By Ty Collins
Unlike internal meetings, external meetings are the ones you have with individuals or groups outside of your own business.
Since they involve outside players, external meetings present unique challenges you won’t find with your typical internal meetings. Here's what you need to know about the challenges and benefits they present, and what you can do to run external meetings the right way.
Every meeting has the potential to create some friction between its participants. That potential is greater in an external meeting, however, where the participants are clearly split between “us” and “them.”
Different goals, agendas and mindsets contribute to the push and pull present in these scenarios. This is especially true when the intention of an external meeting is to persuade or negotiate, but it’s also true when the end goal is just to share information.
Quick thinking and flexibility are key when steering such meetings toward productive ends. You can give yourself an advantage from the start by understanding how different kinds of external meetings operate and how you can plan according to their desired outcomes.
Not every external meeting operates the same way. The following are a few examples of external meetings you might encounter. Note the differences, and how your approach might vary based on the circumstances.
The first meeting between two groups provides an opportunity for one party to learn about the other. It gives both an opportunity to decide whether or not collaboration will be fruitful. Pitch meetings and sales demonstrations fall under this umbrella.
There’s an element of persuasion to these types of external meetings, and the goal should be to plant the seeds of a business relationship that might blossom in the future.
The structure of this type of meeting may vary — it could start as polite conversation that morphs into a discussion of mutual benefit, or may jump straight to business right off the bat. There doesn't necessarily need to be a singular leader here, although the one who organized the introduction may assume that role if they are willing to do so.
In almost every introduction, you’ll want to create the initial relationship that will foster future cooperation. Both parties should look for opportunities to inform and to be informed. With any luck, you might end with a commitment for a partnership, a sale to a new client, or, at the very least, a deeper understanding of a potential ally.
Perhaps the best example of a large-scale info sharing session would be a webinar.
With so many professionals working from home, webinars are an increasingly useful opportunity for you to broadcast information to a large external audience. Though participants may be logging in from their own homes or offices, the communication of information from your organization to others outside it still makes this a type of external meeting.
Webinars function best when you run them like meetings. That means having a strong leader at the helm to guide the presentation, introduce presenters, engage the audience and field questions. Visual aids will help in this setting, and you’ll want this meeting to end with your audience educated and your reputation improved.
Depending on your specific aims, you might also want your external info-sharing meeting to be an opportunity to generate sales leads. You can improve the likelihood of accomplishing that goal by following a few best practices for webinars.
There’s some overlap between group training sessions and large-scale info sharing like webinars. The key difference here, though, is that training sessions are held with the express purpose of transferring a specific skill set or knowledge base from one party to another. Think of training new clients to use your software or providing a demo for prospects.
In designing a training session, you need to answer at least two important questions:
What is the knowledge or skill that the group needs?
How can we efficiently impart that knowledge or skill?
You don’t have to develop a deep connection between trainers and trainees, though building some rapport may ease the transfer of knowledge. Most importantly though, trainers in these scenarios need to understand the information and how to convey it intelligibly, while trainees should be receptive to that information and comfortable in asking questions.
You can gauge the success of your sessions by testing the people you’ve trained on how thoroughly they have absorbed the material. Send surveys or follow up with your point of contact after the meeting to make sure these training sessions are meeting their intended goals.
When something has gone wrong and two groups must come together to work out a resolution, you’ll have to call a conflict mediation meeting. This scenario has a high likelihood of tension, as one party may place blame with the other, and both may have differing thoughts on the appropriate resolution. De-escalating the conflict is the number one priority here.
Both parties will need to work together to identify the symptoms of the problem and the root cause of the issue. With the conflict clearly defined, the groups should next identify the areas where they agree and where they disagree.
From here, the groups should seek a mutually agreeable path forward. There will have to be compromise to reach reconciliation, but barring that, you should aim to at least gain closure on the situation and clearly defined steps for what happens next.
Regardless of the specific type of external meeting, one of your first hurdles will be getting everyone in the same room (or online meeting space) at the same time. Schedules are tough enough to manage between parties within an organization, and trying to coordinate between internal and external teams makes it that much more challenging.
Scheduling tools like Calendly can help you conquer this task with ease. Calendly links multiple calendars, then allows you to lay out your available meeting times, invite meeting attendees, and get that meeting solidified without lengthy email threads.
Combined with additional features like time zone detection and the ability to coordinate availability for entire teams (or even a whole company), this is the ultimate tool for simplifying your scheduling for all manner of external meetings.
Ty is the head of digital acquisition and content at Calendly.
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