How to conduct efficient meetings during consulting projects

During consulting projects, you will be doing plenty of interviews and meetings.  In the beginning, you may find them very stressful and challenging, especially, when you have to talk with directors, managers that are much older than you, and that have much bigger experience than you. Luckily, there are a lot of interesting techniques that will help you conduct efficiently interviews and meetings during consulting projects.

I will try briefly to show you what you can do to be great at meetings during consulting projects. More you can as always find in my course Effective Meetings for Management Consultants & Analysts

Types of meetings you will have during consulting projects

First, let’s briefly discuss different types of meetings you may have during consulting projects.

  1. Interviews. The first 1-2 week will be dominated by interviews with Managers, Directors, customers other key employees. The aim of interviews is to learn as much as possible that will help you identify the main issues you should concentrate on. No matter what is the goal of the project you will have more to do than available time? So, if you still want to get some sleep during the projects learn how to do the interview well.
  2. Regular meetings with stakeholders. In most projects, you will communicate your results to the customer during different types of regular meetings. Some of them will be 1-to-1 meetings with a specific director or a manager. However, quite often you will also present the result of your work to a bigger group of stakeholders, project sponsors, Steering committee that is supervising the project. One of the first meetings you will have is the so-called kick-off meetings where you meet the team on the customer side and you explain to them how you will be doing the project together
  3. Presentation delivery. A special type of meeting is the one on which you present the partial or final results of the project. This meeting will be as friendly as a meeting with a grizzly bear in the woods. If you don’t, prepare the grounds for this meeting the customer will crush you and demolish you in front of your boss.
  4. Internal meetings. Not to keep you idle, your Project Manager (or you if you have this pleasure of managing the project) will organize also internal meetings of the consulting teams. They are short, and all in all pretty nice (in comparison with the grizzly encounter), however, they do take time and if they are not done properly may turn into a huge waste of time.
  5. Implementation meetings. During some projects, you will be also having meetings with the implementation teams. These meetings are totally different. You are working hand in hand with the people on the customer’s side to implement some great idea that you or your colleague have come up with. The aim is not to produce a presentation but actually produce tangible money, preferably loads of money for the customer. You also have to work mainly with real, regular people and some geniuses from consulting firms that have IQ 200 and have finished top universities. On top of that, your team members will have something that you will not see much in consulting – they have a private life. They also have other things to do. So they will be late, their kids will get sick and they will have problems with analyses as well as presentations.

Now let’s discuss some of the issues that we have suggested.

Preparation for interviews

As we have said during consulting projects you will be doing plenty of meetings with different stakeholders. You have to prepare beforehand to make the most of the meeting. Let’s briefly have a look at things that help you prepare for the interviews:

  1. Issue tree. This technique is heavily used by consultants especially when you have no prior knowledge of the industry or the area. You list the area, you guess problems, and define analyses that will help you prove right or wrong your guesses. If you use it before the interview you will be able to ask smarter questions and you will learn much more. Below a short movie showing how it works in practice:

    Have a look also at the example of such an issue tree created for logistics, an issue tree for retail, and an issue tree for consumer goods
  2. Bottom-up approach. It is useful to do some rough estimation before the meeting. For that, you will use 3 simple consulting techniques. One of them is the bottom-up approach. The technique is very simple: you find a typical user, estimate his consumption of a specific good and then by estimating how many users you have you can get to the rough estimation of the market size. Below a short movie showing how it works in practice:
  3. Top-down approach. Sometimes you have the size of a specific market but you don’t have the size of a specific part/segment of this market. For this, you can use the top-down approach in which you start from the total market and you try to estimate how big the part of it is. Below a short movie showing how it works in practice:
  4. Backward logic/reasoning. The last method that is great for getting rough estimation is backward reasoning. In many cases, you have the end-results and you want to see how much effort/money you have to put into a set of actions to achieve the desired results. For such an exercise you can use backward logic. It’s perfect for estimating i.e. how much you have to save to buy something in 5 years’ time, how many new stores you have to open to get to the set level of EBITDA, how many visitors to your site you have to have to achieve a certain level of revenues from ads etc. Below a short movie showing how it works in practice:
  5. Conduct research of the firm and industry. Before the interviews, you should also research the industry to understand what are the trends, what competitive advantages firms have, what strategies have competitors, what is the winning business model, what KPIs they are looking for. Thanks to that you will not able to have a better conversation with directors that you will also sound more like an expert in the industry, despite not having big experience in the specific branch. Check my post on market research methods for more details. I mention there, a lot of useful things.

