No matter what your last face-to-face meeting was about, I am fairly confident I know how it began.
You two danced.
Not a real dance (hopefully)—a verbal one. You and your colleague or client sat around and talked about the weather, the traffic, how your team played that weekend, etc.
Whatever the case, while the dance continued, nothing important got done.
I’m not saying that pleasantries don’t have their place. The problem is that, while this meeting delay may only last 30 seconds, it can also continue for 30 minutes.
That’s a lot of time spent on topics that don’t actually move the needle.
The Problem of the Meeting Delay Dance
Again, the meeting delay often starts because you or the other person is simply trying to be polite. Asking how the other person is doing doesn’t need to be a death sentence for your meeting.
In my experience though, the reason one innocent question quickly snowballs into a time-consuming conversation with no real payoff is simple: tension.
Talking to someone over text, email, Slack, or even the phone is a lot easier than being in front of them trying to have the same interaction.
Even the most pleasant of discussions can be derailed because of things like tone of voice, facial expressions, and other nonverbal forms of communication.
So how do you cut through this fog, get to the heart of the matter ASAP, and improve your chances of having a productive meeting?
We all know the traditional advice, things like “be yourself” and other clichés, but I’ve found some much more specific ways to cut through the meeting delay and get to what’s important in just 30 seconds.
1. Decide if the Situation Is Playing to Your Advantage
Sometimes, it’s definitely worth pushing off any tension you may feel at the beginning of a meeting until you can get a read on the room.
If you’re already familiar with the person you’re speaking with, you shouldn’t have too much trouble pushing right through this initial challenge.
However, if this is the first time meeting with someone, it might be best to hold off on engagement until you get a better sense for them.
That said, once you feel a sense of mutual familiarity, it’s time to dive in. There’s absolutely no point in prolonging the introduction.
2. Pierce the Silence with Humor
Generally, the first person to break the silence and banish the tension comes out with the better position.
There are all kinds of ways you can do this, but I find that humor works best.
If you try breaking the silence with a bold proclamation or some other attempt at “setting the tone,” there’s a good chance you might end up doing more harm than good. The entire meeting may suffer because of that first misstep.
On the other hand, as long as you keep your efforts appropriate, you can’t go too far wrong with something humorous.
Furthermore, humor subconsciously turns a conversation objective by adding perspective, pulling it away from the “me vs. you” paradigm that you want to avoid at all costs.
3. Know When to Push Back from the Table
Just as important as knowing how to begin a conversation is knowing how—and when—to end it.
Most meetings come with a stated agenda, but there is often an unstated one as well.
For example, the agenda you’re looking at may have some fairly standard points to cover about a potential business deal, but the other person also wants to bring up prices. It’s not listed right in front of you, but they’re not going to let you leave until you discuss it.
Think about potential unstated agenda items the other person may have before you attend any meeting. Then, prepare for them beforehand and think through any conflicts they might pose to your goals.
Finally, get up and leave the table the moment your meeting is supposed to be over. Follow the stated agenda to the letter and wrap things up when it’s time.
This will force the other person’s hand. They’ll have to bring up their unstated items and, in doing so, cut to the chase.
The Meeting Hasn’t Started Until You’ve Moved on to Business
I try to keep this in mind whenever I have a meeting. Until we’re both on the same page talking about business, it might as well be a coffee break or some leisure activity.
If you want to get great at dancing, by all means, ignore the above advice.
If your time is precious and you’re sick of seeing it wasted, just use the 3 strategies I just outlined and you’ll be talking business within 30 seconds of making eye contact.