Abe Lincoln* once said, “If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Whether or not you agree with the proportion of time that Lincoln would have you spend on preparation, it’s hard to argue against the idea that doing your homework will serve you well.
How do you prepare for big meetings or presentations? Has that changed over time, or do you have certain routines you always follow?
In speaking with many fellow business owners, I’ve found that there are a number of preparation tips that most entrepreneurs agree will help you put your best foot forward.
1. Know Your Audience
Who are you meeting with? Have you done a Google search on them? If you didn’t set the agenda, who did – and what’s on the agenda?
It’s always best not to be surprised or blindsided at a meeting. The more you know about the people you’re meeting with – including their backgrounds, their needs, and how they define “success” – the more productive your discussions will be.
2. Eat, Sleep, and Be Merry
Nothing beats a good night’s rest and a full stomach when it comes to meeting preparation. A warm smile and friendly conversation will go a long way in building rapport and, ultimately, a solid relationship – which is the foundation for everything that follows.
Of course, you won’t be in the mood for chitchat and smiles if you’re hungry or tired, will you?
If you’re in a pinch, grab some coffee and an energy bar before you start. It beats hearing your stomach growl and fighting yawns during a meeting.
3. Practice Makes (Almost) Perfect
Rehearsals aren’t just for plays. Whether you think of a meeting as a performance or not, it’s your job to both inform and entertain your audience members.
Nobody’s perfect, but you should be comfortable enough with your material that it flows naturally and you’re not relying on notes during the meeting. You don’t want to be reading off a script – you want to be having direct, engaging conversations.
4. Follow Up and Follow Through
If you tell the people you meet with you’ll get back to them on a particular issue, make sure you actually do it. Keeping promises goes a long way and reinforces the quality image and brand you want to project.
Personally, I find that, if I write things down, they get done. Find a system that works for you to make sure you always close the loop in the end.
These steps may seem simple, but you’d be amazed how many people don’t invest the time and effort necessary to get into the heads and hearts of their target audience. You want to leave a lasting impression as a consummate professional; you should never let a meeting go to waste – especially when it can be a challenge to set one up in the first place.
So, take the time you need to be prepared, because even meetings you don’t initially think are important may end up putting you in front of people who can help you in the future. Though they might not hire you or buy your product this time, they will remember you for later – if you make a great impression, that is.
Keep sharpening that axe; you never know when you’ll need it.
*Ed. note: Plenty of people credit Lincoln with this quote, but it’s difficult – if not impossible – to verify whether or not he ever actually said it.