At the end of the preparation phase, you want to have a list of potential issues that are important in the industry, an estimation of the market size, KPIs, list of competitors.

This will take you 1-5 days depending on how deep you want to get and what information are available

Conducting the interviews

Usually, in the first week of the project, you do a lot of interviews. Most of them will be 1-to-1 or in small groups. The aim of those meetings is to confirm/reject what you have already learned and to get as much information from the interviewees as possible. You want to learn especially how the reality looks like from their point of view, what problems they see and also how the firm is organized, what they look at, what they consider as important.

I would recommend creating your framework that will help you fast and efficiently conduct interviews. You can check my framework on slide 87

One of the techniques that helps a lot during interviews is the 5 Why. I recommend applying it. You will be surprised what you can learn thanks to that. Also makes sense to create a system of taking notes that will help you capture the most important things. Below some rules that I use for note-taking

Remember also that interviews are not only for data gathering. Use them also to create a relationship with the Managers, Directors. Make yourself likable. You will work with them for the next 3-6 months. If they like you and treat as a partner, not an enemy your life will be much easier. That’s why learn more about them. Do they have kids? What they do in their spare time? How you can reach them if you need more information.

Regular meetings with stakeholders

As a part of the consulting project, you will carry out a lot of regular meetings with the customer to show them and discuss your findings. There are 2 types of regular meetings you will have during consulting projects: Interim meetings to report the progress/findings and meetings with the customer’s representatives.

As we had it in the case of interviews, I would strongly recommend creating a framework for such meetings. You can check my framework on slide 87

Interim meeting to report the progress will usually happen every 1-2 weeks. Once they understand the structure of the presentation and understand the terms you are using the meetings should go much easier. Yet, the first 1-2 meetings will take much longer. That is why it is a great idea to use the meeting with customer representatives to educate them about the presentation and get them more accustomed to how you present the results of the analyses.

Regular meetings have 4 main goals:

  1. Show them progress and gather feedback. Regular meetings will be used to share results and discuss them. The customer most likely will also provide valuable feedback that will help you improve the end-product. As we said in the beginning it will be difficult to convey all the wise ideas that you have come up with. But with time they will appreciate your wisdom
  2. Get buy-in. An important part of every project is the buy-in. It means that the customer agrees with your conclusions. If this does not happen, then he may force you to work more or even not pay you. That is why it is extremely important to use the regular meetings to get the buy-in.
  3. Build your position as an expert. During regular meetings, you are the one doing most of the talking. That is why this is also a golden opportunity to build your position as an expert. This is a spectacle and you are playing the main role.
  4. Up-sell. At a later stage during regular meetings, you may start showing them that there are other related issues that should be looked at. You obviously should do it gradually and gently but don’t waste this opportunity, especially if you have already the buy-in

Below some tips on how to win over the audience during the presentation delivery:

Have also a look at an example of a kick-off presentation:

Internal meetings

If you want to deliver the project on time and deliver value for the customer at the same time you have to have internal meetings during which you check the status. Below some general rules for internal meetings

As a project manager, you should pick the best tool for managing the progress of the project. Some use simply the master presentation on which they put notes (who should do specific slides, by when what should be on the slides). Others, on top of that also have a Kanban board on which day divide the things to be done into 5 categories: To be done, Work in progress, Help/Data needed, Done.

You can also create a to-do list in Excel or in Project Management Tool (Asana, Trello, Nozbe, Monday, etc.)

That’s in short. For more details, templates and tips check my online course Effective Meetings for Management Consultants & Analysts with almost 3 hours of content that will help you with meetings during consulting projects.

Below a presentation with additional tips:

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