Meetings are key towards every company’s success, which is why it is critical for leaders to facilitate it properly according to the company’s purpose and goal. Elise Keith, the CEO and Founder of Lucid Meetings, shares how she started her company, how she got her very first clients, and how they developed a software that helped chair and leaders run their meetings. She shares her strategies on how meetings should be done and what makes a meeting successful. She also tackles the best practices before, during, and after meetings, as well as the common mistakes people do and how you can avoid these mistakes. Learn more about leading meetings efficiently with Elise in this insightful episode.
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How to Have Effective Consulting Meetings with Elise Keith
I’m excited to have Elise Keith joining us. Elise, welcome.
I’m glad to be here. Thank you for having me.
You’re the Cofounder and CEO of Lucid, a company specializing in training organizations to have more effective meetings. You’ve done this in over 47 countries with over 5,000 organizations, right?
Yes. Our mission is to help teams run successful meetings every day.
How did you get into the business of meetings?
It’s not the thing that you go to school and say, “Someday I’m going to be a meeting expert.” I wasn’t raised by facilitators or any of those other lucky happenstances. I went to college to be a famous actress and theater person. When that didn’t work out quite the way I had anticipated, I went to work in the real world. It turns out there are meetings everywhere all of the time. Coming from an arts background, you come in with an expectation of collaboration on a schedule to a high-quality result. How do you go about that? Doing that is clear. It’s structured. It’s also creative and participative.
When I went to work in the software world, I found that we had the same need to be collaborative, creative and participative. The way in which we met to do those things, it fell short of what was possible. I had a bunch of experiences that way. I started to see the places where the teams worked successfully and noticed that the way in which they met was different. When you’re in the market for a new truck or have gone through a breakup. The minute you start to look for something, all of a sudden there are red trucks and happy couples everywhere you look.
I’ve definitely experienced that myself. Once you start focusing on something or it’s top of mind and now you start seeing examples of that everywhere.When a client engages you, they're engaging you because they lack either the time or the capability to do the work themselves. Click To Tweet
That’s exactly what happened with my cofounders and with me, we started noticing meetings, starting to look at meetings and not jumping to that, “Meetings are a waste of time. Meetings are where good ideas go to die.” We’re looking at how they worked both successfully and unsuccessfully.
I want to dive into that with you because I want to explore two themes. The first is how consultants can have more effective meetings with clients. The second is how you’ve gone about building and growing Lucid into the company that it is now. We start off with the example of a consultant who’s going into a meeting with a new client, maybe they just won that first project and they’re kicking off the meeting. What are some best practices or things they should do before the meeting, during the meeting and after the meeting so they can make the most of it for their client and themselves?
One of the things we’ve found in our own consulting work, I saw this when I was a project manager on software teams as well, is that when a client engages you, they’re engaging you because they lack either the time or the capability to do the work themselves. They’re in a position where they are expecting you to come in, be the expert and have a process that walks them through how they get the result they need. It turns out those are the keys to effective meetings. It’s setting clear expectations in advance. When you get people into the room, welcoming them into that room, into that conversation so they always absolutely must have an opportunity to participate, but having a process that meets those expectations. In advance, an agenda is nice, an agenda can be a useful tool but an agenda is a way of marketing your meeting plan. The critical thing you have to have in advance is clarity of purpose and clarity of what outcome that meeting is meant to create.
I want to make it tangible for everyone. Is that an email that you send out beforehand? Is it a phone call that you make? How do you get that clarity around the purpose of the meeting? How should someone think about putting together an agenda? How detailed should it be?
The purpose of the meeting, you can send in a couple of ways. Whether or not that’s email or it’s a phone call, that’s up to the person that you’re communicating with and how they receive information. I have some clients who hate email. They will always also get an email. It shows up on their calendar for me. In my case, we like to use the purpose of the meeting as the meeting name. I don’t want to ever see anything on anyone on my team’s calendar that says, “Meeting at.” That word doesn’t mean anything. I want them to have on their calendar items that explain the purpose of that discussion in the name on the calendar itself. If you are there to do a discovery, we’re going to do SWOT analysis with the high-level team. That’s what’s on the calendar.
