How to win at business meetings

Business meetings can be such a bore. And when you're a small business they can also be very daunting. I remember when I first started working for a PR agency, I made all sorts of mistakes from one meeting to the next. But I learnt from all of them and I'm now older and wiser, so wanted to share some of my top tips on how to win at business meetings...

Don't be late

I can not stress this enough – don't be late! It's disrespectful, it's rude and it gives the totally wrong impression. Get to the meeting early by giving yourself plenty of time. By arriving early, you'll look eager and keen to be there. What's more, you'll be relaxed and ready for a positive meeting. You don't want to be flustered or stressed before the meeting has even begun. So arrive on time.

Keeping up appearances

It's an obvious tip but presentation is so important. In the creative industries, one can get away with a little more informal attire but it completely depends on who you're going to see and whether it's the first meeting with a prospective customer or a monthly catch-up with a long-term client. Women have so much more choice than men and can wear anything from skirts and dresses to smart trousers. For men, it's a lot more difficult, so if in doubt wear a suit – at least for the first meeting anyway.

Initial contact

When you arrive, shake hands firmly with the person or people you're meeting. No limp handshakes – but don't go all A-Team and squeeze so much that it hurts! Always greet the most important person or people first, followed by anyone else present. If you're not formally introduced, introduce yourself. Make strong eye contact and never ever look anywhere other than the eyes. Smile and be warm and friendly.

Small talk

Small talk will inevitably happen, so have some general questions ready. Keep it light-hearted. Talk about the weather, ask about holidays or even mention something big that's happened in the news that might be relevant to that client's industry. Whatever you do, don't talk about anything inappropriate or political. Keep it professional.

Keep it positive

When engaging in small talk, keep it positive. There's nothing worse than someone whining or complaining about the weather or the traffic, or anything else for that matter. It doesn't set the appropriate tone. Just keep it positive. So what if you were stuck in traffic for over an hour just to get there! If someone asks you about your journey tell a white lie and say that the journey was great. People like positive people, and it will leave a good lasting impression.

Oh sit down

A small top tip but one I really felt I had to mention. Let your client take their seat first and don't sit down until everyone else is seated. Or at least the most important people present are settled. It's a tiny piece of etiquette but it shows respect and courtesy.

Let them do the talking

It's their business and their baby, so let them do the talking. Work out who controls the purse strings and focus most of your attention on that person. Don't interrupt or cut people short. Let them lead the meeting, unless you're in charge of proceedings.

Be prepared

Do some homework before you go to any meeting. Read up on your client's industry and have some prepared questions ready. But be warned! You need to know what you're talking about, so try not to ask anything too complicated – unless you're very comfortable with the topic.

Food glorious food

If there is food or nibbles at the meeting, don't dive in and start gobbling everything down. Be polite and wait until everyone else has helped themselves. Then, just take one helping of food and eat slowly, making sure to wipe your mouth after you've finished.

If you're having a lunch meeting at a restaurant or pub, make sure you follow all the usual table manners: elbows off the table; hold your knife and fork properly; avoid splashing sauces all over your food (place on the side of your plate if you insist on having Ketchup); don't talk with your mouth full and don't finish your food ahead of everyone else.

Be honest

If a client asks you a question and you don't know the answer, be honest! Just say that you're not sure and will have to look into it. And that you'll get back in touch after the meeting. If you lie, you're only spinning yourself a complicated web. One that might prove to be difficult to get out of.

Take notes

Make sure you take a neat notebook to every meeting, so you can take notes and remember the key points raised. Next to everything that requires attention – write 'AP', short for Action Point. When looking back over your notes, it'll make life easier and you'll be able to quickly pull together the appropriate minutes or status report.

Don't waffle

Time is money, so keep things short and sweet wherever possible. Don't waste people's time by talking about things that are irrelevant. Stick to topic and don't waffle.

The End

Once the meeting is over, thank everyone for their time and ensure you leave on a positive note. Tell them you'll be in touch with any further actions required and make sure you get back in touch via email as soon as possible to thank them yet again.