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January 21, 2008

Clueless About the Meeting? Fake Your Way Through!

I trust my top associate, so when she forwarded me an e-mail and said, “D.F., I think this is a meeting you should attend,” I kind of, sort of, slightly skimmed the rest of the e-mail. OK. I didn’t read it at all. I opened up my calendar and wrote in the Tuesday 1 p.m. slot, “Go with Lacey to Jamestown.”


Why? Because Lacey told me I should go to Jamestown on Tuesday at 1 p.m. I’d go back and read the details as the meeting drew near.


That’s what I told myself. The road to Jamestown is paved with good intentions, and by the time Tuesday morning arrived, I knew I had a meeting, and I knew I was going with Lacey. I still didn’t know what it was about, but I figured she could tell me.


Around 11:30, Lacey called: “D.F., I have a lunch meeting outside the office and it will probably run to 12:45. Can I meet you in Jamestown?”


Sure. No problem. I would meet Lacey in Jamestown.


Circa 12:45, I was in my car heading for Jamestown, and at this point it hit me: I have no idea what this meeting is about or why I’m going to it.


Don’t tell me you haven’t been there. You know you have. Everyone one of us at some point has headed off to a meeting only to realize on the way that we weren’t really sure what the meeting was for. I know there are some of you who are trying to deny it.


“Maybe this has happened to you, D.F.,” you insist. “But I review my notes thoroughly and I’m always prepared.”


No you’re not.


Anyway, this kind of situation calls for special skills. When you walk into the meeting of which you don’t know the purpose, the key to getting through it is to fake your way through the dialogue with vagueries and nonspecifics. This is how you will find out what the meeting is about without ever having to ask or admit you don’t know.


When I walked into the lobby, Lacey was waiting for me. So was the party I guessed we were supposed to be meeting. Lacey introduced us.


“Paul, this is my boss, D.F. Krause.”


We shook hands. “Thanks for inviting me,” I said.


“You called the meeting,” Paul said.


“Have you noticed how often watches like yours are coming with red faces these days?” I said. “Do you think that’s a trend with legs or just a flavor-of-the-month sort of thing?”


While Paul contemplated that, Lacey leaned toward me and said, “Did you ever read the e-mail I sent you about this meeting?”


I shook my head.


“You have no idea why we’re here, do you?” she said.


I shook my head. She started laughing.


“They’re expecting me to lead the discussion, aren’t they?” I asked.


She laughed harder and nodded. “You’re the CEO.”


This was a job for a pro. Paul and two associates, who introduced themselves as Elaine and Melanie, took their seats. Lacey sat to my right. I began the meeting.


“Paul, I’m glad you agreed to see us today,” I began. “Any time two parties get together, I believe that get-together has to have started with some sort of recognized common ground. So if I may, I’d like to start by asking you one question: When we requested this little bit of your time today, what did you see in the request that made you believe it was worth your while?”


Lacey practically had to bury her face in a napkin to keep from busting up laughing.


“Well,” Paul began, “it seemed that you understood our mission quite well and saw a weakness you could help shore up.”


“I see,” I responded. “What convinced you that we understood that weakness?”


“When you identified how our revenue tended to flat-line during every third quarter, and tied it to our excess focus during that period on trade show preparation, I could see that you had your finger on the pulse of our company.”


Piece of cake. Lacey was impressed. Of course, I could have just called her on the way and asked what the meeting was about. But anyone can do that. It takes a special person to fake your way through it without the other party figuring it out.


We all have our talents. I’ll find mine one of these days.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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