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Using Sales Meetings for Career Acceleration: 15 Black-Belt Meeting Master Moves

John Mackenzie shares some amazing tips on effective meetings.


Product/Version: PowerPoint

John MackenzieOriginally a business film director, before companies had in-house video departments, John Mackenzie would often bring client script reviews to a jaw-dropping halt with phrases such as: "This scene will need a B-wind internegative for optical bench processing." (John admits he's not sure what it meant, but it was usually worth another five grand in billing.)

Finding the need for sales meeting writers being progressively assassinated by PowerPoint bullets, Mackenzie now runs an e-commerce website for corporate event planners called The Writing Works.


Let's take a look at what off-site sales meeting management can get you:

  1. Corporate visibility;
  2. Control over a budget and agenda;
  3. Influence over who says what about which;
  4. A chance to prove you can coordinate complex events;
  5. An opportunity to bank some IOU's from those who can further your career;
  6. An opportunity to exclude those who can't advance your career; and
  7. Site selection muscle: where would you like to play golf?

KarateHere are 15 black-belt meeting moves you can make to translate potential into practice:

1. Organize a program advisory committee

Let everyone know who's on it.

  • If things go well, take credit as chairman.
  • If the meeting bombs, spread the fallout!

2. Find out what your sales force needs

Famous career termination line: "I already know what my sales reps want!"

  • Use focus groups to get at hidden agendas.
  • Tap a sampling of territory reps for suggestions. Accept anonymous submissions.
  • Encourage notes via e-mail, intranet, or website.
  • Review last year's scripts and speeches. You may find they bear little resemblance to what has actually been happening during the year.

3. Circulate a statement of meeting goals and objectives

This will reinforce your position, and flag you as someone to watch.

  • People hate defining goals and objectives. They'll be so glad you're doing it there's not much chance your choices will be challenged.
  • You can always change your mind later. No one will remember what you said by the time the meeting takes place, anyway.

4. Be careful about advance publicity

Don't start taking credit for a great meeting until you've had one. The best laid plans of mice and managers.

  • A glowing preview in your company newsletter will surely backfire if your meeting does.

5. Always ask your boss to make a speech

And, for God's sake, get a microphone and sound system that work! Schedule the speech as the first thing in the meeting, or the last.

  • First is good, in case the rest of the meeting is a dog.
  • Last is usually okay, too. Even if you've had a mediocre meeting there will be enthusiastic applause to celebrate the end of an incredibly pedestrian event.

6. Identify an alternate producer

If you're using an outside meeting producer or AV firm be sure you've identified at least one more who could handle your job in an emergency.

  • If your first choice doesn't work, or goes out of business, you'll have a standby. This could save your meeting and your reputation.

7. Position yourself carefully

Give serious thought to when, and how often, you appear onstage. Pick and plan your shots.

  • Never come on cold. Microphone tapping and "Can everyone hear me, out there?" is not exactly a leadership launch.
  • An audio-visual intro works if it ends with your picture, name, and title. If using live talent, have them escort you to the lectern.
  • A senior management videotape intro works. If budget's a problem, at least put up a slide with your name and title.
  • Don't hog the host slot unless you can pull it off. Over exposure diminishes your impact. Managing two or three days of good introductory and transition material, plus your own presentation(s), is tough.
  • Avoid introducing, or following, a weak presentation. Every sales meeting has one or two. You'll know which they are. (Give the job to someone who's after the same promotion you are.)
  • Get yourself mentioned in other presentations. "As (your name) pointed out during last year's meeting" or "Later this morning you'll be hearing more about this from (your name)."

8. Announce sales awards soon after the meeting starts

(Can't justify any? Make up some reasons and pass them out anyway.)

  • Postponing recognition deprives recipients of additional time to enjoy congratulations, while relishing the anguish of those who were passed over.
  • Give the award ceremony a name: President's Club, Winner's Circle, Top Performers, Quota Busters! so it will gain in sound what it may lack in substance.
  • Hand out awards yourself. Or, if you have to, at least introduce the person who will. Don't miss the chance to be identified with this delivery of psychic largess.
  • Furnish winners with some visible indication they won something so they can be spotted easily, e.g. a medallion, blazer, badge, sash, carnation (whatever.)
  • Double the awards if your meeting has nothing new to say. Retrofit recognition. This will shift attention from what's not being said to what has been done.

9. Feature somebody no one ever heard of

Pick out a bright junior staff person and give them a five-minute shot at the lectern.

  • A magnanimous move like this is what legends (yours) are made of. Not to mention what it does for morale back at the home office.

10. Don't get buried by graphics

Audio-visual types love assault-rifle graphic changes and special effects that convert your speech into a supporting sound track (and play hell with your budget).

  • Begin your presentation without any graphics at all. Make the audience concentrate on you for a few minutes.
  • Don't force visual support. Many presentations have areas that don't justify it. There's nothing wrong with the audience looking at you once in a while.
  • For extended periods between graphics (more than 2 minutes) turn the room lights back on. This change-of-pace, and viewpoint switch, keeps people awake.
  • Fight hardware hypnosis. Video walls, laser lights, and hi-res TV projectors are often better for rental house profits than your presentation.
  • Schedule enough time for equipment setups and rehearsals – particularly yours!

11. Don't get beaten by your own schtick

Be careful about wearing funny hats and appearing in self-deprecating skits.

  • You may have corporate correction responsibilities that aren't made any easier to enforce by playing Bozo the clown.
  • Every sales force has its cadre of authority busters gunning for a chance to convert respect to ridicule.

12. Never confuse content with impact

Meeting content often dissipates during the day and evaporates on the way back to the airport. But residual impact problems can hang around and haunt you for months:

  • People never forget (or, forgive) lost luggage; misspelled name badges; singing This Land Is Your Land at eight in the morning; out-of-tune high school marching bands, projectors that don't work, squealing sound systems and abbreviated coffee-breaks.

13. Document and distribute

Videotape your speech. Have photos taken of yourself handing out awards.

  • Get pictures into your company newsletter and intranet. Try for video clips in the employee newscast. Put photo blow-ups on your office wall and department bulletin-board.
  • If you've got the clout videotape the whole meeting. Then, edit and try for a senior management screening of selected excerpts. Don't overlook the value of some sales force video-verité‚ "Great! Best sales meeting we've ever had!"

14. Conduct a follow-up evaluation

Send out e-mail questionnaires, invite letters, encourage phone calls, and have field managers solicit comments.

  • Feedback will flatter the people you ask, defuse gripes, and improve your next meeting.
  • Circulate a response summary that makes you look good. Include a few complaints for credibility. Put your own spin on a meeting review for the company newsletter or website.

15. Manage, don't just facilitate

To get a sales meeting working for you have to work for it.

  • It's hands on time! Don't just delegate, coordinate, observe, or advise. You'll lose control while someone else gains it.

A final note

Banish guilt and celebrate self-interest! The additional time you spend making sure you look good will improve the meeting for everyone else!

The above article has been reprinted with permission from Mackenzie's book It's Show Time!

Although out-of-print, collector's edition copies are available on

John Mackenzie (Glossary Page)

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