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Why are we making virtual meetings *more* formal?

I was speaking to James Lewis, the CEO of Helix Technologies (a seriously cool company working on precision antennas for navigation products), and we discussed how things change when you move in-person meetings to virtual meetings. More specifically, we discussed how to replace the informal lobby chats.

When you gather for an in-person sales or pitch meeting, James noted that the reception, or lobby area, chats are important for a few reasons:

    • You can help qualify your client. You can ask about the company or office space in ways that can inform your pitch. “This is really nice. How many people do you have working here?” Or, “How long have you been in this office? We’ve had to move recently since we’ve outgrown our previous space.” If you know they have multiple offices, you can ask if the others are as big and/or nice as this one.

    • You can connect on a human level. Lobby or hallway chats are a great time to engage as people before you start pitching. You can talk about weather, traffic, where you are planning to have lunch, your flight, or attractions in the area. This gives you time to understand their demeanor and willingness to share.

    • You can put them at ease. By engaging in informal, human conversations, you disrupt the typical balance of the sales pitch. Once they see you as a person, it helps change the dynamics of the meeting. Hopefully, you are no longer just a seller.

In the new, virtual-based meeting climate, some informalities are now widely accepted. People understand that kids or dogs will sometimes provide background ambiance, or surrounding décor may be more “eclectic” than usual. This is great, and largely humanizing, but when it comes to the presentation itself, it’s hard to recreate the lobby conversations.

Remote work has eroded so many boundaries for the normal working day. People schedule back-to-back meetings when they are typically commuting, going out to lunch, or having hallway chats with co-workers. That puts additional pressure on the host of the virtual meeting to get right to business when the meeting starts. People are likely to jump right into their next virtual meeting as soon as you finish. Overall, this is forcing people to make the virtual pitch experience even more formal than the in-person meeting.

So, how do you revive the lobby chat in a virtual meeting? Here are few tips:

    • Acknowledge the importance. The first step is realizing that informal conversations are important for the reasons listed above. If you launch right into your pitch as soon as you have a quorum, you miss out on qualifying them and connecting in a meaningful way.

    • Introductions don’t count. You may be thinking, “I don’t jump right into my pitch. I go around the room to make introductions.” That’s great, and necessary, but they don’t qualify as small talk.

    • Ask and share. This one is obvious, but I’m stunned how often it doesn’t happen. Ask them how they are doing working remotely. Ask them about their challenges. This will usually lead to a personal, often funny, story. If they don’t have a story, share you own. They will follow your lead.

    • Adjust the length of your pitch. If your time is limited, and it almost always is when you have virtual meetings, schedule 15 minutes (10 minutes before the pitch, 5 minutes after) for chatting. You will likely need to condense your pitch to ensure that you are not rushed. Use this as an excuse to edit your pitch and find ways to make it more concise. When James from Helix Technologies spoke about lobby chats, his face lit up. He realizes that that it is such an important part of the meeting experience. With a little effort, you can preserve this goodness when meeting virtually.
If you are looking learn more tips and tricks for navigating a more virtual world, check out our new on-demand webinar that’s part of the Audienz Elevate series, Marketing and Selling in a Downturn.

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