Three Action Steps to Avoid Lackluster Sales Quarters

lackluster sales quarters

By David Hubbard 

When revenue starts to go off plan, your gut reaction as chief sales officer or vice president of sales is probably to ratchet up the activity level of the sales force. You know the drill: institute aggressive pipeline reviews by field management, requalify all forecasted deals for the quarter, focus field management on must-win deals, try to pull in deals forecasted for next quarter, create a SWAT team for bigger deals, and the list goes on.

These tactics used to work five or 10 years ago but not so much lately, and that’s mainly because business-to-business buyers are doing things differently, by

  • self-educating online and becoming aware of industry problems and potential solutions,
  • getting vendor referrals from trusted industry colleagues through social networking,
  • deciding on a short list of “qualified” vendors after double-checking online reviews, press coverage and analyst reports.

If your sales force can’t influence buyer teams early in their purchasing process, like it could 10 years ago, you’re almost certainly going to suffer lackluster sales quarters. To reverse that trend, here are three action steps you should strive to achieve in 2015.

Action Step 1: Establish a well-defined and understood sales process.

Your sales process should mirror your buyer’s current purchasing process. A recent study by HubSpot and the Sales Management Association shows that organizations with a clear sales process enjoy 18 percent more sales growth than other organizations.

Action Step 2: Leverage social selling in the sales process.

Are your salespeople on LinkedIn? Do they tweet? Are they using those platforms as a way to attract and reach out to prospects? If not, it’s time to get on the social-selling bandwagon. Reps who use social media as part of their sales process are 79 percent more likely to attain their quota than ones who don’t, according to Aberdeen Group’s study on social selling.

Action Step 3: Align with marketing.

If your sales and marketing teams have a strong collaborative relationship, then here are the typical benefits according to multiple research studies by Aberdeen Group:

  • Seventy-five percent of your sales reps are achieving quota (versus the industry average of 50 percent).
  • Sales is achieving its sales budget (versus the industry average of 61 percent).
  • Your corporate revenue is growing at least 13 percent annually (versus an industry average of 4.3 percent).

If you’re poorly aligned with your buyer, you’re going to need a lot of help from others to fix it, particularly from your chief executive officer, chief marketing officer, and maybe an experienced outside consultant. That’s not bad news; your colleagues on the executive team have a vested interest in helping the sales force succeed. They don’t want their budget to shrink as a result of missed revenue and profit goals.

If you are willing to accept help from the C-suite, you need to present an action plan that does these three things:

  1. reframes the solution, not simply as a sales-force execution issue, but as a cross-functional team effort with you as team leader;
  1. presents an executive-team action plan that clearly articulates how each executive can actively help make the company’s quarter;
  1. ensures that your action plan contains key components that start to lay the foundation for a successful next year under your continued leadership.

By demonstrating corporate leadership and showing progress toward a better sales strategy, you buy yourself a little more time to turn the situation around permanently.

Want to learn more? Here’s a detailed discussion of a CSO Action Plan.

Dave Hubbard David Hubbard is a revenue acceleration expert, a pragmatic marketing and sales consultant, a proven business leader, and the CEO of Marketing Outfield. Find him on LinkedIn or contact him for a complimentary consultation

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4 Habits Leaders Should Lose in 2015

leaders good ideas

We tend to start the year with the best of intentions and high hopes. But sometimes our bad habits are hard to shake. This year, think about saying goodbye to these four simple obstacles that often impede success for sales leaders.

1. Operate solely on gut instinct. 

Do you have good business and management instincts? Of course you do — or you wouldn’t have climbed to a leadership position.

On the other hand, we are living in the age of data. Sales leaders who want to take control of their pipeline and forecast must start tracking data and studying analytics now. For example, HubSpot Chief Revenue Officer Mark Roberge leverages science and technology to make the HubSpot sales process truly customer-oriented.

Many sales teams run on blind optimism and the best-guesses of the sales manager. However, a growing abundance of technology and sales-enablement tools are changing the way we think about managing and leading a sales team. It’s important to listen to your gut … but if you ignore data, you’ll get left behind.

2. Make your ideas conform to expected standards. 

Once they reach a certain level of success, some sales leaders play it safe when it comes to ideas. Usually that’s because they’ve become complacent and lost the hunger that once gave them an edge. Consequently they avoid or tamp down any idea that seems too weird, radical, or risky.

However, consider that commodified creativity is a race to the bottom. When you make your idea like everyone else’s, you fail to stand out and differentiate yourself. Follow the advice of author and marketing guru Seth Godin, who said in this TED Talk that bad and bizarre ideas are far preferable to boring or ordinary ideas.

3. Fail to keep learning.

What skills would make you a better sales leader? And how can you help your reps become better sellers?

The beginning of the year is a great time to evaluate everyone’s skill sets and figure out how you and your team can improve in the next 12 months. Should you take a public-speaking course? Hone your coaching skills? Tune into what analysts, authors, and thought leaders are saying about the sales profession? Foster a culture of learning, and improvements will follow.

4. Stress out.

With great responsibility comes great stress. But many leader fall into the trap of thinking about too many things at the same time. This is extremely fatiguing and stress producing.

