect. Consider what you would like to learn from the other party. Reflect on what the other party might be feeling, and consider how that might influence the discussion. Prepare yourself to hear clues about what they want to tell you. Accept the possibility that what you have to hear might be more important than what you have to say.
Be mentally ready to put aside your anxieties about what to say, and to concentrate instead on what you are hearing.
(4) Organise yourself to respond
A real conversation is jointly created by you and the other party. For this to work properly, you have to listen to what they say, take it in, use it, and respond to that. This is the art of thinking together. It means allowing yourself to be influenced and changed by what the other person is saying. This might mean, for example, covering topics in a different order from the one you anticipate. It might mean exploring totally new topics that you have not prepared. If you are going to the meeting on your own, this takes mental preparation, and some practical thought. If you are going as a team, people need to give each other permission to deviate from the script.
This is just the start. Conversation is a skill, and it can be learned, developed and practised, alongside other business skills, such as presentation skills.
I welcome your thoughts.