The Start of a Meeting: A Fine How-Do-You-Do!

Even though we are doing more video meetings than ever, starting them should have the same light, tight, and bright focus as in-person meetings. Too often, people start meetings without a purpose for those critical first few minutes. Instead, the conversation drifts…often about the weather, sports, the state of the pandemic, etc. 

The moment you greet your client, you are “on.” It’s up to you to move the conversation in a productive, meaningful direction. Your client’s business needs must be an obvious concern of yours from the moment you say “Hello.” You’ve done your reconnaissance; you’ve made the appointment. Now, you are ready to take command of this video call and project an aura of ease, confidence, and care. This is not a casual Zoom call to reconnect with your college buddies…it’s your chance to demonstrate value and earn your “trusted advisor” status. 

That being said, the first few minutes of a call are usually highlighted by small talk. Being successful with small talk is not easy. A good dose of caring, friendliness, and intelligence is required as well. Let’s break those down in terms of how the first few minutes of your next call could go:

Care About Your Clients

Especially in today’s times with the pandemic impacting everything, it’s important to be empathetic. “How are your family and your holding up during these troubling times?” is a good opening. It lets your clients talk about something personal while you learn a bit about where their mind is for the meeting. Pay attention to the answer! It’s not just small talk…you are always collecting intel, even if personal. Bring it back the next time you talk with them, “Last time we spoke, you were concerned about your son returning to college. How did that go?” Immediately, you’ve reconnected and once again, you will have them talking about something that’s really important to them. 

Be Professionally Friendy…and Focused on Them!

Your clients are not your friends. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be professional friendly with them. What I mean is that you can care about their life (see above) and be genuinely interested in what’s going on for them outside the office. But don’t take it too far. You’re not angling for a holiday dinner invitation! 

And as I always say, it’s important that you be interested…not interesting! During the opening small talk period, however, people tend to want to relate what’s being said to their own life. A few years ago, I joined a client as she visited one of her clients. She noticed a photo of a soccer player and he asked who it was. Turned out, it was her client’s husband, something she noted with pride as she told us he played professionally. Great! We got her to loosen up a bit and garnered some intel as well. But then, my client started talking, at length, about her college soccer career…from 15 years ago! I watched as the life force of her client whooshed out of her face. We were still discussing a topic that her client had an interest in but we were no longer talking about the reason why she was interested in it! 

Bottom line, if you find you are doing more talking during the opening salvos of small talk, you are starting to lose the meeting. Get it back! How? 

Read on…

Start Smart…and Stay That Way

If you’ve read my blog over the years, you know I am consistent in my recommendation that you DO YOUR HOMEWORK!. You must know as much as you can about your meeting attendees and their business. What does the company do? What are the industry’s challenges? What competitors are there? What’s the latest company and/or industry news?  It’s that latter question that can help move you from small talk to intelligent conversation.

To do that, start with a topical, business-oriented statement or question that shows you are genuinely interested in your client’s company and its goals. And use your homework to ask it intelligently! 

“I read in the Wall Street Journal that your competitor is shutting down 40% of its European operation. Have you seen any impact from that already and what could it mean for your international growth this year?”

State one or two aspects of an issue, ask for your client’s thoughts on the matter, and then sit back and listen. Opening with an informed insight shows knowledge of your client’s world, knowledge that your client may not figure you have and which is, therefore, impressive. And it can be accomplished within the first 30 seconds of a meeting!

The first few minutes of a meeting sets the tone. And you are in control of it! Keep these three themes and let me know how it goes!