open, open and open again (the bane of meetings)

This is about meetings, but a specific type of meeting: the team presenting to a client type meeting. This is mostly a “I want to sell you something” meeting <sell – ideas, programs, you should consider me, etc>.

I have two pet peeves ,or things that aggravate me, in these business meetings:

(1)    Selling beyond the close.

(2)    Having multiple people say the same thing.

Selling beyond the close is going to be another post because that really only aggravates me when it is an experienced person who does it.  Less experienced have to find the “feeling” associated with agreement and then have the strength, and fortitude, to keep their mouth shut <to leave unsaid words, well, left unsaid> because the idea had been agreed upon. That just takes practice.

This is about “the repeat.”

It may be the single most aggravating common mistake business people do in meetings.

I bring it up because I just experienced it. <again>

In the opening of the meeting someone else came crashing in and … well … re-opened the meeting … oh … and then someone else steps in to reopen.

Yup. That would officially be three opens to the same meeting. Three opens differentiated mostly by the sound of the voices and maybe a word here or there.

I used the opening as an example mostly because it sets the tone for the rest of the meeting and I started scribbling notes for this post right then and there <yeah … even I started tuning out … and I had a role>.

So. You would think experienced business people would not do this, but experienced people are actually the worst offenders <probably because they have the most bloated egos>.

Let’s think about this because this repeating can occur in a variety of ways in a business meeting.

The most popular is three people answering a question when the first answer was just fine (or 90% right which is just as good as fine).

This one is just frickin’ crazy. It is crazy for 2 reasons <okay, there are more but I will stick with the two most common sense business craziness aspects>:

–          Multiple answering is acting like this is the one and only opportunity to answer the question. It looks like three dogs slobbering over a bowl of human food thinking they need to eat it fast before the bowl is completely empty because they will never ever get any food ever again <dogs have no sense of time>.

It is crazy because if it is important enough it will come up again.

Oh. And isn’t there something at the end of a meeting called “questions”? <silly me for pointing that out>

–          Multiple answering implies the business people on the opposite side of the table are stupid. Okay. It just implies that they are not smart enough to ask a clarification question if they actually need clarification. Oh. But here is the crazy part. You will never frickin’ know if they had needed clarification because you just bludgeoned them with three different clubs of words.

That said.

The open, open, open practice is the worst. Or maybe it just feels the worst because it is delaying the actual meeting.

And it is people just talking.

And most of the words are saying the same thing (in different words).

And. It. Is. Painful.

And it shows lack of confidence (from the presenting group).

And it shows lack of understanding (in that if you are patient and the point you want to make is THAT important it can be discussed later).

And it shows lack of meeting dynamics understanding.

The only example I can come up with would be if you went to a symphony and they opened with a song. And at the end of the opening one of the band members said: ‘Let’s play that again <because I think we could do it better>’.

And then at the end of that opening … another band member said “ok, let’s do it once more” <because I think we could do it better>.

Oh.  And think of that example just as I explained it … but it is decided to do so … without telling the other band members you were going to do it.

Yeah. You would kinda be tempted to shove a violin where the sun don’t shine on that person wouldn’t ya? <yes>

Now. Because this is so aggravating and is so prevalent I know I have been part of several fairly creative techniques to halt things before it can even happen.

Just some tricks of the trade <but even they don’t work all the time>:


  • Addressing the infamous “one person could never answer a question correctly so several people will addend the initial answer.” Of course you tell everyone “just one answer to every question.” Get it out on the table. Even the worst offenders will take a reflective moment and ponder. They may not heed the advice in the heat of the battle but at least you have set the groundwork. Please note:  99% of the time this never works.


  • Designate a question answerer. Most companies have one or two people who are just … well … better than other people at answering questions. Just have all questions answered by this person. Now. This person doesn’t actually answer all the questions, but they redirect to the appropriate person.

“Sue knows the most about that … Sue … what do you think?” is the easy redirect.

The power of this solution is that all questions are being handled by your best question answerer. Depending on the type and length of the meeting it is very very effective, but puts a very heavy burden on that person. The only tip I really have on this option is that even though that person may be your best answerer, if you ask him/her to do this … do not ask them to close the meeting. They will have invested too much energy and thought to be the most effective in closing.

  • Designate a question follow-upper. This is most typically the person who you have decided to close the meeting because they also tend to be the ones who have listened the best, assimilated the data <who said what and asked what> and crafted a bunch of words that doesn’t sound like gobbledygook <a technical business term>. This person follows behind answers to questions and either adds a brief point or asks for permission to move on <it can be done like this … “if that answers the question we can go to …”>.

Trust me. It sounds smooth if you have the right person do it.

  • Coach everyone to end their answer with something like “did that answer your question? If not, someone else may have something to add.” It is a preemptive strike against your ‘repeat’ offenders on your side of the table in addition it shows patience, care for your audience, desire to listen <and respond> and a sincere desire to insure something is covered well before you move on.

