Previously in this series, we identified how challenging even a well-prepped-for meeting can feel. Initially, we discussed step one of creating an agenda that suits the meeting purpose as well as the specific clients to ensure that everyone is coming to the meeting prepared and with a good understanding of what is expected. However, even the best-laid plans can be shaken from their moorings during the client meeting itself. So how to keep a meeting on track and not running hot/ cold, over the allotted time, or missing out on important aspects?

Beyond the agenda, there lies time management.

We hear about time management a lot in business, though usually it’s about making the most of our own time. There are many guides to setting up a day to maximize working and resting times and to avoid letting time slip away that we could benefit from, either to work or play. Time management of a meeting can be even trickier, as it’s not only your own time you’re managing but that of the client in the meeting with you. As the professional in the room, it’s your responsibility to ensure that the meeting accomplishes its purpose. 

An unsung component of time management for a meeting is starting on time. To keep to your schedule, it’s vital to get it moving. Of course, you can’t control client punctuality, but you can make sure you’re at a meeting place or have dialed into Zoom a few minutes ahead of time to make sure that “on the dot” means “on the dot.” This also shows the respect you have for your clients’ time as being late never does. Another way to keep a meeting efficient and on track is to remove distractions. It hopefully doesn’t need to be said, but you should not be checking email or texts during meetings (and hopefully clients will act similarly). If meeting in person, make sure any distracting items are removed from the meeting space and close the door. Distractions disrupt a meeting’s flow very quickly, and they can definitely eat up minutes.

The leader of time management is a manager, and as the one in charge of the meeting, that is a role that the financial professional should take on. Thinking of yourself as the manager may come in handy with how you approach the meeting. It means sometimes mentally stepping aside from the role of advisor to the manager role, and the manager will notice other things about a meeting that the advisor had not. The manager can take stock of whether the meeting is staying on track with the agenda items, check on the time left, and make sure the client has been speaking enough. Then the manager can do some managing, whether you’ve worked some little pauses into the agenda between topics to allow for check-ins or you’re doing it on the fly. 

The simplest way to manage time during a meeting is to have estimated time beforehand for each topic’s duration. This should be realistic, allowing more time for things you know your clients will need help understanding or will want to discuss at length. Say you allowed 5 minutes to go over a particular topic with a couple when planning the agenda. After you take three minutes to explain, that only leaves 1 minute for each client to ask questions or give their opinion. Simple math can save the day here. Overestimate to be on the safe side, particularly if you know yourself or your clients to be wordy. 

You can even add those minute-markers to the agenda, your own copy at least, to act as a guide. If you have clients who habitually go over time, it may be beneficial to them as well to understand how the meeting is structured.

A way to keep your meeting’s flow is to use cues to shift topics, taking control so you can move on from unproductive content to the next item on the agenda. You’re working with adults, so this should not take a commanding tone. Something polite along the lines of “I think we’ve covered the situation in those accounts. Are there any more questions or should we move on to the estate plan I’ve got here for you?” works wonders to remind clients that there’s lots on the agenda and to get them interested in the next topic at hand. You’re asking their permission rather than strong-arming them, and the offer to answer any additional questions ensures continued comfort and proof that you have their best interests at heart.

Another way to keep a meeting ending on time is to plan to wrap up content at least 10 minutes before the stated end time. This will allow for those last-minute questions and concerns without anyone feeling actually rushed. And should everything be finished 5 minutes early, well, no one minds getting a few minutes of their day back. 

Client meeting skills are vital, and structural ones like planning and conducting meetings can enhance the client experience and streamline your practice. Servicing clients with focus and direction during the facetime you have with them only serves to deepen your relationships and build trust. 

Mandy Szewczuk

More about the author: Mandy Szewczuk

Mandy works with advisors as the lead of Evolution Financial Advisor’s virtual assistant program and is part of the marketing and events team.