A kick-off meeting with clients can set the tone for an entire project, along with setting up everyone’s expectations. It’s a big deal! And you want to do it right. Your kick-off meeting needs to be a success because you want your project to be a success.
Read on to learn a little more about how to prepare, what to do in advance, where you need to find agreement with the client, and how you can set and meet goals presented by the team.
1. Be Prepared & Know Who Will Attend the Meeting
You and your clients are excited, and there is a great deal to discuss. There are steps you should take before you meet them in the boardroom.
First, familiarize yourself with the client. Who is the stakeholder? Who will be in the room, and what role do they play? What do you need to obtain from each of them? Take the time to review every single participant, so that you can anticipate their questions, too. To start off the meeting, let everyone introduce themselves.
Speaking of questions, it is smart to have clearly-defined questions ready. This will establish the role you are playing, which is the role of Expert. Nothing that comes out of that meeting can surprise you if you do your research properly.
Research should involve past projects, too. Have you worked on anything similar? What was the client worried about in those situations? What did they focus on? Go through past notes and address similar concerns so that you can move past them quickly this time around.
2. Set a Clear Agenda
Having an agenda to refer to will help you save time in the long run. It will also keep you from derailing off-topic and going off on a tangent. Include brief breaks if you need to, especially if the meeting is going to go long. Your audience will be grateful that you set aside time to allow them to gather their thoughts and to make queries.
Send the agenda to the client well ahead of the meeting. They will be grateful to receive a clear outline of expectations and deliverables for the meeting. They can also do their own preparation before coming to the table.
Make sure the meeting is going to take place face to face. If you cannot be in the same room as your clients, set up a video conferencing call. Do not rely on the phone. There will be more of a connection this way.
3. Set the Tone
Prepare the room and all of your equipment ahead of time. Make sure reception knows who to expect, and prepare refreshments. Print out your agendas, and create visual tools to get the conversation flowing. A one-on-one conversation with a client before the meeting can also help you get to know the people you will be working with and will help create jumping-off points for discussion.
You likely have a presentation style, and it’s a good idea to review that now. Will this be an appropriate space for sharing your own industry knowledge? Perhaps a collaborative discussion or a brainstorming session makes more sense than a rapid-fire proposal.
If you fear there may be opposing viewpoints in the room, have a plan for drawing out and addressing tension. Finding your method of approach can result in more credibility for you and your team, and will help you build enthusiasm for the work ahead.
4. Define the Next Steps Together
By the time your kick-off meeting ends, what needs to be completed? What needs to be agreed-upon? Whether you are working with a single entrepreneur or a corporation, write down their list of demands or expectations. Plan to discuss them one by one before the meeting ends. Use their own verbiage to show that you are A) listening closely and B) capable of getting the work done.
5. Establish a Communication Plan
Do not end the meeting without reviewing the ground rules. How will you communicate in the days and weeks ahead? Come to a conclusion with your clients about the goals of the project, and how you will meet them. Answer the who, what, where, how, and why of those deliverables in detail.
Your client may prefer collaboration throughout the project, while others prefer to circulate results internally and then transfer feedback later on down the road. Know what to expect when you hear back from them.
Make sure you know whether the client wants to be communicated with constantly and see incremental deliveries, or if they simply want to receive the end result.
6. Set Realistic Expectations
The worst thing you can do is set client expectations too high, and then fail to follow through. Be realistic about your capabilities, and timing and delivery of the project. This is the only chance you will have to convey a timeline to your client and help them understand how the process works.
When you discuss deadlines, be brief and concise. Your client likely does not want to hear about every little thing you will be doing to meet their expectations. After all, that’s why they hired you!
By taking these steps to prepare for and rock your meeting, you will be in good shape for meeting client expectations and hitting them out of the park. Project scope often adjusts as you move forward, but if you follow this guide closely, it will deviate very little from the original plan. Your team and their team will be enthused, motivated, and ready to get to work!