Time for a Face to Face, or Why I Ditched the Laptop at Meetings

We’ve all done it. We go into a pitch or kick off meeting, and the first thing we do is open our laptops, switch on our tablets or phones, and start typing away in a fevered rush to capture every last detail of what the prospect or client is saying. At the same time, there is that email we have to quickly respond to. Oh, and there is a new message over Slack that needs to be answered. Okay, that answer caused five more questions. Need to answer those too. Now where were we. Oh right, need to have the metrics for the last campaign ready.

This is all a bit maddening, but most of all just plain rude. I find it hard enough to concentrate to what the client is saying while trying to take notes let alone filter out all of the keyboard clicking from others in the room. One day during an information gathering session, I realized that the majority of the meeting was the group looking at their individual computers, and that anything said was more of a collection of grunts and squawks than actual conversation. Worse, I don’t think anybody else realized it. It made me question how much I quasi-participate in meetings by devoting my attention to a screen. I also wondered if this was normal. This can’t be normal… can it?

That’s when I decided to do something crazy.

Multi-Tasking is a Myth

We’ve been led to believe that we need to multi-task. We optimize our time to get the maximum amount of productivity at all times. The problem is that not only is this unsustainable, our brains don’t work like that. Mine sure can’t. I can’t chew gum and walk at the same time let alone take notes and listen to the person on the other side of the table. The client, or even the consultant, deserves more.

They deserve to have your full attention, and not split between a computer, a mobile device, a watch, and them. This is what led me to break from my usual method of attending meetings and take a fresh approach.

Leave the Laptop At Home!

I have a leather attache that my mother-in-law bought me one year. I remember after opening thinking “WTF would I ever use this for?” It was a symbol of stuff shirts, and people who wear golf shirts on the weekend. This wasn’t for me – the punk rock, freethinking designer. What would I do with something like this?

Ummm… yeah. I use it a lot. It fits my pad of paper, a couple of pens, a sketch pad, business cards, and other accoutrements. It’s actually proven to be invaluable, and one of the best gifts I’d ever gotten. It’s become my office. When I am in a meeting, I  jot down, scribble, sketch, and doodle all of the important stuff that I can. The problem? I can take notes, or I can listen. This has been a problem since I was a child. I can listen to you, or I can take notes –  I can’t do both. This means I need to add a bit of technology into my process.

Listen First, Take Notes Second, but Always Press Record

I still carry a tablet. With the client’s permission I record the meeting as an audio file. This way I can go back and take notes as needed later. This frees me up to listen to the client as they voice their needs. Any notes I take are simple phrases, or doodles that I use to jog my memory.

The main thing is that I am listening, and I am engaging my client. I am participating with them in their need to move the needle for their growth schedule. In this I am stepping out of the role as a consultant, and taking an active role in my clients business, which is, quite frankly, what we should all do. I can’t promote myself as a competent marketer or designer if I don’t help my client achieve their business goals. This is just good business. To do that, I need to listen and engage.

Wrapping it All Up

The client’s time is valuable. The goals they have set hinge on the ability to execute on their ideas efficiently. We have to stop seeing ourselves as “consultants” and instead as “marketing partners”. Our success is ultimately contingent upon their success, and if we do nopt provide them with the engagement in the meeting room that they require then we as marketers are doing them, and ourselves, a disservice.

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