As a consultant I have walked into rooms where the temperature was so cold I debated getting gloves, but whether I’m lobbying or speaking at an event, I always warm up my audience before delivering my message. When they’re warm, I’m hot.
A Story from the Field
The CEO of the large pharmaceutical company was anxious to meet with an Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM). His company had considerable concerns around a regulatory process and he wanted to share their proposals towards addressing that challenge. He knew that in the weeks prior to his meeting there had been quite a bit of bad press about the program the ADM was responsible for. What’s more, the bad press had resulted from many unfortunate and accusatory comments leveled directly at the ADM by another pharmaceutical company. It was of little surprise to the CEO when he was only granted 30 minutes for the meeting, and even less of a surprise when 30 minutes was reduced to 15 minutes once he arrived.
Rather than launching into his proposal, he started the meeting by explaining that he understood the challenges the department faced. He explained that he thought the press coverage unfortunate since it did nothing to contribute to an open dialogue between his industry and the department. The ADM who had started the meeting with her hands folded across her chest and her lips so tightly pursed she might have produced diamonds from coal, slowly began to relax. When her assistant came into the meeting to get her after 15 minutes, the ADM shook her head and the meeting proceeded. By the time the CEO explained that his company funded a group of independent scientists who would be available for an exchange program with the department due to their specialized knowledge, 45 minutes had elapsed. The ADM was leaning forward attentively and asking about how the scientists were chosen and how the exchange might work. The meeting ended after an hour and there were smiles all round.
As government relations exercises go, I have rarely been so impressed with a client for turning what could have been a disaster into a triumph. When we were told we had 15 minutes I wasn’t sure if he would stay or walk out, but he was a total trooper. Its a lesson that has stayed with me.
Three Tips For Managing First Meetings
- Assume nothing about your audiences knowledge of you; make sure your position/attitude is clearly stated at the beginning of the meeting.
- Read the body language of the person you are meeting with and respond to it.
- Establishing rapport will serve you better than any well practiced pitch.