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#SalesMeetings: How to Run a Great Meeting

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
16 min read

Running a great meeting isn’t easy. People come to meetings with other priorities on their minds — a looming deadline, a sick pet at home, etc. It’s your job to manage people’s behaviors and moods, make your objectives clear, and keep everyone engaged.

Having a plan before a meeting is important, but it can’t substitute the skills you need to set the tone and to be a good meeting facilitator. Ultimately, your ability to control the mood, pace, and flow of a meeting has a huge impact on the outcome.

That’s why in the third episode of the #SalesMeetings series on Modern Sales, I’m sharing the science behind setting the tone, action steps for running a great meeting, and what to do when things go wrong. Throughout this series, I’m covering how to plan meetings, run them successfully, and what should happen afterward.

You’ll learn:

The psychology of emotional contagion

  • The mood you bring into a meeting matters — it’s a fact. Our feelings are influenced and affected by those around us. I’ll discuss some of the research on the science behind emotional contagion and why your emotional tone is so critical to running effective meetings.

Actionable steps to run your sales meeting effectively

  • When you’re running a meeting, your job is to facilitate and manage the mood. I’ll discuss action steps you can begin implementing right away, including how to make your goals clear, build rapport, improve the mood, move forward on decisions, and much more.

What to do if a meeting isn’t going well

  • Sometimes meetings take a turn for the worse. People are distracted. It’s not a good fit. Sometimes, even you miss the mark. What’s important to know is how to handle the situation before the meeting ends. I’ll tell you how I confront and resolve the issue.


#SalesMeetings: Why Bad Meetings Are Killing Your Numbers
#SalesMeetings: What to Do Before Every Meeting to Make It a Success
The Surprising Science of Meetings by Steven Rogelburg
Logan Nickelson at Music For Makers

For more information on remote selling and a complete list of links mentioned in this podcast, visit this remote selling article on our website.

#SalesMeetings: How to Run a Great Meeting:

Full Transcript

Public television was in danger. It was 1969, the US was embroiled in a war with Vietnam, and the war was expensive, both in terms of the human cost, which cannot be overstated, as well as the financial cost. More money had to come from somewhere.

Of course, there are two ways to raise money for government programs. One, increase taxes, or two, decrease spending elsewhere. Richard Nixon chose number two, and one of his proposed cuts was to public television. So executives and talent lined up to testify in front of Congress to stop the cut. One person to testify was Fred Rogers, star of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.

In this clip, Mr. Rogers recounts the lyrics of an important song he wrote to help children deal with their feelings of anger.

”What do you do with the mad that you feel when you feel so mad you could bite? When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong, and nothing you do seems very right? It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong, and be able to do something else instead and think this song. I can stop when I want to, can stop when I wish, can stop, stop, stop anytime. And what a good feeling to feel like this, and know that the feeling is really mine. Know that there’s something deep inside that helps us become what we can. For a girl can be someday a lady, and a boy can be someday a man.”

John Pastore:
I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s wonderful. Looks like you just earned the 20 million dollars.

The last voice that you heard on that clip was Senator John O. Pastore, chairman of the Senate Committee on Communication. He was the guy responsible for deciding whether the cuts were going to be made. Obviously. Mr. Rogers won him over. Fred Rogers had a gift.

He had a gift for song, and for storytelling, and cranking out an insane amount of content, and also for speaking directly to kids. But I’d contend that Mr. Rogers greatest gift was something else. His gift was that he could make you feel something.

In his testimony, you can feel just how important his work was and how Pastore felt it too. It turns out the feelings are contagious, and those contagious feelings will dictate the success of your meetings too. In today’s episode, we’ll dive into how to run an effective meeting, set the tone, and deal with adversity when it inevitably comes.

Welcome to Modern Sales, a podcast for entrepreneurs, business owners, and sales people looking to have more and better conversations with your perfect clients. You’ll get a healthy scoop of psychology, behavioral economics and sales studies to help you create win-win relationships. I’m your host, Liston Witherill, and I’m pleased to welcome you to Modern Sales.

Welcome once again to modern sales. This is the sales meeting series where we’re talking about the science behind good and bad meetings. We’ve already covered why so many meetings are so bad, and how to start planning for more effective meetings. Each of the episodes will begin with #SalesMeetings at the beginning of the title in your feed to help you find them quickly, so if you want to go back and listen to one you missed, go for it.