That’s an interesting point because as I’m thinking and hearing you say that, it sounds such a small thing but the difference in the perception of value is significant. If I’m a buyer, I’m an executive and I have a meeting with a consultant coming up and it says, “Meeting with this person.” It’s like, “Another meeting?” It’s transactional. It happens all the time. There’s nothing special. It’s like a commodity. If you’re hitting on the name of the meeting and the name of the meeting is what that executive wants, that’s why they brought you in. Looking at that, preparing for it and seeing their calendar creates a much higher level perception of value.
Priya Parker wrote this wonderful book called The Art of Gathering. One of the things she talks about is how purpose is your bouncer. One of the deadly things you can do in a meeting is having people there who have no interest in what you’re doing. When you make the reason for the gathering incredibly clear, right up front in that name, you allow people to both opt-in with enthusiasm. We’re going to approve the contract or opt-out because it’s not relevant to them, which allows you to have a more focused group and more energy and more participative experience.
Step number one here sounds you get very clear on what is the purpose of the meeting. Step number two is making sure that the name of that meeting, which is the purpose, is in the invite that goes out to everyone that’s going to be attending that meeting. The third is sending an agenda before the meeting starts. What should that look like? Is it bullet points? “Here’s what we’re going to cover.” Is it some paragraphs? What are some best practices around that?
It completely depends on the meeting you’re running. One of the things we found in our research is that there are sixteen distinct types of meetings. In the consulting world, you’re not necessarily going to use all of those, but each one of them has a different preparation profile. An obvious example here is this podcast. I’ve got what four reminders about, “It’s coming exactly at this time, have this microphone. This is what we’re going to talk about.” You did a good job making sure that I was clear on purpose, clear on the outcomes, knew how to prepare and showed up ready. This is a specialized meeting that has a way in which we prepare for it.
The same can be true of your status update. You’re working as a consultant on a long-term project. You want to check in with your key stakeholders at least once a week while it’s in progress. You are doing things that help them understand the decisions that need to be made one year together. We don’t ever want to have our key stakeholders walk into a bad surprise. Those kinds of things would be on the agenda for that meeting. A discovery session, for example, they might say, “Come having with some prep work.” There may not be an agenda. It may be something, “I want you to think about five times when a project like this went well for you and five times when it went badly. We’ll work through that in our kickoff.”
Sending out some agenda or an email about the meeting before the actual meeting takes place. In your experience and in your research, is that a must-have, must-do an activity or are there some situations where that’s not required?
There are some situations where that’s not required but very few.
We talked about pre-meeting. What about when you’re in the meeting itself? What are some best practices to ensure that people make the most of that time with their client?
The perception of whether a meeting was a good use of someone’s time tends to be about how much they were involved. How much did they participate? How much control did they have over the outcome? How clearly did that outcome match what they expected it would be? That puts the meeting leader’s role as one of stewardship and engagement. In terms of things not to do, anytime you’re reading slides at somebody, that’s a fail.
I’m glad you outlined that one. Lots of consultants are quite known for doing that.
You’re there to be the expert. Obviously, we are there to help them solve problems that they are not ready or able or having time to solve themselves. We are not expert in their problems. We’re experts in our space. Half the time, getting an opportunity to walk themselves through a guided discussion where you simply facilitate and steward their own discovery, that problem and the opportunities, is a huge part of what makes for a successful in meeting participation.When you make the reason for the gathering incredibly clear and right up front, you allow people to opt in with enthusiasm. Click To Tweet
Any other common mistakes that you see people making in meetings?
