Having a meeting with the CEO can be daunting to say the least.
Knowing the right thing to say, how much to say or whether to keep it brief is incredibly advantageous.
We reached out to some high profile CEOs to get their perspective on what they expect out of a meeting.
One common theme is being clear on what you want to achieve in the meeting. Also, don’t babble.
From being prepared to bringing energy, knowing your numbers or keeping it short and sweet, here are some tips you can take with you into your next meeting with the big boss.
Tim Fung, CEO of Airtasker wants people to have an outcome in mind and have the right numbers to back it up.
Have an outcome in mind: don’t propose a meeting to catch up and 'have a chat'. You should have a base case in mind of what you would like to achieve through the meeting. If it doesn’t go to plan, that’s fine - but you should at least be tracking towards something.
Know your numbers: most CEOs are pretty numbers-focused so whatever you say, they will likely dig deeper and want to understand broad quantitative metrics. You should 'know your stuff' so that you can broadly provide, calculate or find the metrics which tell the story.
I ask my team to send me an agenda at least 24 hours in advance as well as a summary of what they're looking for as an outcome.
We are always looking to the future so bring ideas, energy and commercial understanding.
- Get to the point quickly!
- What's your proposition and why will that be of benefit to our company?
- Know about our business, research, even talk to people within our business to get a better understanding. It will help your pitch.
- We are all about the bottom line, so link what ever it is that you are suggesting to a measurable outcome.
- Don't start with the word 'partner' unless you are delivering significant value, it needs to be a game changer! I can't tell you how many times I hear that. It’s an overused term for 'deal'. A real partnership shares risk, reward and often intimately binds two businesses in a unique way and is different to a commercial transaction. Know the difference. If you want to partner then know what the commercial model could be and don't be fluffy.
Why are we having this meeting? What is it that I want to know? Answer these questions first and we’ll be on the same page from the beginning. Starting a meeting with the background details first can get quite confusing, and frankly, a little boring. I can’t decide which details are relevant to what I need to know so I’m also likely to miss important points that you’re making.
By starting with the answer first you have my full attention from the start. I’m more likely to listen to the finer details because I understand why you’re making these points. We’re also more likely to have a meaningful discussion this way because I’m engaged with what you’re saying. The end result is much more positive than if you walked into a meeting with the details first and the answer last.
A clear agenda is essential. What do you want to meet about? This is important as it keeps the meeting on track and in focus. Time is finite, and meetings can sometimes drift away from the purpose and will result in time wasting. Agendas will help keep the meeting short and to the point.
Always arrive on time. I cannot stress enough how important this is. Lateness is selfishness so always leave enough time to get somewhere. Traffic is not an excuse. I struggle to work with people who are always late.
Make notes. It shows you are interested in what is being spoken about and that you are taking it all seriously. Taking down notes speaks volumes about your intentions and will give you a record of the meeting that you can refer to later.
For me the key to a good meeting is always preparation: knowing what you want to achieve, what the issues are, knowing exactly who you’re meeting, their position, a bit of background about them, who the decision makers are, maybe even some shared interests.
I’ve been in a meeting before where one of the other parties persistently called me by the wrong name. Not a great impression to make. But then I’ve actually had some pretty memorable stuff-ups myself.
My secret weapon these days is actually an app called Charlie. It checks your calendar for the day and sends you a brief on everyone you’re scheduled to meet with. Some news about their company, some common connections and some personal info. It really is a great tool for meetings.
Prepare for the meeting. Be clear about the meeting purpose and your objectives. Also understand the CEO’s objectives, and try to gauge how important this issue is for them at that point in time (priorities are fluid). If there are materials for the meeting, consider sending them through prior. Know your materials and anticipate likely questions.
Be on time (ideally get to the meeting early) and then run the meeting to time. Keep track of time throughout the meeting, and ensure you leave sufficient time for questions and next steps.
Be succinct. CEOs are busy, so don’t waste time rambling. Get to the point and if it is clear that the CEO understands your point, move onto the next point. As a young consultant I used to labour through a presentation to ensure that the client understood every point I wanted to make. This was not necessary. If the insight is clear the CEO would rather spend time discussing implications and what to do, rather than have you reinforce what is already understood.
Finally, follow up after the meeting. Thank the CEO for their time and summarise any actions from the meeting (actions can be for both you and the CEO). Be clear about what is expected and when it is to be delivered.
Being a successful entrepreneur, I'm happy to give back by meeting with others who have business ideas they'd like to share. As time is valuable I expect people I meet to have prepared three simple things for the meeting:
- Information on other meetings they have had to validate their concept.
- A business plan to summarise their concept, quickly and efficiently.
- A distribution strategy to demonstrate the concept can be taken to market.
The expectation is that any decision, suggestion or solution must be justified and measurable through data so don't bother coming to a meeting without a whole heap of numbers to back up your analysis and measure your solutions.
Like a boy scout it's all about 'being prepared'; knowing your topic, understanding your numbers and if something with a long delivery date has been missed, that you haven’t waited until the due date to let me know.
Jason Buckley, CEO of Y&R Group says people should use the meeting to sell who you are and what you're about.
Any meeting with the CEO is an opportunity to sell yourself.
- Make it about what matters to the boss.
- Like any good advertiser will tell you, frame your communication not about you; but about your audience. That means knowing what’s important to the CEO. (By doing this) you’ll be heard above those talking in generalities.
- Edit, edit, edit. And then cut to the chase.
- Your top boss isn’t interested in how much you can say; but how much you can convey. Get to the point by starting with the outcome. Followed by why. Leave the how only to when you’re asked.
- Be different.
- The reality is that you are competing for the CEO’s attention with others. Always demonstrate, humbly, why your role in the meeting is unique and valuable to the CEO.
- Close the agreement.
- Insist on agreeing the next step, and confirm the follow up.
I generally try to avoid meetings that don't have a clear purpose. If a meeting is for a company pitching their services I usually try and put something in my calendar right afterwards to make sure I can keep it as short as possible, ideally 20 minutes.
For other meetings such as staff catch ups or management meetings, I prefer to do it over lunch so its more casual and doesn't take too much productive time out of the day.
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