Today I’ll be talking about how to run an effective meeting, and next I’m going to tell you a simple purchase you can make at the supermarket to make your meetings run more smoothly. That’s after this short break.

Do you ever notice that when people are in a good mood, meetings are better? It’s not just you. The research proves it too. And one of the best ways to put people in a good mood is to simply give them snacks. So if you’re meeting in-person, head down to your local supermarket, grab a few snacks. Everyone likes free food, and no one likes to feel hungry.

Which is to say that, even with the best formulated meeting plan ever devised, the meeting itself needs to be run effectively. You have to manage the mood and behavior of people in the meeting. You have to make your goals and your objectives clear to everybody so they know why they’re there, and you have to keep them engaged along the way. The problem is that we’re all busy. We can be preoccupied from time to time. Our minds might be elsewhere when we meet with competing priorities, both personally and professionally.

Our clients, they’re probably feeling the same way. They have competing priorities. They have politics to deal with in their offices, they have job reviews to get for themselves or to give to their employees. They have families. The list goes on. Bottom line, I know it hurts, but we are not the most important thing in our client’s lives. Sorry to tell you.

So what to do about it? Well, the solution is to control the pace, the mood, and the flow of every meeting so that we increase our chances of putting on a great meeting. And I’m going to give you actionable steps to run your sales meetings effectively, and also what to do in the event that they aren’t going so well, which, yes, may actually happen from time to time.

Now a quick note about the series, it’s largely based on the book, The Surprising Science Of Meetings, How You Can Lead Your Team To Peak Performance. The book is linked below in the show notes with my Amazon affiliate link. Go ahead and buy it, there’s lots of stuff in there that I haven’t covered in the series.

Now, the first thing I want to cover here is the psychology of hosting a meeting. And one of the big psychological factors, as I alluded to in that opening story about Mr. Rogers, is something called emotional contagion. It means that we tend to take cues from others and feel the emotions they’re feeling, or at least projecting. And what’s really interesting is that we’re more influenced by nonverbal cues than by verbal ones, which is to say, it’s really hard to intentionally deceive someone into feeling something that you’re not actually feeling.

A lot of our body language is involuntary, and so if we show up to a meeting in a bad mood, even if we’re trying to project a positive image, it may be difficult to sustain that.

There was a controversial experiment run by Facebook back in 2012, in conjunction with Cornell University. And what they did was they identified almost 700,000 users. They divided the users down the middle, and showed half of them positive images and messages, and showed the other half negative images and messages, manipulating their newsfeed.

The study concluded, and I quote, “Emotions expressed by friends via online social networks influence our moods, constituting, to our knowledge, the first experimental evidence for massive scale emotional contagion via social networks.” End quote.

Which is to say something we already knew, but now has a name and has been confirmed time and time again. Our feelings are influenced and affected by those around us. For better and for worse, we’re affected by others. We’re empathetic, feeling creatures, and that’s why it’s so important to be a positive force on the other people that we’re meeting with.

So here’s what to do to put on a great meeting. The first thing is the structure of the meeting, and for a sales meeting in particular, I always use the same exact structure, and it’s got four separate parts.

Number one is rapport building. Number two is reviewing the agenda and the ground rules for the meeting, number three is the meeting contents, completing whatever’s on that agenda, and number four is prompting for a decision, and deciding on next steps.

So the first part, rapport building, is especially important in brand new relationships. It’s important to set a positive tone, and one of the ways that I do that is to show that I actually know something about the person.

Where they are, something about their company, something about them personally, and I’m looking for ways that we can relate to each other, stuff that we have in common. Now it’s not always going to be there, but the important thing is to just show that your interested in the person, and that’s a great way to start the meeting on a high note and a positive note.

The second thing is reviewing the agenda and ground rules. Now of course you already listened to the last episode, you can go and listen if you haven’t. But you know that it’s important to come up with an agenda and solicit feedback and input for that agenda so that we’re covering everything that the person wants to cover.

We’re going to email it to them, we’re going to remind them of the meeting coming up, and then once we’re in the meeting, we’re going to review the agenda once again. Repetition is important. We want total continuity throughout the whole process, and this is a good time, once again, to ask for any other feedback that the person has or any other input that they want into the agenda. Anything they want to cover, any ground rules that they have in mind, or that we have in mind.

Now, one thing about ground rules is if you’re running an internal meeting, it’s really easy to set these.

