Partake in enough client meetings and you’ll eventually gather up horror stories one can only hope to be on the witnessing side of (rather than the committing side). Whether it’s an unruly client, an underprepared presenter, or just some straight-up divine sabotage, we’ll be looking at ways to save a meeting that’s gone off the rails.
(Honestly, I don’t think it can get worse than that lady that went viral for accidentally leaving her camera on as she went to the bathroom on Zoom. But let’s be real, there’s no way to recover from that type of literal shit show, so I digress.)
Plan for Common Issues
The best plan for dealing with a bad meeting? Have a plan. While you might not be able to prepare for every specific way a meeting can go wrong (like a hot mic picking up anger-fueled name-calling), you can make general plans for how to handle common problems (or better yet, avoid them). This includes things like…
- Disorderly conduct. When it comes to disorderly conduct, designate a person who’s willing to put their foot down and (gently) corral an out-of-control client back in the right direction.
- Mistakes. In an ideal world, no one makes mistakes. If only that was the world we lived in. With tight deadlines (and some questionable first-year analysts), the occasional typo or number switch can find its way into a presentation. If a mistake slips through and gets noticed during the meeting, the best thing is usually to point it out and note the correction. Nothing’s worse than the client pointing out your mistakes…especially if it’s a mistake involving a decimal point.
- Tech Issues. ChatGPT and AI-generated Drake covers of Luke Bryant songs are cool, but somehow technology still finds a way to absolutely suck when we need it most. Plan for bad connections, non-functioning screen-sharing, and the slew of other tech-related issues that tend to pop up in meetings. Have copies you can readily email to people in the meeting, see if you have reliable service if WiFi is down, or worst case, be ready to transition to a phone conference line if need be.
This list goes on and on, but it will be up to you and your team to determine what the most likely problems are, and what you’ll want to do about them.
Dealing With the Unforeseen
If you could see into the future, you probably wouldn’t be dealing with client meetings (hello, sportsbook). Sadly, you can’t.
That doesn’t mean unforeseen issues should destroy your meeting, however. Depending on what kind of issue pops up, there are a few generally applicable things you can try in order to get things back on track.
Look, everyone knows there’s barely enough time to get things done in a day, but if you find yourself in an important meeting that’s headed in a dumpster-fire-esque trajectory, it might be time to call a timeout. Acknowledge things are getting out of hand, suggest a quick water-break, and hope that you can fix whatever is going wrong in the next 5-ish minutes. If time is absolutely of the essence, consider even just asking for a moment to gather yourself if you think a small pause can reset the room.
Remember, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. So, if taking a seemingly awkward break gives you a chance to finish like a champion, you take it.
Call It Out
Whether it’s a mistake in the presentation, someone getting overzealous, or a really annoying leaf blower right outside, sometimes the best way to get through an issue is to just call it out. Addressing an elephant in the room can feel counterproductive, but sometimes you need to go back so you can go forward…or acknowledge that Dan has been choking on his water for the last thirty seconds and give him a second to cough it out.
Reframe the Disruption
If you’re dealing with an overbearing client that’s starting to act up, sometimes the best approach is to take a page out of a psychologist’s book and reframe the situation. As much as we’d like to tell someone to “sit down and shut up” (if only), there are ways in which you can gently, but firmly, call out any disruptors.
If you have a client causing problems in a meeting, one of the best ways to take back control is by reframing their resistance. If they’re getting worked up, try addressing their behavior by acknowledging that they are upset (maybe say “passionate”), and then try and ask them questions to find the root of what has them riled up. If they’re just being disruptive for the hell of it, questions still work as a method of regaining control in communication situations, plus, nobody likes being on the hot seat.
Just Keep Trucking
As great as it sounds to hit pause or reframe an unruly client, the reality of some situations is that the only option is to just keep on keeping on. If you’re able to power through challenges in a client meeting, odds are you’ll eventually be able to get things moving. It’s also the reality that some things are just better left unaddressed, like when someone tries to direct message a colleague about how boring the meeting is but sends it to everyone in the Zoom call. Not worth the energy, and hopefully everyone will forget about it once it’s time to talk commas.
There’s nothing worse than having spent countless late nights prepping for a client meeting, only to have the actual meeting go completely haywire. The most important thing to know is that a few missteps don’t have to mean the death of a deal. If you’re prepared to deal with the unexpected, you’ll always have a chance to get your client meetings back on track and knock the thing out of the park.
Oh, and one last thing. Making sure everyone has all of the documents they need to be prepped for a meeting ahead of time is a great way to avoid miscommunications in real-time. Caplinked can help with that.