It has often been said that success occurs when preparation meets opportunity. It’s always been one of my favorite sayings and I’m amazed how often it rings true.
How to be prepared as a meeting attendant
One of the most obvious settings where this occurs is in meetings. Most business meetings are scheduled through Outlook, Lotus Notes or some type of integrated calendaring software. Along with the invitation that comes in your email, there may be documents attached. This can be as simple as an agenda, or any number of documents that are intended to be reviewed during the meeting.
If the document is sent in advance of the meeting, it’s a good assumption that you are expected to review it prior to the meeting. Otherwise, the meeting organizer would just bring copies to the meeting. I’ve had this become an issue with clients. I’ll send out a meeting invite with a document attached, intending for them to read it and to provide feedback at the meeting. There isn’t time in a 1-hour meeting to cover the whole document. I often have people show up without having even looked at it. They see the document for the first time in the meeting. We end up spending an hour to get through the first couple of pages. To reduce the chance of this occurring, I often send a separate email with the document, specifically asking them to review it and bring comments to the meeting. While this improves my hit ratio, I still have to spoon-feed some of the meeting attendants on the documents contents.
This is where there is a big double standard for consultants. When clients come to a meeting unprepared, you need to deal with it. A consultants coming to a meeting unprepared is unacceptable. If you are invited to a meeting, check for any attachments that need to be reviewed. Whether you print them or review them online is a matter of personal preference. The first check should be to understand your role in the meeting. If they want feedback, you must be ready to provide it. If you are just there for informational purposes, you still should be familiar with the content of all documentation. If your role us unclear, contact the meeting organizer to get an agenda or to find out what your purpose is in the meeting.
How to be prepared to be on time
Another important factor in preparing for a meeting is allowing enough time to get there on time. Showing up late is an excellent way to show the other participants your disregard for their time. Even if most of them habitually show up late, you should not be in that group.
How to be prepared for questions
Finally, while in the meeting, be prepared for any questions. Try to anticipate questions that could be asked of you. Stay focused so that when a question comes your way, you’re not caught thinking about what you’re going to wear to your friend’s party next weekend.
How to be prepared to run the meeting
If you are the meeting host or organizer, there is additional preparation involved. If you plan to use a projector, sufficient time should be allowed to have it set up and running prior to the meeting. Additionally, if there are agendas or other documents that need to be printed, print them at least an hour prior to the meeting. Printers seem to be programmed to go down or jam in the last minutes of the hour right before a meeting starts.
How to be prepared with emails
Preparation goes beyond meetings too. Staying up to date on emails ensures that you can avoid the embarrassment of being uninformed with someone who runs into you in the hall and asks about the email he sent to you three days ago.
How to be prepared with project planning
If you are in charge of a project plan, it’s a good idea to review the current tasks at least within the next week to be able to answer a manager or a client that asks for an impromptu status.
How to be prepared in your industry
Preparation also means staying current with technology and trends in your industry. There is no way to stay current on everything at all times, but subscribing to – and reading – online trade magazines from your industry will allow you to speak intelligently about many of the concepts that come up in meetings and other conversations. If top management brings up one of those topics that you just read about, that is a big opportunity that could meet with your preparation.
What about your experiences? When has your preparation – or lack thereof – intersected with opportunity and affected your success?
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.