Commanding The Room
As sales professionals, most of us have likely been in a meeting that goes in a direction that is not planned. We interviewed Cara Kalnow, former Head of Industry at Turn and seasoned seller to get some tips on how she keeps control during a meeting.
Q (Refine): What initial preparation do you conduct to ensure you are ready to lead a meeting with confidence?
A (Cara): I always start by defining the ask of the meeting and determine what the main objective of the meeting will be. Once I have that, I start working backwards. I ultimately do a vision match to understand why the client or prospect is looking to meet with me (and my company) and determine what success looks like for the meeting. Once all of that is identified, I can start constructing my pitch based on the solutions that will align with the objective of the meeting. If you just start building a deck, you will likely provide too much content and it is then harder to keep control of the meeting as there is no clear objective or solution.
Q (Refine): What initial steps do you take to set the tone at the beginning of a meeting?
A (Cara): For me, it all starts with where I position myself in a meeting. If at all possible, I try to sit at the head of the table with my back facing the screen where the presentation is being showcased. This allows me to have a full view of the meeting attendees and maintain eye contact throughout the meeting. When kicking off the meeting, I start by setting up the objective I have previously determined with the key stakeholder and reconfirm what they want to get out of the meeting. This then opens the door for the client/prospect to bring up anything else they want to address and is a great opportunity to let the client speak so they feel heard before I start the presentation. It's also a chance for additional discovery that can then be woven into the language during the rest of the meeting.
Q (Refine): How do you take control back when a client or prospect veers completely off topic?
A (Cara): Generally, I let them continue their thought, I then acknowledge and/or answer their thought so they feel heard. Then, I try and connect that back to the topic at hand. If this continues throughout the meeting, I will tie their thoughts back to something that I know is really important to them or to their business so they can understand my approach to the meeting and content. If all else fails, I will let them know that I will get back to their question(s) later in the presentation or at the end so we can continue on the original path of the meeting. All in all, I want to make sure they get the answers they want and give them time to speak but I always try and tie back to the larger objective of the meeting and the content at hand.
Q (Refine): How do you take control back when a colleague or your boss takes over a meeting?
A (Cara): There are three things I try to do. 1) I believe this starts prior to getting in the meeting. My approach begins by ensuring everyone from my company that is attending the meeting knows the goals and intended outcome of the meeting. When we are all aligned before, it is easier to ensure we stay on track during the meeting, 2) I make sure I know the presentation inside and out so I can shift during the meeting if/when someone starts to take over and veers off topic. This allows me to pivot as needed to ensure the conversation ties back to our goals, and 3) I leave time at the end to make sure I can tie back to anything that was missed and reiterate the key points that tie back to the goals of the meeting.
Q (Refine): How do you get people's attention if they are not engaged or paying attention?
A (Cara): I look around the room, making eye contact with the audience while presenting. This makes it harder for someone to not pay attention for long periods of time when they know someone is connecting with them. This also goes back to why strategic positioning in the meeting room is so important. Lastly, while this behavior can be annoying and a bit distracting, if the person is not a decision maker, I try to not focus on this and continue on with the meeting. If it is the decision maker or a key stakeholder, I call out their name and tie my current content to a previous conversations we have had so they know they need to pay attention because this is something that is important to them and their business.
Q (Refine): What is your biggest tip to a new seller who isn't comfortable with all the approaches you mentioned?
A (Cara): Practice, practice and more practice. This doesn't just mean getting out in the market but also means practicing at home, video taping yourself and watching back, and pitching to your peers and your boss and asking for direct feedback. While some of these things may feel uncomfortable, it will help build confidence and comfort when pitching to potential prospects and clients. And then, just get out there and do it!
A (Carrie): You can also try and determine something that helps you feel confident that you can practice or listen to right before the meeting. For some, this may be doing a warrior pose (yoga), diaphragm breathing, meditating or even watching a video with affirmations (my favorite is "Jessica's Daily Affirmation" - look it up!). If you feel calm and confident, this will come off in your meeting!
It is great learning the techniques other sellers are practicing and have had success with. If you or your team needs more help in commanding a room, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.