I wrote these tips for students I work with. For the first time in their lives they have to organize and plan and run a routine business meeting with an outside partner or customer. This is total common sense for many of you. Sometimes it’s helpful to write down total common sense.

Preparation

  • When you are about to set up the meeting, offer the partner several time slots that all members of your team can make This allows the partner to try and fit the time into their busy schedule.
  • Realize that they have almost definitely never been to your company before. Provide them with your address as well as a google map. (Telling them to look up the company web site is not acceptable.)
  • Make sure you have reserved a room for the meeting.
  • You also need to suggest to them where to park and help them find the meeting room. If it’s not obvious, you may need to give directions from parking to your location. You can annotate a google map to show them the relative positions of the parking area and the room. Offer them your cell number and ask them to text or call you as soon as they arrive on campus and if necessary walk in their direction to make sure they don’t get lost.
  • Be sure that all the team members are present at the appointed time. No showing up five minutes late or worse because the alarm clock didn’t go off :)
  • Dress is very relative. If you have no more information then “business casual” is a safe bet. That means, no shorts or t-shirts, and a collared shirt, sweater or similar.

The actual meeting

  • Before the meeting the team has to decide what the desired outcomes of the meeting is, to goal. It might be things like getting to know each other, getting a partner summary of the project, asking the partner some specific questions, providing the partner a demonstration, or a status update.
  • Some meetings might need a formal powerpoint but usually it’s not necessary.
  • For the first meeting, you will probably shake hands and definitely have everyone introduce themselves. For subsequent meetings it’s not bad to remind the partner of who is who.
  • The default expectation is that one of the team members drive the discussion. Choose one of you, whoever is most comfortable.
  • Usually meetings start with a couple of minutes of social talk. “Did you have trouble finding parking?”, “Where is your office located?”, “I know you are very busy, so we appreciate the time.”, “Too bad about the Patriots”.
  • If you’ve never met before then take a moment with introductions.
  • Check that everyone agrees how long the meeting will be. “How long do we have? Do we have a full hour or do you need to get out at a certain time?”
  • Then go through your planned agenda point by point
  • Take notes, as much as anything, to show that the information you are learning and receiving is valuable to you and that you care about what the partner is saying.
  • Watch the clock. Unless the partner says otherwise, you should aim to be done with your specific points or goals on time.
  • Finally when they head out, offer to walk them to the car in case they might have trouble finding their way back.

That should get you through a successful first business meeting.

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