Meetings can be such a bore. And when you're a small business, they can also be daunting.
So much is at stake. You might be trying to win someone over, sell a new job or make progress on an ongoing project. There'll be politics, people who disagree with you, people who want their own way.
It's a tightrope — something you have to handle with professionalism and grace. You'll need to hold your own but avoid treading on any toes. With this in mind, here are our top tips on conducting a successful business meeting.
Don't be late
I can't stress this enough – don't be late! It's disrespectful, it's rude, and it gives the wrong impression. Get to the meeting well ahead of schedule by giving yourself plenty of time. You'll look eager and keen to be there. And you'll feel relaxed and ready for a positive meeting. You don't want to be flustered or stressed before it's even begun. So arrive on time.
Make a great first impression
It's an obvious tip, but how you present yourself is so important. In the creative industries, one can get away with a little more informal attire, but it 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.
Perfect that 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! Use your discretion to decide whom you greet first. If you're not formally introduced, introduce yourself. Hold eye contact, but never look anywhere other than the eyes. Smile and be warm and friendly.
Learn the art of 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. No one likes a complainer, so avoid whining about the weather or traffic, or anything else for that matter. It doesn't set the appropriate tone. Just keep it positive. If someone asks you about your journey, tell a white lie and say it was great, even if it wasn't. People like positive people, and it will leave a positive lasting impression.
Oh sit down
A small top tip but an important one. Let your client take their seat first and don't sit down until everyone else is seated. 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 talk. Work out who controls the purse strings and ensure you give them a little attention. Don't interrupt or cut people short. Let them lead the meeting unless you're in charge of proceedings. Make sure you consider everyone in the room.
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 are food or nibbles at the meeting, don't dive in and start gobbling. Be polite and wait until everyone else has helped themselves. Then, 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. That's 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 meal ahead of everyone else.
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 to them following the meeting. If you lie, you're only spinning yourself a complicated web.
Take a notebook with you to every meeting so that you can write down 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 it easier to spot the required jobs, and you'll be able to pull together the appropriate minutes or status report quickly.
Time is money, so keep things short and sweet. Don't waste people's time by talking about irrelevant things. Stick to the topic and don't waffle.
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 send an email as soon as possible to thank them yet again.