This year, the question I get more than any other is: “How do I deal with someone who is trying to derail my meeting?” We’ve addressed several internal meeting scenarios, but what if it’s a customer meeting? Well, that’s a whole different ball game.
Building trust requires listening. Building a strong relationship with your customer is much more important than getting through a set of slides. Sometimes an interruption is a golden opportunity to understand what a customer is most worried about. Or to see their blind spots.
Let’s say you’re presenting a mid-stream data hygiene strategy. The customer interrupts and says, “Is this data that’s streaming in or streaming out?” If you’re listening to the question, you understand there’s a fundamental misunderstanding. You say, “Ah, great question. I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear.” You pull up your slide on the company’s basic data architecture and show the customer what you’re talking about, without being condescending. How will you be able to tell if the customer is catching on? Listen to their next question.
But what if it’s a hugely important customer meeting? Your only chance to get all of the decision-makers in the room and get a decision made? Do you suspend your agenda then? No, but you need to bring all of your politesse and pivoting skills.
Here’s a tough scenario: You’re nearly done with your presentation. The CEO, CFO, CIO and several others are in the room. The CEO, seeing that she has all of her senior team in the room, says, “We need to talk about our own software team. I’m not sure our people are up to executing this.” And then the whole discussion pivots to recruiting, training, etc., as if you’re no longer there. You must find a bridge to re-insert yourself in the conversation before the clock runs out. “If I may, we have an excellent training program for customer teams. We’d love to be part of the solution.” And then, after you have their attention back, ask to continue. “I know that building team skills is critical. We just have five minutes of your valuable time left to make a decision on this proposal. If it’s OK with all of you, I’d love to get back to that.”
When you are really listening and observing, you can spot the graceful way to get the conversation back on track. You’ll see how formal/informal the company’s culture is and know what language to use to re-insert yourself. None of this is easy. If you’re new in your role, ask to attend meetings to watch the masters at work. That’s one of the best ways to learn!
Not sure how to crush your next presentation? Navigate tough questions? Need some pragmatic, actionable communications advice? Consider Office Hours with Lisa, a great way to get bite-sized, personalized coaching. And there are tons of resources in poseycorp’s newsletter – subscribe here. Get some skills! Because it’s the great communicators who create the change they want to see in the world!