<by the way … this one is extremely difficult to have a broad group of question answerers actually do, but it is also probably the most effective meeting tactic of the bunch>

And directly to the rant topic of ‘open, open, open.’

  • Stick to the plan & the script.

Look. Most meetings using a full team have been discussed, discussed again, and most likely rehearsed. You have made some decisions. You have a plan. Stick to it.

Most likely you have made one of two decisions for the opening.

The first is ‘I am going to have my best opener and have that person set the tone’ or, the second option, ‘I am going to have the most relevant person open the meeting and have them set the functional groundwork’ <which isn’t exactly ‘tone’ as it is more functional>. And because you have made that decision, either one, you have also made a conscious decision on two additional things for sure: who follows the opening and who will close the meeting <the rest of the speakers are really all about delivering the information>.

The second talker will always know the risks of what happens if opener doesn’t have their “A” game that day. And will move in and do whatever it is their script suggests. Oh. On that thought … people who step in and ‘re-open’ for some reason always seem to be clueless on the affect they have on the second speaker <which constantly amazes me in its lack of awareness>. Not only does a ‘second opening’ undermine the opening statements, but also immediately suggests to the audience that the second planned speaker wouldn’t be smart enough, and aware enough, to know what to do.

Anyway. You have also selected the closer because, well, they know how to close a meeting. A good closer knows if you stumbled out of the gates or not, if you have picked up momentum or not as well as what was covered and what wasn’t. You picked that person because that is what they do. And if you stick with the script that closer will pick up whatever pieces which are important enough to be picked up as well as assimilate what has been shared and discussed.

Frankly, going off script can make the best closers in the world become the non-best closers in the world. Why? Mostly because it scatters even more random pieces out to be assessed and juggled.

Lastly on sticking to the script … not all openings go as well as planned … and some go better than planned … in either case it does a meeting no good to slow down.

You keep on keepin’ on. Because meetings, just as in Life, if you are not going forward you are going backwards.

Oh. Someone is probably going to suggest all these guidelines and boundaries make for a rigid cold meeting. Well. I have three things to say with regard to that:

  1. No. <or … “nuts to that.”>

    Meeting & the Business World

  2. It sometimes seems like people put a higher priority when designing & discussing meetings on “casual” and likeable and a whole bunch of loosey-goosey nebulous feel good stuff versus information delivery. In meetings, pretty much any meeting, the number one priority, far and away from any other, is delivering relevant information. Worry, and focus, on that. The better, and more relaxed, you are on delivering the information the more casual/likeable/nebulous good you will look.
  3. Adaptability. The ability to adapt to a situation is the pinnacle of meeting effectiveness. But notice I used ‘pinnacle.’ I did because it is difficult … which is kind of funny for me to write because despite that ‘truth’ … I cannot remember the last time in discussing a meeting where it was almost discussed as a “well of course we will adapt if we need to.” Look. I love adaptability. That characteristic in a meeting is powerful. I also recognize it is very difficult. I only suggest being open to adapting if you have one of two things <there may be others but these are the easiest>:


  • a cohesive team with a track record together. Anything other than an experienced team is fraught with peril. And, no, you cannot bend this rule if you say “we have a senior experienced team.” Nope. No can do. Even the best of the best, as individuals, need to play together as a team for a while, and particularly in pressure situations, before you actually become a cohesive team. So just being senior and experienced doesn’t meet these criteria.

<note: I cannot tell you how many times companies make the ‘this is a senior team’ mistake … and make it again and again>.

  • Have at least two senior great ‘listener/responder’ team members. If you have 2 co-captains who seem like they are two sides of the same coin, you can sometimes pull this off. Adapting in a meeting is hard, usually really hard, but to do it effectively you need a senior person (experience & breadth of knowledge is key) to choreograph any shifts. Yes. Of course the presentation/discussion has to be built to accommodate adapting <typically this means other people on the team have to have ‘pods’ of information to share on demand as well as they understand they can avoid the transition responsibilities deferring to the listener/responder>, but a good team can pull this off if you have ‘the two.’ One? It just becomes harder and most business meetings are ess effective when they always pivot around one person.

In conclusion.

Meetings, using a team, is all about choreography in delivering information <not in delivering a show>. However I will use a show metaphor on why “opening, opening, opening” is not only aggravating but never good. In the performance arts even the best make mistakes. The audience groans. The rest of the cast visibly tightens up. But the best of the best pick themselves up and move forward like nothing bad ever happened. The audience doesn’t forget, but they relax, and recognize the best don’t dwell but move on. And the rest of the cast? Hmmmmmmmm … they typically not only relax, but they also typically pick up their game ever so slightly because their best of the best decided to show them that mistakes does not mean failure.

It never fails to amaze me how often senior business people just completely miss the boat on some of these relatively simple, but important, things.

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Written by Bruce