It’s failing to include many of the people around them for sure. Certainly not having a plan for dealing with the big voice in the room because usually in these situations either on the consultant side or the client-side, there’s somebody who has a lot of things they want to share. There’s no polite or excellent way to say, “That’s enough. We need to make space for every other people and move on.” Instead, you’re better off coming in with a plan for how you create a dialogue in a timed way and perhaps in using methods like the silent brainstorming, go around and some of these things that you will have experienced from workshops and facilitated events that give everybody else a chance to get in before the big opinions and the important ideas take hold and run away with you.
What have you found when you’re in a meeting, there’s one key decision-maker but there are also other people in the room who aren’t decision-makers, but they want their voice to be heard? Maybe the information they’re putting out or the opinions they’re putting out are missing the mark. They’re focusing on maybe surface-level stuff. What you’re trying to get the decision-maker to see is the core. What are some best practices or what’s been your experience in trying to navigate that so that you don’t tick anyone off? At the same time, you’re still able to make the meeting productive and get the ultimate decision-maker to be focused on what truly matters.
Refocusing, kind and acknowledge but refocus discussion is the key.
What does that look like? If you could offer me a specific example of language or wording that you might use.
In one of our engagements, we’re working with a client who is adopting software to help them capture meeting notes. The problem that they intend to solve is a problem of institutional memory. We have meetings and we don’t remember. Nobody knows what happens in those meetings unless they were there. People leave and we never know what happens. That’s the problem they’re trying to solve. We will go into the meetings with the team working to solve this problem. They will say, “We have a problem with how it looks on our calendar, or I feel awkward when it’s a meeting with more than ten people,” or any number of things keep coming up. What we have found has been useful for us is saying, “Let’s capture all of these ideas.” In fact, if we can have somebody in our room who’s writing down things that come up and they’d say, “Is that a block for making sure that we capture the notes that we need to maintain institutional memory coming back to this? Is that something we have to deal with now or is that something that we can set aside for the moment and get back focused on our core goal?”
You’ll ask a question that will help the people in the room to quickly evaluate whether they need to explore further or if you can move off that and back to where you want to be focused?
Yes. It’s their project and having their concerns be heard is a critical part of their acceptance of the work and the outcome of that project because ultimately they’ll have to live with it.
Before I move in, I definitely want to cover how you build a business and what that has looked like. Before we do, let’s touch on what happens after the meeting. We’ve talked about the before, during, some best practices. Now let’s look at after. Are there best practices? Are there certain things that people need to do every time when they have finished a meeting?
Capturing notes during the meeting is one of those incredible power skills that every person leading meetings should have in their toolkit, especially if you can capture notes that other people can see as you capture them like on a whiteboard, on a shared document of some kind. The things you want to make sure you always capture are decisions and next steps. Those should go out in the mail to everybody immediately.
After the meeting was finished, how quickly would you send that email? Is it going to everyone in the room that was there or even beyond that?
It depends on the meeting, but always everybody in the room. Ideally posted somewhere that anybody who was unable to attend or who had to duck out early or whatever can find it.
There are two things that email should include: decisions and next steps.
If you want to capture key points that came up, that should also be in there. Frankly, it’s also nice to have that email start with gratitude for the time, acknowledgment of any participation or contribution that came out that was particularly valuable, reward and recognize the performance you want to see. That result, that’s the thing and this is something I’ve seen so many people miss the bit that tells that leader and that team, that meeting with you was not a waste of their time.
That’s a powerful takeaway for people. Having that email that is concise to the point shows the progress was being made. For them, it’s to justify the investment and to feel good that they’re working with you to see that you’ve helped them to facilitate and support progress. That’s powerful.
It’s especially powerful when you realize that during the meeting, while it may have felt like or seemed that everybody was in sync. We’ve all got a monkey mind. There’s a chance that decision you thought you had isn’t shared. There’s a saying in committees that whoever writes the minutes owns the result. That’s true in all of our meetings. If you want to be in command of having a successful result, write the minutes and send them out.The perception of whether a meeting was a good use of someone's time tends to involve about how much the participants were involved. Click To Tweet
Let’s now shift because I’m very interested in discovering and learning more about how you got to where you are now. Let’s go back to when you first started Lucid with your Cofounders. How did you go about getting your first clients?
