Have you ever had to look yourself in the mirror after a bad meeting with a customer, partner, or investor? Are you familiar with getting half way through a meeting and feeling it's going off the rails? Ever experienced that pit in your stomach when you realize you missed a golden opportunity?
Why build the plan?
When a meeting goes poorly, it is almost always the preparation that is to blame. To be effective, it's important to clarify your thinking and make sure your team is aligned before the conversation.
If you prepare effectively, the meeting itself is much easier and less risky. In the three years since I learned the AAA plan from my friend and mentor, Dan Dal Degan, I have not once prepared a AAA plan and had a meeting go bad.
I have taught it to countless entrepreneurs with similar results. If you use this technique consistently, and enforce it across your team in preparation for external meetings, you'll find you are more likely to get what you want out of them, and your meetings will go smoother.
The AAA plan.
A good AAA plan is three sections, three bullets each, and should take less than 10 minutes to build. It defines the attitudes you want the person you're meeting with to leave the interaction with, the answers you want to get from them, and the actions you'd like them to agree to. For instance, if I were meeting with a VC trying to close my next round of funding:
Joe Smith (VC) believes we have accelerating momentum in a large market.
Joe Smith (VC) fears missing out on this round as traction grows.
Jane Doe (VC) is excited about our ability to differentiate from ABC Corp, whom she had previously flagged as a concern.
Does VC have capital in the current fund to invest, or do we need to wait on a new fund?
Is VC concerned we might be competitive with other portfolio companies they've funded?
Are Joe and Jane committed to presenting us to the other partners?
The VC commits to a go/no-go decision on term sheet in the next 30 days.
The VC introduces us to two portfolio company CEOs as reference checks.
The VC introduces us to three potential customers or strategic partners.
Making sure it's effective.
Notice the "attitudes" are actual feelings we want the actual human beings to feel. Also notice the "answers" sections includes questions that we could almost ask verbatim, depending on how the meeting is going. Finally, the "actions" are tangible and specific goals we believe they can agree to.
Usually the AAA plan is an internal document that everyone agrees to before the conversation. In this example, we would use this to ensure that everyone who is going in to the investor meeting is on the same page. Whenever there's disagreement around who should join a meeting or what the materials should be, you can start from the AAA plan. You'll find that all the other questions work themselves out naturally.
The next time you have an important external meeting coming up, take the time to develop a AAA plan. Discuss it with your team, make sure everyone agrees, and use it to drive the agenda, materials, and participants in the meeting. Resist the urge to allow more than three bullet points for each section (less is OK, but not more.) You'll be amazed at how much more smoothly the preparation and meeting go.