You never know when you’re going to have another chance to impress the boss..
You’ve seen it happen. You’re in a meeting and a few of your co-workers sit there seemingly disengaged. They add nothing, ask no questions, are not prepared, and their presence has no impact.
My good friend, John, and I witnessed this while working at Gregg’s Cycle in Seattle. We were amazed that when given an opportunity to talk to the owner or the general manager, or even just take part in a discussion, people did not. We saw co-workers, asked to present on a topic, appear with only a piece of paper and a pencil, unprepared in every way that matters. John always used to say, “You never know when you’re going to have another chance to impress the boss.” Lots of these people never got another chance.
After seeing people miss their chances more than a few times we concluded that many employees really don’t understand the urgency of the situation. Or if they do, they don’t have a plan to take advantage of their opportunity.
John has since gone on to become a VP at a high-tech wireless company. I’m sure that he strives to impress anytime he gets the chance. I’m now part of the marketing team at Trek Bicycle and I’m fortunate to be able to meet with the president of the company on a regular basis. I do everything I can to come prepared to add to the discussion every chance that I get.
At times, it’s tricky to find opportunities to insert yourself into the discussion. As a company gets larger, chances to show what you know and what you can do can be difficult to find, especially if you are just starting your career. I do what I can to help. When working with someone who I think has something to offer I make an effort to give them an opening to show what they can do.
In one particular case, I was putting together a meeting to discuss how to put to better use our partnership with a company that runs a series of mountain biking events. I had our events director, a designer, a copywriter, another marketing manager, the owner of the business that we were partnering with, and finally, a sales rep who had been with Trek for about a year. I had talked with him a number of times in the months leading up to the meeting and had been impressed. I thought that having him in the room would bring something new and different to a partnership that had been going on for more than a few years. I was wrong.
As the meeting went on he just sat there. When I asked him directly for his thoughts he had none. I felt let down and he felt intimidated. It was bad for both of us. When I look back on it there were two mistakes made that day.
The first mistake was mine. I should have done a better job telling the new guy what I was looking for from him so he could prepare. Since then if I bring someone into an unfamiliar situation, I do my best to go over the following at least a couple of days prior:
- Background on the meeting’s subject and purpose
- A quick intro to the people who will be there
- Clear expectations on what I expect
The second mistake that day was his. When put into a situation that gives you a chance to speak up, you have to make the most of it. It’s not that you need to try to dominate the discussion, but if you were invited to a meeting to share your input, you better figure out what that will be. Prepare yourself:
Prior to the meeting
- If you don’t know what the meeting is about, ask.
- If you don’t know why you are in the meeting, ask.
- Look at the agenda and figure out what you have to add on each point.
- Know who will attend and each person’s position. Google them if you need to.
- Be ready to ask a few questions.
- Get there on time and chat with the people before the meeting starts.
During the meeting
- If there are no formal introductions, make sure to introduce yourself.
- Make eye contact.
- Take notes. On paper.
- When you don’t understand, ask the question. There’s a chance someone else doesn’t understand and they’ll love you for bringing it up.
- Have something to add. It might be an idea, or it might be questioning an idea. Make sure to put it out there.
- Be ready for a direct question. If you don’t have a response ready, ask a clarifying question.
- Keep your input short, and to the point.
- Be yourself. You were asked to come to the meeting because the organizer thought you had something to add. Don’t try to be someone else now.
After the meeting
- Look over your notes and make additional notes.
- Ask any clarifying questions to the group through email.
- If you’ve got something to add to the topic after the meeting make sure to do it.
- Follow up with the people in the meeting individually, either through email or in person.
- If you are given an action item in the meeting, get it done on time.
The young sales rep in his first chance to make an impression didn’t have a plan. He likely didn’t understand that he should have a plan. Instead of taking advantage of his chance to show what he had to offer to the company he sat quietly and didn’t even notice when his opportunity slipped away. It’s not enough to be asked to the meeting, you have to be ready to seize your chance. He didn’t and he never got another one.