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You Did What?! The Ideal, First 5 Minutes of Every Consulting Meeting

The initial few minutes of every client meeting present your consulting firm with a unique opportunity. Will you let it slip by unnoticed, or create a regular, business-building habit to maximize that time?

Let’s say that next Tuesday you’re scheduled to deliver a regular, periodic project update to your consulting firm’s client, Gridlock Enterprises. You’re joined for the half-hour Zoom meeting every month by Gridlock’s Chief Obstruction Officer, Philip A. Buster.

Typically, you dive into an update of the progress you’ve made on your consulting project for Gridlock, note the next steps, solicit feedback Phil may have heard from his team, then confirm the next month’s call before signing off.

For your next meeting with Phil, though, you’ll kick off the meeting differently. Better. You’ll use two simple and powerful techniques:

The Right-Side Up Meeting Intro

Start your meeting with the following, Right-Side Up question:

“First things first, what would make this meeting most valuable and helpful for you?”

Use this intro question every time, even though you already have an agenda for your meeting with Phil (and every other client your consulting firm meets with), and even though you believe you’re clear on the purpose of your meetings.

Most of the time, Phil’s answers align perfectly to what you had already prepared for the meeting.

Occasionally, though, Phil’s fixated on something other than your regular update. And if you don’t find out, you proceed along your pre-baked flight path without realizing you could have led a much more valuable conversation.

The Connection Carveout

Having established the Right-Side Up purpose for your session, you’re going to briefly hijack your own meeting by saying, “Before we dive in…” then continuing with some variation of the following question:

“…do you mind me asking how Gridlock is faring this quarter? I recall last quarter was a tough one.”

You can ask anything that connects you to Phil in a broader context than your current consulting project. For instance, some variations include:

“…would you mind telling me how our project connects to Gridlocks big initiative for the year?”

“…I’d love to hear just a minute or two on Gridlock’s overall strategy. Are you willing to share?”

“…could you explain the difference between the Red Tape division and the Red Light division at Gridlock?”

“…that looks like a tasty cake. Could you shoot me the website of the baker?”

Connection Carveout questions create space for you to transcend the typical, in-the-weeds discussions with your client.

Together, these two techniques serve multiple purposes. They:

  • Validate Alignment – Ensuring your consulting firm is always totally in sync with your client’s needs increases the likelihood that your work delights your client.
  • Enhance Client Experience – Connecting with your client upgrades the perceived value of your consulting firm’s work and boosts your reputation.
  • Strengthen Relationships – A stronger bond between your consulting firm and your client staves off competition and improves your odds of winning future engagements.
  • Provide Forewarning – Raising your vision above your current consulting projects gives you visibility of potential speedbumps well in advance of when they’d typically pop up.
  • Surface Opportunities – Talking with your client about higher level, broader topics surfaces new opportunities for your consulting firm and your client to collaborate (a.k.a. follow-on business).

Have you tried the Right-Side Up Meeting Intro, the Connection Carveout or something similar at the start of your meetings? If so, share your experience of what’s worked (or not worked) for you.


10 Comments
  1. Tom Huberty
    February 17, 2021 at 6:12 am Reply

    Great Advice, David!!! I loved the the quick exchange when the client responded with, “cookies” and you offered a pie chart instead. The best overall idea from these meeting starters is that the focus is shifted from ME and what I really wanted to get OUT OF MY MOUTH (and head) and to being truly focused on the client. I have a 10:00 call today and I will try it out! Thank you!

    • David A. Fields
      February 17, 2021 at 7:45 am Reply

      Exactly, Tom. As with consulting in general, in your meetings it’s not about YOU, it’s about THEM! Good luck on your 10:00 call–let me know how it goes for you, Tom.

  2. Bruce imel
    February 17, 2021 at 7:19 am Reply

    Good article. I often end with this type of question instead of start. I’m going to give it a try at a project kickoff this morning.

    Thanks

    • David A. Fields
      February 17, 2021 at 7:49 am Reply

      Funny how perspectives differ. It never would have occurred to me to ask a client at the end of a meeting, “Hey, what did you want from the meeting? …oh, oops, guess we missed it this time!”

      (I’m assuming you actually end with a Connection Carveout.) Thanks for posting the comment, Bruce, and let me know what your experience is by starting your meeting this way.

  3. Jamie Broughton
    February 17, 2021 at 7:30 am Reply

    Love the ‘what would be most useful’ question. Such an effective and fast way to ensure alignment!

    • David A. Fields
      February 17, 2021 at 7:52 am Reply

      On my team we start virtually every meeting with clients and prospects, including phone calls, with that question. As Tom noted in an earlier comment, it forces you to shift your focus from you to them–instant Right-Side Up!

      Thanks for jumping into the conversation, Jamie!

  4. Ben
    February 17, 2021 at 9:54 am Reply

    LOVE to right-side up meetings, have used this to great effect in a fairly formal / stuffy presentation to a room with 10+ audience.
    “… before we dive into the next 100 slides, can I just go round the room and ask, what do you most want to get out of the next 45 minutes? That way we can make sure we cover the most important points”

    Audience was a bit… shocked! they expected another beauty parade pitch,
    But they did open up, and we learnt the 4-5 most important points to focus on, and as a bonus got a sense of who were the most influential people in the room.

    Boom!

    Felt great.

    • David A. Fields
      February 17, 2021 at 11:30 am Reply

      Great case study, Ben! (Also, impressive that you can cover 100 slides in 45 minutes.) As you pointed out, there are multiple benefits from starting a meeting this way, including getting to know your client better and tailoring the conversation to their specific needs.

      Well done. I’m very appreciative that you were willing to share your case study, Ben.

  5. Greg Trueblood
    February 17, 2021 at 1:13 pm Reply

    Came for the consulting advice, stayed for the funny comics. But seriously: brilliant post, actionable advice. Thanks.

    • David A. Fields
      February 17, 2021 at 7:08 pm Reply

      Some people come only for the puns, and some wait all year for the haiku. Our motto: thumbs up for whatever keeps you engaged and encourages you to join the conversation!

      Really, I do value the feedback and reading your comment on here, Greg.

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