My Meeting Didn’t Go Well. Now What?

“My meeting didn’t go well.” Now What?

That may sound like one thought. But, it’s actually two different perspectives. It’s our clients who say, “My meeting didn’t go well.” And it’s me who asks: “So, now what?” What did you do to follow up?

The reply is often: “Nothing.”

Because when a communicator has invested a lot of time and effort to lead a conversation or present a new idea and it doesn’t go well, the emotion they feel is…well, at least it’s over. It’s behind me. And, I don’t have to do that again for 90 days. Whew!

It’s an understandable feeling, but a short-sighted one.

As roles expand, managers, directors and new VPs, are handed more responsibility. And with responsibility comes visibility. That’s a great thing because exposure leads to connection with senior leaders and future opportunities. But it also gets harder because topics are more complex, and recommendations are not so black and white.

In our research on executive conversations, we consistently hear that experienced communicators say conversations with leaders only reach their intended result 60% of the time. That means 40% of the time, the communicator doesn’t get a desired takeaway or result.

Whether your batting average is a little higher or a little lower, the reality is no one hits the mark every time. So, you need to know what to do when things get off course.

And, the answer begins by understanding what happens on the other side of the conversation.

The leader notices that you weren’t on top of your game or didn’t walk out with an approved next step. They may be surprised that you missed the mark if they’ve experienced a more successful conversation with you. Or, they may not know you and this may be their first impression. Whether it’s a first impression or a different one, they take note. And, they hold onto that impression.

In fact, anyone would. Your peers or employees would notice a conversation that didn’t yield takeaways. What’s different with a senior leader is that their experiences of you are not as frequent. So, their impressions last longer. Impressions last until they meet with you again or get the next report out. So, the power of an impression becomes more significant because they don’t see you the next day like a peer or an employee would. Instead, they hold onto those impressions, and over time impressions can become distorted.

We know this because we capture feedback from leaders who often say: “When I think about Joe as a communicator, I remember a meeting last year.” Or, “Sue seems like a sincere person, but she just can’t anticipate my questions well.” And, the follow-up phrase is often: “I just can’t get what I need from Sue. She’s not ready to lead this kind of discussion.” or, “Joe needs to lift the altitude of his conversations. He doesn’t know how to focus on what I need.”

And, those are impressions and comments that you need to diffuse. So, what do you do when meetings don’t go well? Three things can help a communicator move beyond a bad experience.

Acknowledge it. As much as you’d like to walk out and forget it ever happened, you need to acknowledge that it didn’t go well. Leaders worry most about whether someone is aware of mistakes. Notice in the quotes: “She’s not ready …” and “He doesn’t know …”. It’s the lack of awareness that sets up concern more than the miss itself.

Within 48 hours, send an email and acknowledge that you missed a point or fell short of having needed information. While the impression may not fade entirely, it’s now blended with an impression of awareness that gets high marks.

Answer it. Most misses are caused by questions that can’t be answered in the meeting or perspectives that were too far apart to find common ground. The solve is usually new information or a repositioning of information. Work quickly to get new information in front of the leader before they lose track of the topic. When you circle back with information, don’t dwell on the solution that you started with and avoid being defensive about the information you initially presented. Provide context to reset the topic and focus on moving the conversation forward.

If you can combine the answer with the acknowledgment, all the better. But if not, send an email to acknowledge and commit to a deadline of when the leader will have the correct information.

Check on it. The two steps above represent a lot of effort to reset a poor impression, and they work. But it’s always a good idea to circle back and confirm that the poor impression didn’t stick. This is your brand, not just a presentation. Use your manager to check on impressions. Ask if the leader has moved beyond the impression. In most cases, you’ll get good insight in return.

If you don’t have an easy way to assess impressions, watch for indicators of impressions. Are you taken out of senior-level meetings or presentations? Do you not get as much visibility as you once did? Is someone else reporting out on your initiative? Those are negative indicators. Or, did the conversation reset and move forward? Are you given added responsibilities and visibility? Those are possible indicators.

The reality is that an increase in visibility means an addition in complexity. These conversations aren’t easy, but they shouldn’t be risky. Nobody’s perfect, and nobody is expected to be. But, if your success rate is only 60%, you may need to improve your batting average.

And that’s where we can help. Hitting the right altitude and providing information that leaders value is a methodology we teach in our Leading Executive Conversations program. From how to recover a miss to improving the odds of success, we can help you improve consistency and outcomes.

Call us when you need us.