I am not on a product team, so I guess I'll never have the privilege of having anything reviewed by BillG. Or Ray Ozzie. But a few weeks back, I did have the privilege of having a 1-1 with a senior vice-president - Dan'l Lewin.
Dan'l's an extremely sharp person. He's got tremendous amounts of experience and knows the startup community like the back of his hand. He's articulate, well-respected, and most of all, a very very busy man.
I remember Paul Murphy once telling me about his experience of a meeting with a corporate vice-president. I remember Paul telling me that he was nervous and generally felt like crap after the meeting. In fact, I had met with Paul right after he had his big meeting. Paul wasn't even able to focus - in fact, we cut our meeting short because he was so disillusioned by the whole affair. And I remember asking myself, why would anyone be nervous? For a face to face, 1-1 meeting? You have to remember that Paul and I were a part of a team that did large-scale events on a periodic basis. Talking to someone in person should have been so much easier. Maybe my experiencing Paul's reaction to the meeting first-hand played in to my head. Maybe it was because I was running 1 minute late. Maybe it was because it was Dan'l - I got nervous too.
I stuttered. I forgot what I wanted to tell or ask Dan'l. I spoke too fast, then I spoke too slow. When a (Microsoft) VP asks you to repeat what you've just said - that's a horrible sign. It's even worse if he or she yawns. Multiple times.
But instead of recounting my experience of the meeting, I'm just going to tell you what you should and should not do before you go to a meeting with a person who you consider senior - no matter what the reason. A lot of this is going to sound very obvious. You wouldn't think that this coming from me now, having pretty much bombed my meeting with Dan'l, would be relevant. But I'm a quick learner, and I almost always learn by getting burnt. Besides, I may have the opportunity to meet with him again, soon. So, in order of importance :
- Do your homework. Know the person you are going to meet. Know everything about him or her : I used to watch the Apprentice (used to). I remember during the first season, there was this candidate named Troy. At one point, when it got down to elimination, Troy just stepped up and said, "Mr. Trump, in your book, you said <whatever it is that he said> and I was simply doing what you'd suggested." See, I don't even remember what he said, but I was so impressed that he knew how to work that angle. I'm sure that played in to Trump's mind as well when he had to make the decision. Do your homework!
- Have a list of 5 or 6 things, in order of priority, that you want to discuss : If you are driving the meeting, you are driving the agenda. Please don't ever let there be any dead air (unless one of you is yawning).
- Make this meeting about him or her : You want to engage this person? Tell them what's in it for them. And be up-front about it. Tell them, "here's the first thing I want to discuss. And here's what's in it for you." Simple.
- Pay very very close attention to everything this person's saying. Try not to write it all down. I know that by habit, a lot of people tend to want to write stuff down, but in my opinion, writing stuff down doesn't help (unless you're being given a number or a secret code or something that you'll need to recall later). If you're paying close attention, and this is important to you, trust me, you'll remember everything. That's pretty much me. I've been through meetings where I've walked out and don't even remember who I was in a meeting with or what we were discussing. I've had meetings where I can recite the whole meeting to you backwards. It's amazing what your (my) brain is capable of.
- Engage in a conversation. #2 and this one here a little contradictory. How do you engage in a conversation when there's all these things to cover? Prioritize. When you get in to a meeting with a senior person, it's likely you'll only get a small window of time. You will not be able to get through all the 5 or 6 things. Nevertheless, if it ever comes down to you having that much time, you should be ready. In any case, engage. Be yourself - ask all the questions you need to get answered so that your goals are met.
- Do NOT be late. (duh!) If anything, get there ahead of time. Plan on being there 10 minutes ahead of time.
- Meet in person. If you can't find a time when the person's available in person, reschedule. Having a meeting with an important person over the phone is NOT a good idea. I'm just not a fan of important things that need to be discussed either on IM or over the phone.
- Don't tell any jokes. Really, don't do it. It's one thing to create some subtle humor or joke about the crazy weather, its totally something else when you're trying to be funny in order to kill time. This conversation's way too important for jokes. Just don't do it.
- Do NOT interrupt. (duh! again)
- And last, do NOT forget to follow-up with a thank you of some sort. My friend Sharran told me about how he thinks e-mail "thank yous" are impersonal, and I agree. Send an old-fashioned greeting card. It'll say and mean a lot more.