Incorporating Online Meetings into Your Practice

In the same way you’re REALLY looking forward to a haircut, a lot of people I know are really looking forward to resuming in-person meetings.  You should also be looking forward to incorporating online meetings into your practice!

Why are we so eager to return to the same room?

That’s easy – in-person meetings have UNIQUE VALUE:

  • Social interaction goes up.
  • Non-verbal communication increases.
  • People need people, especially huggers.

But at the same time, the Advisors (a.k.a. producers) I work with acknowledge that online meetings are here to stay, as part of what McKinsey would call the “next normal.”

(Note:  Over the last three months I’ve polled over almost 2,000 Advisors in my public and private Online Meeting Strategies workshops, and my insights are a non-scientific digest of the findings.  My polling questions varied, so I can’t legitimately provide numbers, only my thoughts.)

Why focus on incorporating online meetings into your practice long-term?

First, practical considerations:

  • Today’s lockdown: Some firms are still shut down – there are no in-person meetings, and there won’t be for a while.
  • Tomorrow’s lockdown: We will eventually experience either a second wave of the current pandemic, or the first wave of the next one.
  • Client Preference: Some Clients will permanently seek to restrict travel and unnecessary office visits – including yours.

There’s also a second Why:  Online Meetings have UNIQUE VALUE of their own.

What’s the UNIQUE VALUE of online meetings?

There are actually two categories of value, one practice-level and the other at meeting-level. Of course I will elaborate!

What Practice-level value do online meetings bring?

Online meetings bring unique QUANTITATIVE value in the form of NUMBER OF MEETINGS.  Here are examples many Advisors have reported from the “field” (a.k.a. the dining room):

  • Clients have more time to meet because they’re not traveling or commuting.
  • Advisors have more time to meet, because they’re not traveling either.
  • Meetings are easier to fit in when there’s no traveling between meetings.
  • Meetings less likely to be canceled or delayed due to travel issues.

Summary:  No travel = more meetings.

What Meeting-level value do online meetings bring?

Advisors typically underrate the unique QUALITATIVE value of online meetings – specifically, how executing online can create BETTER CLIENT MEETINGS.

The power lies in the VISUAL nature of online meetings. Because you’re both looking at the same screen, Advisors and clients can communicate visually without formality- if you use the tools right.

Here are three uniquely valuable aspects to online meetings:

  • Listening visually, not just verbally. Showing your notes in real time helps clients feel comfortable you’re hearing them, helps them own the words on the screen, and helps both of you clarify and elaborate on key thoughts.  (See figure 1)
  • Managing information for maximum learning. Zooming in on key information, highlighting the highlights for clients, adding their notes and questions, pointing out the point – all of these strategies make information more manageable and learning more possible. (See figure 2)
  • Creating joint expectations and commitments. When Clients see their own needs expressed in the agenda and their own intentions written as next steps, they own both more. Creating visual ownership represents the most powerful opportunity to impact meeting results.

Summary:  More visual interactivity = better meetings.

Note that this is the OPPOSITE of talking through a slide deck or PDF, particularly if it’s dense. Boring!

If you agree with the premise that online meetings bring unique value, either quantitatively or qualitatively, then the next question is…

How do you start incorporating online meetings into your practice?

  • Start with Client preference. Which types of meetings would Clients rather have online vs. in-person? It’s not necessarily an either/or proposition.
  • Think addition, not substitution. Where could you use online meetings to increase your communication and engagement with your clients?  Example:  Quarterly online listening sessions with key clients.
  • Use the “unique value” rule. What kinds of meetings will benefit more from which format? For example, a deep-dive diagnostic with a new or prospective client will run better in person, but reviewing an application prior to submission works better online.
  • Use Online as a fallback. The law of Reciprocity suggests when Clients reject your offer of an in-person meeting, your offer of an online meeting is seen as a concession and is more likely to be reciprocated.
  • Refine your online meeting game. In particular, I recommend getting good at sharing a PowerPoint slide or a whiteboard and using the drawing tools to capture client input and illustrate your ideas. Then incorporate templates from my Online Meeting Toolkit.

Whatever you do, make sure you’re ready for the “next normal” with the skills to run uniquely valuable online meetings. It’s a requirement!