If you’re running a meeting with clients, you can do it, but within reason. It feels a little bit preachy if you start spouting off what all the rules of the meeting are. One of the things that I would suggest you do is just lead by example. So if you don’t want your client to check their email, or check their Slack, or look at text messages, be half-invested in the meeting and half-invested in something else. Don’t do it yourself and don’t let anybody on your team do that either. For me, those simple ground rules can go a long way.

The third thing is just complete the agenda. You’re going to go through all of the different things that you want to cover in the meeting, and that’s the bulk of the meeting, and we’ll get into managing that in a second. The last thing you always want to do is conclude the meeting with a decision.

The more complex the sale you’re in, the more little decisions you’re going to have, the more meetings you’re going to have, and that decision will be, should we meet again or not? Often, that decision will be, should we involve other people, and when is the right time to do that?

Whatever it is, you should never, ever, ever, ever end a meeting without a decision of some sort. That is a slow death in all things sales. And once you have a decision, you should have next steps. So if you’re going to have another meeting, go ahead and set that meeting while you’re on the phone with the person. If the next steps are, they need to bring in other people from their team, ask them when they’re going to do that, and when it’s likely that you can meet again. Whatever it is, you’re going to prompt for decision, you’re going to ask for next steps.

Now, going back to number three, completing the agenda. One of the things you really need to do is manage the mood of the meeting. And there are a few little tactical things you can do, these are all mentioned in the book The Surprising Science Of Meetings. But I really like three of them in particular.

So number one is bring food. That’s an easy one, right? I mentioned that earlier on. If you bring snacks, it puts people in a better mood. There’s a very famous study about judges, and how lenient or strict they are in granting parole. And what the study found is, prisoners more likely to be granted parole early in the day or after a break such as lunch. Even holding constant how violent the person was, how many different offenses they had. Basically, all things being equal, judges are more lenient when they’re in a better mood and they’re often in a better mood after they eat lunch. Go figure.

You can feel free to use that for your meetings, right? So bring some food if you are meeting in person.

The second thing that I really like that they mentioned in the book is establishing tech policies. Now, I have a good friend who recently had a sales meeting, and he noticed that his client kept sort of acting distracted. Checking email, hearing Slack, notifications, all these other things happening. Now, we can’t really control what our clients do. I do have a way to handle that, and I’ll cover it towards the end of the episode. But we can control and set the tone for the type of culture that we want to provide.

And so, I really recommend that whenever you’re meeting with someone, just be in the habit of turning off all notifications on your phone, on your iPad, on your computer, whatever devices you’re using, and just have open whatever you need open during that meeting.

So for me, that’s Zoom for the meeting, that’s a CRM to take notes, and that’s a deck if I have one for that particular meeting. That’s it. That’s all I need open, and I have all notifications off. Another way to manage the mood of course is your internal mental state, and your approach to the client.

So one thing that I like to do is really bring a lot of curiosity. Now, I’m naturally curious. It drives my mother crazy how often I ask why, even to this day. That’ll never go away, right? That’ll be a longstanding tension between us. But, however your mother feels about you, bring curiosity to these conversations. Because if you bring curiosity to the conversation, everybody likes feeling like they’re interesting, like they’re worth your curiosity, like they’re worth your interest.

So definitely bring that. One of the things you can do if you have trouble with this, is to go seek out interesting things about the person, about their business, about their problem.

I promise you, something is interesting about them. Go find it. The last thing that you can do to manage the mood, and I do this a lot in my sales training, is to break people into pairs. So, this doesn’t apply so much to sales meetings, often. It can if you’re in a meeting with a huge number of decision-makers, right? So if you’ve got eight people in a meeting, maybe this can help, if you’re kind of in a brainstorming mode, is to have people go off, talk in pairs, and come back together and kind of share what they came up with.

This gives everyone a chance to participate, even in a smaller group without some of the risk of talking to everybody at the same time. And also, it gives them a chance to vet their ideas with each other and choose just the best ones.

Now the next thing is all about remote meetings. Now, I don’t know about you, but certainly a lot of people who give software demos use a lot of video. Service providers can use a lot of video, particularly if they have clients all over the place. Almost all of my meetings are over video. And one of the follies of remote meetings is giving people permission to not put their video on. The reason that’s so bad is these call-in conference calls, where people can just have their voice only. When they’re not talking, they could be doing anything else.

