Whether you're a veteran creative or a newbie trying to nail that first impression (opens in new tab), meetings are a necessary evil. But ever feel that sinking sensation when things suddenly start to go downhill?
You're not quite sure how it happened, but suddenly the client's frowning, people are shifting in their seats and no one's quite making eye contact. Your highly strategic and beautifully designed pitch document is sitting sadly off to one side.
Follow these tips and tricks and you'll never need to suffer from "meeting-itis" again.
01. Spot the warning signs early
It's easy to know when things are taking a turn from good to bad to worse. Keep your eyes peeled, stay on your toes and remain vigilant. Watch out for: when the conversation starts to go off in tangents, round in circles or in a downward spiral. (Really, anything that's not a straight line towards progress and mutual agreement should be an instant alert). It's critical to catch those moments before disaster strikes so there's still time to turn it all around and save the day.
You're a creative after all. It's time to call on those creative powers that be. Deviate from the script/agenda and throw in some wild ideas, even if they're deliberately wrong. You were going to go through steps 1-3 of the agenda? Why not jump to five and work backwards from there? Mix it up to break the monotony. You could even call on one of your team to lead the next section. There's nothing like a good provocation to get the meeting back on track!
03. Draw some diagrams
When in doubt, pull out your trusted sharpie (really, do designers ever go anywhere without one?). You're visual people, so help the client see what you're seeing. A fresh perspective, a new angle is sometimes all it really takes to win them over to your side.
04. Workshop it
Bring out the post-it notes! Clients actually love to feel "involved" in the creative process, so help them feel like a part of the journey. You could put a few prompts up on sticky-pads and ask everyone for input. This loose brainstorming process will help inspire new and surprising ideas.
05. Role play
This requires imagination – which luckily you have plenty of! If your team is stuck this simple technique is a great way to "gamestorm" the problem and see it from someone else's point of view. Split into pairs or teams and assign each person a relevant role – e.g. "The Angry Customer", "The Impatient Client" etc. What would they say, how would they react? It's a great way to illustrate a point, not to mentions heaps of fun!
06. Bring a new face in
Some new energy may be exactly what's required to reinvigorate the room. Why not bring in the intern or a junior designer? They're not yet jaded, are super eager to learn and tend to ask questions without inhibitions. On the other hand, it might be that the meeting lacks the seniority required to make decisions that progress the project. Creative Director absent? No Strategic Director? Always make sure you have the right people before you proceed!
07. Summarise the positives so far
A quick recap on what's been agreed on so far will help move the meeting forward and bring everyone out of a slump. You haven't just wasted the last fifty minutes. Look! Tangible things have been actually been agreed and even have 'action points'. I like using Google Docs (opens in new tab) to capture minutes (and it's easy to make them instantly shareable and editable by all) but there are a host of useful apps such as Evernote (opens in new tab), OneNote or Minutes.io which can do the job equally well.
08. Build a rapport
Come to the meeting having done your homework – on the client and on the other attendees. It never hurts to have some ready-to-use conversation starters to avoid awkward silences and keep the vibe flowing.
09. Schedule a timely distraction
When all fails, food (including coffee of course) is a sure way to lift everyone's spirits. There's nothing that can't be solved with a soy flat white, am I right? And seriously, how is the bagel shop on corner not on speed-dial yet?
10. Open up
This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point. Allow your clients a glimpse inside the secret and highly revered world of creative agencies. What are some of the challenges you're facing with this project? Trust me, your clients will feel delighted to be a part of the "creation" process.
11. Swallow your ego
Are you micro-managing and thus stifling progress? Are your junior designers too intimidated to voice their thoughts because you're shutting them down early? Remember, the creative process is squiggly and winding – and everyone's contribution helps nudge it along just a little bit more.
12. Ask the niggly questions
Asking a lot of "what ifs…" can help coax the pain points out of your clients. Designers are great at simplifying the problem. The client might give you ten-paragraph-long spiel which you can then add value to by gleaning the key insights.
13. Have a laugh
They say laughter is the best medicine for a reason. Lighten the mood! When a joke is told in a meeting people are automatically put at ease. This results in an elevated mood, actually making the meeting enjoyable.
14. Plan for next time
There's only so much that can be achieved in one meeting. It would be better to reconvene at a later date, and give everyone some time to reflect on today's outcomes. A project management system like WorkflowMax (opens in new tab) gives you total visibility over projects and their status so you know exactly where to begin next time.
15. Prep your exit
Now that you've taken care of the final admin bits, it's time to gracefully bow out. Maybe you've just got the client to agree to increasing the budget or extend the deadline. Before they have a chance to have second thoughts, start wrapping up.
Is there an office dog that can conveniently wander inside? How about babies? Everyone loves babies! At the creative agency I worked at, mums were forever bringing their newborns in for a bit of "show and tell". You could even take that "urgent phone call" that you were supposed to. Just make sure you assure the client it's totally related to this project... and siddle out the door.
So there you have it. 15 sure-fire ways to rescue creative meeting when all else fails. What are your top tips for rescuing creative meetings?
Want to learn how to maximise your agency's success? Join John Jantsch (founder of the wildly successful Duct Tape Marketing) in a FREE agency webinar (opens in new tab), hosted by WorkflowMax (opens in new tab) – the project management system loved by thousands of agencies.
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