When I made the leap to marketing after years of sales, I immediately rewound the last 25 years and watched a virtual VHS tape (yes, that old - click this if you don't remember) in search of what I learned. You see, I didn't have the luxury of learning on the job this time, I had to apply what I already knew and apply it fast.
What I found in the annals of my mind were very useful techniques that could be applied to any number of situations. For instance, whereas meetings in a sales capacity were primarily sales demonstrations, they are now internal collaboration, requiring multiple views and ideas to be focused into an agreed brand image. This is tough to do with 6 creative and differing views - or is it?
The Up-Front Contract
Perhaps the most important practice I learned while in sales can be easily used in all aspects of life, particulary in running a meeting. It's called the Up-Front Contract - I learned it from Brian Kavicky at Lushin and Associates. It's a time saver, thought organizer, and leaves no doubt about next steps. The UFC, as we call it, is made up of three parts: Time, Agenda, Outcome.
Have you ever been in a meeting where the time is open-ended? Thought so, and what happens? Without an agreed upon time limit, discussions tend to wander aimlessly. This is because there is no urgency to come to a concensus. Further, attendees all have different pre-conceptions of just how long they expect it to take to reach consensus. When the time exceeds attendee expectation, you lose their interest.
Kick it off with clarity
Clearly state the time you intend the meeting to last and manage the agenda to that end. Before exceeding the time limit, if it's necessary, ask for an extension and reset the time. Be clear - don't say "this should take about 30 minutes", instead "I've scheduled 30 minutes..." But not so formal - my example at the end demonstrates this.
Lots of meetings have agendas, and that's it. Without the bookends of time and outcome, agendas become suggested discussion rather than specific, intentional topics that need an outcome. Have a written purpose and agenda. Be sure to distribute this in advance within the email invitation, but go one further: read the agenda aloud and gain concensus that those are the topics for discusion. This discourages discussion creep, but if it does stray, you have support to bring it back to the agenda.
Keep it on track
"The purpose of the meeting is to draft a value proposition. We'll 1) identify the target audience 2) define what we do for them and 3) agree on why they should care."
Be sure to ask if there is anything else that should be considered for the agenda. And if discussion creep does happen, I like to use the parking lot - park the topic on a whiteboard and revisit later, maybe even after the meeting.
I always liked this part the best, and here's the key: get agreement up front as to what is going to be decided at the end. In sales, it's either yes (we'll talk again) or no (there is no reason to keep talking). For meetings, it's yes (we've accomplished the objective) or no. If no, then get agreement on what the next objective will be - then that becomes the next event's objective around which to build the next UFC.
All Together Now
"Thanks for gathering, I've put 30 minutes on the calendar today to craft our value proposition. We're going to ask and answer these questions:
1) Who is our target audience?
2) What do we do for them? and
3) Why should they care?
Is there anything missing from the agenda? At the end of the meeting we'll decide whether we have a new value proposition or not. If not, we'll decide what to do next and when. Sound fair? Great..."
It's a simple but effective formula that lets everyone know what to expect. It establishes you as the meeting lead, regardless of titles in the room, and it's respectful of attendees in so many ways - time, focus, seniority. Give it a try the next time you gather to create your strategic plan or discuss a new loan product offering.
And please comment below - I'd love to know what you think.