Oh, for normal days again—but I am no longer sure what “normal” is. In a world where it was always challenging to engage people about retirement, COVID-19 precautions have made it more difficult than ever. One of the most significant changes for many advisors has been meeting virtually instead of meeting in person. Fortunately, there are some keys to making virtual meetings as impactful as possible. In this series of five blog posts, I want to share with you the key elements of effective virtual meetings.
For this first part of the series, I will discuss the importance of being sure you get the basics correct. Soccer pros don’t just practice fancy footwork—they practice the basics, including passing and ball control. Every professional athlete practices the basics. We may think we have the basics down, but it is always important to practice. Here are seven items to focus on as you consider the basics of effective meetings.
- Prepare. Always prepare. Even if it is your 30th time presenting the same material, prepare before you go to the meeting. Review your material to identify what will connect with your audience, how you will discuss those topics, and how you will serve your listeners. Careful preparation will keep you sharp, no matter how many times you’ve presented the information. And it will help you better serve your customers, too.
- State the meeting goal. Always state the goal of the meeting. Back in college, I had to develop a thesis statement when writing papers. Having a meeting goal is the same idea. Stating the goal serves several key purposes. First, it will help you develop content for the meeting: What needs to be shared to achieve the goal? Second, it will help you stay focused during the meeting, giving the meeting a sense of purpose. Finally, it helps attendees know why they are there and what they can expect to get out of the meeting. Stating the goal makes for better meetings.
- Know your technology. Knowing how to use technology is important, and it allows you to focus on the content of the meeting rather than be distracted with logistics. Recently I made a presentation with a third-party solution that I had never used before. We had practiced using the technology a month before the meeting, but I asked to review it again the day before the meeting just to refresh myself—and I am so glad I did. It made the presentation go much smoother than if I had tried to remember the details from a month earlier. Knowing the technology allows you to focus on the purpose of the meeting.
- Be visible. Before COVID, a webcam was optional and seldom used. Today, it is all but required. Using a webcam helps you develop a personal connection with your audience. Place the webcam at eye level and look directly into the lens as much as you can. If you are using a laptop, I recommend having an external webcam that provides higher-quality video and can be adjusted for the correct height. Also, be aware of your background as clutter can be distracting. We have set up a specific room where the background is our branding. (To avoid using a virtual background, we ordered a professionally created image with our branding.) By doing all this, you can be sure you are visible in your next presentation.
- Use small talk. If you are meeting with a group, encourage small talk before and after the meeting. This offers several advantages for any advisor. First, it creates familiarity with the advisor and facilitates informal conversation. Second, it can often make you seem more approachable if participants have questions. To encourage small talk, try writing four or five open-ended questions on an index card to guide your interactions with the participants. If this feels awkward at first, refer to item seven to improve your questions for the next time.
- Request (and use) feedback. Feedback is key to helping you understand how others see you. For a few years, I delivered presentations for advisors with Advisors2k around the country. A day or two after my presentation, I would receive the advisors’ feedback. I read that feedback, and even when I did not understand it or disagreed with it, I did my best to understand what they were looking for. I also started asking one of my employees to go through the comments with me, asking them to help me understand what they thought the advisors were suggesting. (This had the unexpected benefit of helping my employees understand how to think like our customers.) Getting feedback after the meeting—and acting on that feedback—is important.
- Always seek to do better. Never feel as if you have no room for further improvement. I recently competed in a Half Ironman. After I finished, my coach asked me to think back on the race and note things I could have done better. I had two pages of notes on what I could execute better next time. In the same way, after a meeting, spend a few moments thinking about what went well and what could be done better next time. For me, it was my opening comments, which are critical for engaging meeting participants. A technical snafu (outside of my control) had gotten me off to a rocky start. I made a note that I need to be prepared at the beginning of every meeting, even when things do not go as expected. Always striving to do better allows us to continue growing in our experience.
Having effective virtual meetings is now more important than ever before. By covering these basic items, you can differentiate yourself from those who do not focus on making their meetings the best they can be.
In the next four parts of this series, I will focus on elements of virtual meetings specific to the financial planning industry, including how to work with 401(k) participants and retail clients. I look forward to sharing these and other tips with you.