Businessman in a video conference

How to Prepare for High-Stakes Events

Success favors the prepared!

When the stakes are high, there is no substitute for getting so ready that your odds of success go way up, even if what was planned never happens.

Ten years into my career, I was running a fast-growing practice when the EVP of Consumer Lending at the Bank of America, our most important client, called to schedule a meeting with my boss about a problem. My team was working on a multi-million dollar project that was behind schedule and it looked like we might be into something well over our heads.

My boss deflected the meeting to me. At first, I tried to duck the responsibility by pointing out that BofA was so important that our CEO should take the meeting. Fortunately, he saw it instead as a growth opportunity for me!

I decided to buckle down and prepare for the most important meeting of my career. The stakes were outrageous:

  • If the meeting went poorly, we would likely have to un-recognize millions in revenue, which, as a newly public company would have been disastrous, and the new line of business being launched with the work we were doing would go down the tubes.
  • If the meeting went well, we could do business with BofA for years and launch the new line of business, which could more than double our size in short order.

If you are curious as to the angle of pursuit I planned to follow, check out this IntelliVen post: How to Handle a Disgruntled Customer (one of my most referenced and useful posts ever!)

The meeting went nothing like what I had planned, but because of diligent preparation, I was in a strong position to make things come out well. Thanks to good work by the team and conscientious follow-up (see note on review meetings), the project got back on track and was successful. We went on to do tens of millions of dollars with the bank and did indeed launch a whole new line of business.

The experience helped me learn to aggressively prepare for high-stakes interactions. Ever since, I have never regretted every minute of time spent to get in the best position possible ahead of important meetings.

By the way, this is also a great example of how using your organization as the case on which to apply an approach using the course-supplied tools helps to make the change you want through the Strategic Leadership Immersion Program.

Some of those who work with me struggle to understand how it could possibly be worth one more run-through before the big moment. Others appreciate it when you have them go through their material one more time.

The note below is based on observations made by an executive who worked with me for a year in which cases similar to the one above played out. When I left the company, he presented me with the note below so I would know he had learned much from our time together. I appreciate his appreciation and remain thoroughly impressed with what he took away from our common experience.

Anyone preparing for high-stakes action might also find his points useful:

Dear Peter,

In the dealings we have had together, I think I’ve picked up some seminal ideas from you: 

  • Always prepare so well that you are able to cover even the most complex topic in a casual conversation. It makes you more credible and puts people in a frame of mind that makes it easy for them to listen while you just talk with them rather than walking them through a step-by-step briefing.
  • Always involve other people in your preparation. First of all, two (or more) heads really are better than one. Secondly, if people feel they are part of the solution, you capture their hearts along with their support for what you have set out to do. If you keep things close to the vest, those around you become suspicious and tend to put up barriers and you end up with half-hearted support at best.
  • You work hard to have input from others to become part of the final product.  Their input enhances your own efforts. Besides, there is rarely a right answer anyway.  Even an okay solution can be powerful if lots of people understand it, are bought into it and are committed to making it work.
  • When someone asks you to review something, you always make it worth their while because you add as much value as you can. Then you challenge them with hard questions to help push their level of readiness to even higher levels.
  • You create and take advantage of high-stakes opportunities for people to perform because this is when you get the best out of them and this gives you, and them, material that can be used again and again.
  • You always do what you honestly believe is best for your client. In the long run, that will be best for you.
  • You never shoot from the hip. While you are very quick on your feet when someone asks a hard question, you probe to be sure you understand what they are after and then you think things through carefully before offering a response.
  • After you do something, you reflect on it to figure out what worked so you can do it again and what did not work so you can keep from doing it next time.
  • Things never go exactly as planned, but you always perform better from having thought through how you would like things to go.

I bet you thought I wasn’t paying attention. I may not have caught everything, but at least I got some important stuff.  Mostly, I just want to thank you for all that you have done in the past year.  You have shown us a whole new way of doing business and many of us really appreciate it.




How to Handle a Disgruntled Customer

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