Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Prospect Hears Much More Than Just Your Words

In the last post I concluded by saying I next wanted to talk about “meeting dynamics, body language, eye contact and seating/positioning.” These are crucial because researchers and psychologists who study these things (typically by observing actual meetings) are unanimous that over half of what you communicate is directly related to non-verbal clues the listener is receiving and processing. Figures range from 60% to 95%(!), but whatever the real number is, it is big enough so that it makes a real difference and must be taken into consideration. OK, you’re thinking that’s kind of interesting, but what do I actually do in the face of this reality?

Let’s assume you are walking into the prospect’s office at the appointed hour. Never, never show up late! It is a blatant sign of disrespect and evidence that the prospect isn’t all that important to you. If you are going to be even a few minutes late, you must call them and give a plausible reason (“There’s a wreck on the bypass … we’ll be there is about 15 minutes.”) We’ll further assume you’ve put a meeting plan together – see my earlier posts – and that if there are more than one of you there is a shared commitment to follow the plan as it relates to who does what, who talks when, etc. You wait for a few minutes and are then directed to the conference room.

The bottom line regarding who sits where involves two major considerations. The first is that you are in their house and you don’t usurp their space and/or authority. This means if circumstances place you in the meeting room first you don’t sit at the head of the table. It is never impolite or a sign of weakness to simply ask, “Where would you like us to sit?” If they want to do some audiovisual or similar, they may want you to cluster at one end, etc. Then, remain standing until invited to sit or, in the alternative, begin sitting down slightly after they do. It’s about making them comfortable with your presence and not giving them a vague feeling things don’t feel right. In short, act like a polite guest.

The second consideration relates to exactly where you or your team sits. It is a sign of respect to walk to the far side of the table, which is generally furthest from the door. If you are making the pitch solo, then you are always safe to sit in the second seat from the end that is closest to the door on the far side of the table. If you are not alone, then arrange you team along the far side, with the meeting leader sitting opposite of where the prospect’s key person sits. You can generally delay things by setting briefcases down, getting papers, etc. to see how the prospect is arranging themselves at the table.

A more minor, but nevertheless important advisement while in their space is to avoid the appearance of disrespect for their possessions. If the meeting was with the management staff of a regional museum, for example, you wouldn’t drape your wet raincoat over the top of a Ming period vase positioned on a lighted pedestal at the end of their boardroom. A more realistic suggestion is to avoid tossing your things on the extra chairs lining the side of the room. Instead, fold your overcoat neatly and then place it on the seat of the chair. Another bad move is to put your briefcase on the (expensive, nicely polished) table in front of you and then periodically sliding it over the table’s finish as you busily snap the cover open and shut, removing and replacing papers as the meeting progresses. No matter how well conceived your meeting plan is, it is probably wasted because the prospect isn’t hearing much of what you are saying. Instead, they are wondering how many scratches you are generating and getting increasingly annoyed that you don’t have the good sense to put your (expletive deleted) briefcase on the floor. Briefcases, purses, satchels and the like always go on the floor, either next to or behind you.

Everyone is seated appropriately. The foundation for effective meeting dynamics is in place. The prospect is interested in hearing what you have to say. You, or your team, can now dazzle them with your incredible preparation, vast knowledge of all things accounting and friendly persona. In the next post we’ll visit body language and eye cues and after that get into the meeting itself.


tommyO said...

Craig, can you tell me about when a prospect is in your place, how is that different than when you are in theirs? I truly enjoy your writing.

Craig Weeks said...

Hi Tommyo...
Sorry for the tardy reply. I didn't see your email until today.
When they come to your office you treat them as you would a valued invited guest. You greet them by standing up, shaking their hand and offering words of welcome. You politely direct them to where you will meet and you offer them the best seat (best light, overlooking a view, etc.) and ask if you can offer them a soda or whatever and do whatever you can to make them feel comfortable and respected. Don't allow anyone to interrupt your meeting for any reason short of a true emergency; don't take any calls, turn off your beepers and ringers. Focus all your attention on them. Once settled, you begin as you would if the meeting was at their location.
No magic words here. The bottom line is they begin the meeting feeling valued, respected and welcome.