In my short professional career, I have not had many people or companies pitch ideas to me in a formal setting. Even so, being a Communications graduate, I have a pretty good idea of the kind of conduct expected. Some of these expectations also boil down to common sense and a general sense of respect.
I am quite sure that this sort of thing is also taught in Business School. So I would think that this is a skill that 90% of the workforce should have. I will take a chance and say the ‘professionals I am about to talk about fall in the 10% bracket. Please, humour me as I bore you with the details…
About two days prior to the meeting, I received a call at my place of work. The person at the other end of the line introduced herself and went on to state the purpose of her call. She was from the marketing department in one of the prominent media houses in the country. On the surface her idea sounded real good! I went ahead to give her my supervisor’s email address as well mine, so she could request a meeting officially. The call came through on a Wednesday, and the meeting set for Friday, 11:00 AM. Honestly, we were all looking forward to this meeting. We have been trying for a while to get the media to take an informed interest on the cause and it seemed like we were finally making headway.
Our guests call at 10:30 AM informing us that they are just leaving the Nairobi CBD. Our offices are located in Karen, the other side of town, so it would take them around 35-40 minutes to get to the office. They get lost a couple of times, and keep calling for directions. Never mind the ease of access to Google Maps these days. Finally, we see a car pull up right in front of the office. It is 11:45 AM. No apologies are made for the delay, instead when we show them into the meeting room; one of them spots a heater and asks, “Is this heater working?” It is a cold morning in Nairobi, so we offer the ladies tea and/or coffee.
The meeting starts. The team, two very smartly dressed ladies, introduce themselves and again, state the purpose of the meeting. They thank us for meeting them at such short notice, and we respond that we had sensed the urgency. My boss begins to tell them about our organization and what we do. One of them is on her phone replying to some text (I was seated right next to her) and the other one had back turned to the boss and her head buried inside her laptop bag trying to find something. I doubt they had grasped anything by the time they requested to show us a presentation they had prepared.
The presentation was painful. They had the right idea, but I think, no I know, it backfired. The first slide was meant to show us that they are up to speed with issues concerning our cause, statistics and all. Let’s just say they were misinformed. The lady charged with doing the presentation kept dragging her chair to and from the table where she had placed her laptop. It was just the four of us, so there was no table separating us, sort of like a semicircle setting. She was in the middle, so she kept going back and forth, like a kid who had just seen these types of seats for the first time. Midway through her presentation, her colleague decides to interrupt her to let her know that her tea is getting cold! Right!
They finish the presentation and drop the bombshell that they would like to partner with us, with a Ksh.4 million figure displayed on the laptop. Again, assumptions are made in a quest to convince us that we needed the airtime that their ‘CSR’ approach was offering us. So we were to brainstorm and let them know how much of the 4million we can raise by, wait for it, latest Tuesday morning. We tried to conceal our shock as we politely explained how things work and assured them that we would try and go the extra mile as to contact our partners for additional support.
I had had enough. I could not wait for them to take leave so I could tell my boss what I really thought of them and the idea. Long story short, we did not partner with them, but we did do due diligence and contacted our partners on their behalf. Waiting to see if they got them on board.
I am disappointed. Disappointed at the level of disrespect and assumptions made. Maybe we can make future performances better. Here are a few pointers to winning people to your side:
- Be Punctual. Always arrive a least ten minutes before the agreed time. This way, you are able to prepare any presentation materials before the meeting begins.
- Basic etiquette. The heater working is none of your business!! (I just had to throw this one as it is) Seriously though, your conduct, right from the handshake when you walk in, your presentation and behaviour during the meeting, will determine the end result. There was such obvious disrespect during this meeting, and the fact that the ladies did not seem to recognize this or bother to, is baffling.Until the host insists that you refer to them by their first name, do not. The pointer is usually at the point of introduction, “Hi, My Name is Trezer,” and “Hi, I am Miss Oguda” already tell you how the person wishes to be addressed. Alternatively, to eliminate any doubt, you can ask, “Can I call you Trezer?”
- If you are going educate experts about what they do, please do sufficient research. For instance, Don’t say Serengeti is in Kenya for God’s sake…Or that the organization is two years old while it is in fact twenty! Oh, this one’s important, GET THE COMPANY NAME RIGHT!
- Even in this dot.com age, I prefer a pen and paper as opposed to an ipad or computer to take notes, especially if it is a small meeting as was ours. It is less tempting to respond to texts or emails and you actually maintain eye contact. If you’re one of those big shots, do come with someone who will transcribe the meeting notes for you. Someone who will not be directly involved in the talks.
- If it is a last minute thing, as this one was, please please please get as much ammunition in your bag as you possibly can. I am talking personal charm and fascinating presentations of past successes.
- Oh, I must say this. It does not matter if your host met your perceived expectations or not. That same level of respectful tone you had on the phone should be transferred physically. Never let it be seen that you are ‘disappointed’ to be meeting someone smaller in frame or any other physical attributes that could cloud your judgment. Do your job and walk away.
You must be disciplined in how you prepare yourself every day. Don’t be careless or go into meetings unprepared. You must be serious, if you want others to take you seriously. And it all boils down to your personal discipline.