We were spun out of another company. We started as a software startup as our primarily primary focus. We have an online meeting management platform. Our first clients are clients who came with us.
Was it a previous software company?
We had a software company. We worked at a software company that provided software that helps international standards organizations collaborate. As you might imagine, there are a lot of meetings involved in coming up with new standards involving people from around the world so they don’t all fly to be in person. Having online systems that help to these new chairs and committee leaders understand how to run those meetings successfully was a pretty much a no brainer. That’s where our first clients came through.
Was there any issue when you left that previous company to start this new company in terms of “taking” or working with the same clients that were in that previous company?
No. We were filling in a gap that company didn’t have an answer for. Every business uses more than one piece of software. We were an ad, not a detract.
Your first clients came from the connections and relationships that you already had. What about after that? Fast forward and you had those first few clients, but now we need to go out and get new clients that you didn’t necessarily know, what did you do?
We worked our network as you do. We have done a lot of inbound marketing.
Tell me more about that. What type of inbound marketing has worked best for you?
We have a deep blog. We did webinars. We’ve done downloads and the things that worked best for us are tangible pieces that people can put to use that solve immediate problems. For example, there are sixteen distinct types of meetings. In all of those, there are different strategies for running them well. We started working both with our own expertise and with facilitators and experts from around the world to write templates and guidebooks that tell people exactly how to run each one of those meetings. Sample agendas, what to say, here are questions to ask, here are ways to shift it up, all of that stuff.
Is that part of your software or these are little guides and white papers that you were putting out online?
We have built them into our software, but they’re also available as PDF eBooks that people can download from our website.
These are download-free?
Yes. Put it in an email address, download them free. On our newsletter, they become part of it. It’s a ton of work, I will say that. It’s a slow boat to China, I’ll tell you.
You put this up online. Creating a report, that takes some work and it takes some time. When you put up online, that doesn’t necessarily mean that people will start downloading it right away. What have you done or what have you found has helped you to get that content in front of more people that makes it worthwhile to create more content?
I don’t know if I was starting out now, I would do it the same way. That’s important to know. We began our content marketing journey in 2014. The landscape has shifted a little bit. What we did is we wrote content that didn’t exist elsewhere. We knew Google Search results showed people we’re looking for. There’s a window there. There’s an opportunity that we took advantage of. We focus more on writing for places where people already are. I have a column in Inc. that I write about meetings. I’ve written for Fast Company and Business Insider. That thing creates awareness. For us in terms of attracting clients, if they don’t find us organically through that, it’s far more effective to show up somewhere and speak.Having that email that is very concise and to the point shows that progress is being made. Click To Tweet
Would you say that the content and writing, I call it leverage writing in terms of using another audience or publishers or channels audience to access them like Fast Company or Forbes or whatever it might be? You’re doing that. You have content on your own site and speaking. Are those three pillars of your current marketing?
Yes. Of those, the Inc. content, the website content and whatnot often serve primarily as validators to people who are booking speakers.
Another thing I’m interested in hearing your perspective and experience with is what you’re selling, what you’re facilitating, consulting on and training people on is how to make meetings more effective so people can have more efficient, effective meetings, see greater results from those meetings. The meeting itself isn’t the result. The meeting is held to create the results. It’s almost like what you’re focusing on, you’re going in saying, “We’re going to help you to increase our sales.” What you’re doing is we’re going to help you to have more effective meetings so that you can then get more done, be more productive, higher levels of performance, implement better, which then could lead to sales. It’s not like the direct, “We’re going to help you grow sales,” which a lot of consultants have some trouble with when they’re dealing with things that maybe aren’t as direct or as tangible or aren’t maybe as top of mind because a lot of people, they have to attend meetings. They don’t necessarily like meetings but they’re not necessarily tasked initially with running more effective meetings. They’re tasked more with growing revenue or cutting costs or higher levels of customer satisfaction. What has been your experience with focusing on this area where it may not be as direct as other types of consulting and training?
