One important prep component that they can (but shouldn't) overlook is the "pre-sell", aka "the meeting before the meeting" (this latter phrase being attributed to management consultant John C. Maxwell). The pre-sell is designed to help program advocates understand how key stakeholders and influencers perceive the proposed initiative before it is pitched in a formal setting. Consider it research, information gathering, or whatever. The pre-sell can help one to avoid sniping and possible blind side attacks that can threaten to derail a proposal. For instance, a couple of years ago a colleague shared with me that an executive committee meeting came to a screeching halt when a senior stakeholder (incorrectly) perceived that the program he was proposing threatened the latter's area of responsibility. Could this incident have been avoided with a thoughtful conversation held by the two of them in advance of the meeting? Absolutely! There is no single description or recipe for a successful pre-sell. Essentially, the pre-sell consists of (thoughtful) offline one-on-one exchanges with key stakeholders designed to seek to elicit their views, questions and concerns regarding the program that one is advocating....in advance of the proposal meeting. This information gathering can help one to seek alignment, as well as better understand the environment in which he/she will be sharing the proposal...but about which one might otherwise be ignorant, such as:
History: Has something similar been proposed or tried? With what outcome?
Objections: What reasons might a stakeholder have for opposing the proposal?
Internal competitors: Proposed projects usually compete with other initiatives for resources and management attention.EQ considerations: Some stakeholders simply want to be consulted and heard before they are willing to provide support.
The particulars may vary considerably, but it is better to seek to understand and anticipate elements which could influence decision making and to seek to address these prior to the meeting than to try to react to them on the fly. Importantly, one should approach the pre-sell exercise with a genuine desire to seek understanding of others' views and where possible, to build consensus. The learnings gathered during pre-sell can also lead one to reconsider their proposal to (where appropriate) take a more "enlightened" approach. One may not be able to reconcile all differences of opinion through this process, but it is better to be informed and prepared than to be surprised and caught flat footed. Some of the most successful managers I've worked with over the years have used pre-sell to achieve consistently good outcomes. I've also witnessed how not pursuing pre-sell can allow for considerable uncertainty going into big meetings. A little information and preparation can be a powerful thing. Something for each of us to consider.
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