The preparation I do for a meeting depends on the meeting. If it’s a recurring weekly thing where I’m supposed to have made progress – well, then I show the progress I’ve made. If it’s an update meeting, I just go and listen to whatever the current status of whatever the project is. If it’s a meeting with another engineer, I go with no preparation, and then we work on whatever problem we’re solving.
But I’ve learned about a new category of meeting, now that I’ve started dipping my toes in the business world. It’s the “reaching out” meeting – or the “touching base” meeting – or the “finding overlapping interests” or “maybe we can collaborate” meeting.
Basically these are meetings that are the first contact between you and the other person. Sometimes you want something out of the other person, sometimes they want something out of you, and the common factor is that there’s isn’t an agenda. You are just supposed to talk. To network.
I assumed that these meetings fell under the “no preparation” category. I figured – hey, I can talk, that’s easy. I’ll just go and see what happens. That, as an engineer, was my logical thought process. No agenda = nothing I need to prepare.
But I have learned this is incorrect. Because in the business world, these kind of networking meetings are apparently much more popular. And the business people do something that I did not expect – they prepare.
They do background checks.
After the second or third time I was surprised by how much the person sitting across the table knew about me, I realized that while I am used to dealing with technical issues (so I preprare whatever data or experimental results I need for a meeting), there is a whole other side to the world of interactions that deal with people and relationship issues. And so they prepare by researching historical data or background information on the person they are meeting.
And this makes sense – if you are a business person who deals with contracts and negotiations, you would never walk into a meeting without knowing exactly who you were talking to. If you are HR, nearly the ONLY thing you need to know is who the person is. And I realized this partly explains why when I was younger, it mystified me how much subtext there can be in a business meeting.
I think this phenomenon also plays out in the context of asking for references. If you talk to a professor about their cool new invention, they would be almost offended if you ask for references to prove they know their science. But it is common practice in the business world to ask for references before you enter a business relationship with somebody.
So I tried this recently – I had a meeting set up with someone I wanted to invite as a speaker to an event I am organizing. Instead of doing what I normally would do (which is simply meet them, say hello, and ask “would you like to be a speaker?”), I did a background check. Meaning, I Googled them.
And I found all sorts of articles, and interviews with the person, and in particular a couple things written by the person explaining the issues they were passionate about. And because I knew this, I was able to tailor my request to the person, and ask them to speak specifically about the issues I knew they were interested in.
I felt a whole lot more prepared, so I think this habit of Googling a new person before meeting them will be one I stick with.
Now I just have to see what comes up when you Google ME….
Do you find yourself being part of this sort of meeting? How do you prepare for meetings? Do you ever run a Google check on people?