There are a couple of things. First of all, we picked this area because when you look at what’s happening in the meetings, that is in fact one of the most powerful levers for doing all of the other things you mentioned. Let’s take a hot topic: diversity and inclusion. Those are values. Those are things that we want to have in our companies. We have all kinds of reasons why we want to do that. You can’t walk into a team and tell the managers, “You need to be inclusive.” How do you go back to your desk and be inclusive? You don’t. What you do is you include and including is an action. In fact, the way in which your team talks to each other and treats each other when they are doing their work is how you get them included.
When you’re talking about that particular business initiative, you look at, “How do we hire?” There are a lot of meetings in there and you can change the way those meetings are designed. How do our teams work together on a week and a daily basis? What does that conversation like? Whose voices get heard? How do decisions get made? That’s all part of inclusion. How do we deal with performance and accelerate people to the next levels? All of those are meetings. Our focus is not necessarily how to run a better meeting. That’s a lovely thing to do. It tends to narrow our vision to tactics like, “How do I use an agenda and how do I manage the calendar?” They’re interesting, but they apply in point by point instances. Our focus is how you design a system of meetings that help you achieve your goals.
That’s a powerful shift in positioning. l want to encourage our audience not to stop and go, “That’s the meeting example.” Take that framework, that mindset and challenge yourself to overlay it on top of what you’re doing and look for some opportunities because you’ll likely find some. That’s great feedback, so thank you for that. When you look at all of your engagements over the years, your organization has been in 47 countries, 5,000 different organizations and counting. What have you learned about interacting with prospective clients and the patterns that you’ve been able to identify your best clients?
Our best clients are interested in connecting with meaning through their work and unlocking the power of their people.
Is that something that they’re already thinking about before they start and entering that conversation with you? Do they tell you right up front or is it something that typically emerges in the conversation based on how you’re guiding them through that?
Originally, we didn’t. At this point, in our evolution, it’s something we have as part of our meeting process in the qualifiers. We no longer work with clients who are holding on to either strong unicorn mentalities, scorched earth, eat the universe. We’re not interested in working with those clients in any longer and we’re not interested in working with clients who are very much wedded to their command and control structures. We can’t be successful in those environments and we don’t enjoy it.
You’re answering my next question here, which was what type of businesses do you stay away from? Tell me more about how you do that. Do you ask very specific upfront questions early on or is this on your website when people fill in a form? Are you asking through one of those methods of how do you approach things or you’re looking to be like the next unicorn or how do you feel about competition? Are you asking very specific questions that help you to qualify that? Take us through how you are able to identify who’s going to be a good client and who’s the type of company or client that you’d want to stay away from?
We absolutely ask very specific questions. Let’s talk about meeting operating systems. That’s what we focus on and we obviously use those things ourselves. That’s having a series of well-defined meetings that you run to help achieve a goal. One of the systems we have is how do we get a new client in the doors to work with us? The first meeting in that whole series is what we call the red velvet rope. It’s a technique we adopted from Angelique Rewers. I don’t know if you have met her yet. We designed our red velvet rope in that first call and say, “Let’s make sure you understand how we work.” We tell them what our process is. We ask the questions, which are about values fit and also economic fit, so budget, authority kind of questions. If that works, then they get into the next meeting in our series.
What does that next meeting look like?
It depends on exactly what they’re coming from. We have a range of services. We do consulting work, but we also have software and online training. If it’s one of those folks who’s looking for a consulting engagement, we go into a briefing about, “Here’s what we do, tell me about what you do,” and we do some needs match up.
Elise, I want to thank you so much for coming on and sharing some great best practices that people can benefit from and also some of your journey and experience here over the years. I want to make sure that people can learn more about your work, what you’re up to and dive into some of that content that you’ve talked about. Where’s the best place for them to go?
Our website is at LucidMeetings.com. It’s chockablock full of all kinds of great things.
Elise, thanks so much for coming on.
Thank you for having me.