Conducting Great Client Meetings

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Conducting great client meetings is the secret to winning great client contracts. You should never take for granted that if you build the best product or provide the best service, you will automatically come away the winner. Those of us who have given and received a number of client presentations know that things can go wrong and a deal that looked like it was in the bag can suddenly be at risk because the presentation was of poor quality or the demonstration fell apart. It can wave a major red flag when you are promising the client a redundant, dependable, state-of-the-art, well-designed solution, and you can’t get your presentation off the ground. There are a number of steps that you can take to improve your presentations and reduce the risk of a presentation disaster.

The Agenda
There are a couple of benefits to having an agenda created and circulated in advance of your meetings. The first advantage is that it clarifies whether or not you and client attendees are coming to the meeting with matching expectations for what can be accomplished. We have all been to meetings where the perceived goals of the meeting seemed to differ among the participants. By circulating an agenda in advance, you have a better chance of everyone in attendance knowing why they are there and what the outcome of the meeting should be. The worst-case scenario is that you will get some feedback before the meeting that there has been a disconnect, and you can fix that. The second reason for having an agenda is to provide the framework for what will be covered. This can help you make a more organized march through the material.

Presentation Preparation
PowerPoint is the presentation medium of choice in most situations. Microsoft Office Specialist classes for PowerPoint are very inexpensive and are a valuable training investment for your staff. It is always best to have a primary and a backup person available in your organization who can create or at least fine-tune your presentations. They might also be the logical people to bring along to operate the laptop for you at the actual meeting. Trying to advance the slides and talk to them at the same time can be difficult.

Be careful if you are linking out from PowerPoint to documents, spreadsheets, schedules or other files that might not reside on the local machine. Always do a number of practice runs to be sure everything works correctly. Check that any files you link to have applications installed on the laptop that will allow these to be opened properly. I once had a presentation break because there was a link to a project planning/scheduling file for an application that had not been installed on that machine. It was on every other machine but this one. Consequently, when we tried to open that file, to our embarrassment, we were prompted to enter what application we wanted to use to open it. Be careful not to overuse sound, animation or text appearance features that could detract from the presentation. Also, create a custom corporate template that you use for all your presentations. This helps to create a consistent look and feel to all your presentations and prevents your client from recognizing that your presentation is just a stock PowerPoint template.

After the presentation has been created, have as many sets of eyes as possible review the content for any typos and a general sanity check. It really detracts from the presentation if spelling errors slip in or if figures don’t add up correctly. Try to have the presentation corrected and set in stone well before the event. Last-minute changes increase the risks of introducing typos back into the presentation after all your hard work to eliminate them.

It is important to have handouts printed up and available for all meeting participants. Count on 30 percent to 40 percent more people showing up than you have planned. Often attendees will ask for extra copies for co-workers or managers who were unable to attend but need to review the presentation.

You will definitely want to come away from the meeting with a signup sheet of attendees to have a record of who was present. Don’t pass around a hastily made-up one made on a yellow legal pad with a few lines drawn in. Instead, while you are printing up the slide handouts, also create a signup sheet including columns for name, job title, e-mail, phone and other information you would like to have for post-meeting follow-up.

Backup Slides
Often due to the time allotted, you will be presenting only a broad brushstroke of the total background information and research that was done in arriving at a solution. This is research that is already done but really won’t fit in the main presentation. This can be included in your backup slides. These slides are there to show that you have done your homework. When you get to the question-and-answer part of the meeting, you might have someone ask how you arrived at the server sizing for the solution you are proposing. Instead of giving a verbal answer by itself, you could pop up the slide from the backup set that covers that information.

Hardware Resources
Determine well in advance what hardware assets you need to take with you for the presentation. Many companies will have a conference room set up for presentations with a data projector, a PC and Internet connectivity. Your inside contact might have told you, “Don’t worry, we have a fully equipped conference room.” Unfortunately, I have been stung enough times to realize you should never count on any of their hardware working. It can be very embarrassing to get to a client site and find out that the PC is not operating properly, the data projector has a blown-out light bulb or someone has recently uninstalled the very application you planned to run the presentation with.

Some facilities will not allow you to bring a laptop on campus at all, and others may not allow a “foreign” computer to be plugged into their corporate network. Consequently, you will need to visit with your inside contact and be sure that your outside laptop will be welcome. If it is possible, guarantee your success by bringing along all the hardware that you might possibly need to make your presentation. Note that if you are counting on network connectivity to the Internet, it might not exist. Try loading any resources you need onto your presentation laptop. If you are regularly facing demonstrations that require Internet connectivity, you might want to examine cellular data service options. As data rates are going up closer to 100K and prices are coming down, this type of connectivity is becoming much more viable for presentations. Keep in mind that cellular data transmission has the same limitations as cell phones, and there can be dead spots in coverage.

Clean up the desktop on the presentation computer so it is free of file, folder or shortcut clutter and uses a default or neutral wallpaper. Disable the password-protected screensaver. It can be very embarrassing to have a computer lock and have the only person with the password late getting back from lunch, etc. Check the laptop and projector for screen resolution and refresh rate compatibility and that the button or keyboard combination that toggles video from the laptop’s LCD screen to the projector is working correctly. Be sure your presentation operator is familiar with the laptop and the toggle control function. Some conference rooms might have a built-in rear projection screen and they might be reluctant to have you pulling the video cable off their provided PC. Be sensitive to the situation, but realize that there are risks to using untested equipment they provide. Some larger conference rooms may have control consoles that control projector, sound system and lights. Be sure you will have someone at the client facility who is going to be available to brief you on these or handle this for you during the presentation.


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