Whereas if they’re sharing their video, they have to be actively engaged, and you can tell if someone’s not paying attention. So definitely use video. I find that that’s enormously helpful. Again, in my sales trainings I do it, but also in my sales meetings, I always use video, and I always encourage participation. And the simple way to do that is just a prompt people with questions on a regular basis. It’s as easy as that.

Another tool you can use with remote meetings is to tell them that you’re recording the meeting, which raises the stakes a little bit for them to pay attention and not be slacking off the entire time, because they know someone else might be viewing it at some point.

Now if you’re running internal sales meetings, one idea that I’d like to share with you from the book, once again, is something that the author calls brainwriting. And essentially, what that means is you ask people, rather than to just shout out ideas, to sit down quietly and spend some time alone, writing down ideas that they have.

So this is brainstorming, but not brainstorming, brainwriting, see what he did there. But the idea is instead of having dominant talkers take over the meeting, which always happens as you know, what brainwriting does is, it allows everybody to participate equally while they’re writing, and then you go around the table and everybody shares their ideas.

Now there have been studies that show a 42% increase in original ideas. So if you’re having a team meeting, trying to solicit feedback on how to give more effective pitches, more effective demos, more effective proposals, whatever it is, where you’re trying to crowdsource, all of that good information that your team has, this could be a great exercise that you try.

Now, one thing you might be wondering is what to do when things go wrong. And there’s not an easy answer for this, but the truth is your meeting just isn’t going well, and so what should you do when this happens? My way is to confront it directly, and there’s kind of two tools that you can use here. Number one, just let your counterparts know that you’re in the meeting to get stuff done for you and for them, and that you’re checking in to make sure they’re getting what they need.

If the other person is distracted, a few things could be going on here. It’s not a fit, they’re distracted, maybe you missed the mark, they were expecting something that you didn’t deliver.

So whatever it is, you can usually feel the energy shift in the meeting, and especially call it out when it changes suddenly. What I like to do is just confront it directly, and I like to take the blame myself. So you can tell the other meeting participants something like, “Hey, I noticed in the last few minutes that it kind of seemed like the energy really changed, and I just want to make sure that I’m hitting the mark and not presenting something or talking about something that you guys don’t care about. Would you be willing to just give me some feedback about how you’re feeling?”

Now that’s very direct, and I know that that’s not for everybody. But one of the things I did there was I took the blame about being off the mark, and therefore making the meeting be derailed.

If you don’t like that method, feel free to just check in with people periodically. And so you’ll see often that when people are talking, generally they’re in a pretty good mood. But when you’re talking, that’s when the shift is likely to happen.

And so, rather than just going off on 10, 20, 30 minutes of uninterrupted speech, take a pause every five minutes or so. And what I like to say is, “Hey, I’m going to take a pause right here and just give you a chance to share anything you’re thinking, or I could just keep going.” And usually people say keep going, but at least this gives us a chance to talk about it. So that’s what to do when things go wrong in the meeting. I would say confront it directly.

So the key takeaways for today’s episode, the way you run your meetings will have a big impact on the outcome and the effectiveness of those meetings. And the reason for that? You can set the agenda, you can control the flow and set the emotional tone, because we’re all affected by others through a psychological phenomenon called emotional contagion.

The basic structure of your meeting is this, rapport building, review the agenda and ask for input, set the ground rules, cover the meeting content, and then make decisions and set next steps. Your job is to facilitate the meeting and manage the mood. If you’re running remote meetings, be sure to do it with video on. And finally, when meetings start to go bad, address it immediately rather than letting everyone walk away with negative feelings.

That’s it for this episode of the Sales Meeting Series. In next week’s episode, I’ll tell you what The Beatles songwriting process can teach you about meeting followup. If you aren’t already subscribed to this podcast, please do so by clicking the subscribe button. You can also get notified of all podcast episodes with some behind the scenes info, as well as other exclusive sales content I put out, by signing up for the newsletter at It’s totally free and it’s linked in the show notes.

Thanks to everyone who makes this podcast possible. Tess Malijenovsky is our producer. Juan Perez is our editor, and Mary Ann Nocum is our show assistant. Our show theme and ad music is produced by me, Liston Witherill, and show music is by Logan Nicholson and Music for Makers. Thanks so much for listening. I’m Liston Witherill of Serve Don’t Sell, and I hope you have a fantastic day.

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