To stop stressing out, try making a list of other things you must do, and then put it aside so that you don’t have to think about them but won’t worry about forgetting them, either. Stop throughout the day to see if you are relaxed. Are your hands clenched? Is your jaw tight? If so, let your arms hang loosely, unwrinkle your brow, relax your mouth, and breathe deeply.

Make 2015 the year you leave bad habits behind and open yourself up to greater success than you could imagine.

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10 Signs You’re a Great Sales Manager

 

If you agree with these statements, you’re performing exceptionally well in all your roles as manager. If you come up short, it might be time for a management course or a conversation with your own manager to determine how you can do better.

  1. I know what motivates my salespeople.
  2. I’m familiar with their challenges, both professional and personal.
  3. I’m skilled at managing my time.
  4. I’m skilled at organizing my sales team.
  5. I’m a great salesperson, but I don’t step on my reps’ toes when they’re trying to close.
  6. I’m firm but fair.
  7. I always deliver on my promises.
  8. I create a positive environment for my team.
  9. I listen more than I speak.
  10. I act quickly when problems arise, and I challenge my team to come up with solutions.

Adapted from The Essential Sales Management Handbook, by Gerhard Gschwandtner. 

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The Psychology of Making Good Decisions

In his best-selling book, Predictably Irrational, MIT professor of behavioral economics Dan Ariely observed that resisting temptation is a universal human goal, but our failure to self-regulate is the source of much unhappiness. “When I look around, I see people trying their best to do the right thing, whether they are dieters or families vowing to spend less and save more,” he writes. “The struggle for control is all around us.”

To gain more control, Ariely suggests making “precommitments.” When he let his students at MIT set their own deadlines, for example, they missed them. But when he set deadlines for them – providing a “parental” voice – they got their assignments in on time.

“If we can’t save from our paycheck, we can take advantage of our employer’s automatic deduction option,” Ariely notes. “If we don’t have the will to exercise alone regularly, we can make an appointment to exercise in the company of our friends. These are the tools we can commit to in advance, and they may help us be the kind of people we want to be.”

Listen to Ariely’s TED talk below about our ability to control our own decisions.

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Most Excellent Sales Leader: Claire Edmunds

Most Excellent Sales Leader Selling PowerThis feature provides a snapshot of a successful B2B sales leader and his or her accomplishments. To submit a candidate for consideration, email lisa@sellingpower.com with the subject line “Most Excellent Sales Leader.”
 

Selling Power Most Excellent Sales Leader Clare Edmunds Job title: Company founder and CEO

Company: Clarify Solution Selling Ltd., which is headquartered in the United Kingdom

Selling Power (SP): How long have you been in sales?

Fifteen years, and prior to this, five years in fundraising

SP: How many reps do you lead and/or manage?

Clarify is a sales organization. Our entire business is designed to partner with customers with high-value and complex sales processes, to support their goal to create a best-in-class business development capability. Having run a business-development maturity audit, we deliver a range of services to optimize the impact business development has on their enterprise field sales organizations, as evidenced by our work with Tier 1 technology vendors and services companies. Our team consists of 45 business-development managers and directors.

SP: What was the first job you were ever paid to do?

The first job I was ever paid to do was at the local chicken farm in the village where I grew up. It taught me that I never wanted to work with chickens! It was an interesting psychological exercise, as I started to appreciate how my body language affected the behavior of the birds, especially the cockerels, who clearly saw me as competition and would attack if they saw fear! I quickly learned to keep eye contact and move as fast as I could. Later, as I started to explore body language and nonverbal communication in more depth, I was able to reflect on that experience and how our behavior affects our whole environment,not just the humans in it.

SP: What was one of your biggest selling disappointments, and what did it teach you?

When Clarify was set up in 2003, we sold to small, US-based, independent software vendors who were looking to build market share in Europe. These enterprises were all about top-line growth and acquiring customers, including turn-key customers, which would open new markets for them. Our business-development services were judged on how much sales impact we could deliver; we offered a great fit and had some very successful partnerships. When we went to sell to larger, US-based IT vendors, we could tell by the faces of the marketing VPs we met that our message was not working for them, since they were not targeted on pipeline contribution but on generating leads and contacts to fill a sales funnel. Our offer to reduce the volume of leads and increase pipeline conversion and contribution was met with cries of, “But why would we do that? Surely it is a sales job?”

We realized early on that we couldn’t make progress in this market and that, with a few exceptions, buyer behavior is strongly influenced by what is in the best interests of an individual, even when it makes no sense for the business! Thankfully the market has changed dramatically, and we are now successfully working with many blue-chip clients, marketing and sales organizations, to deliver a managed business-development service that is measured on pipeline contribution and aligned to strategic business objectives centered on increasing multiproduct, high-margin sales.

SP: What professional or personal achievement are you most proud of?

I have four beautiful children, and I hope that they would say I am a very present and involved mother. I have worked very hard to be able to give enough to the family and get the balance right alongside a busy and demanding career. I recognize that this is a challenge faced by every parent, not just mothers, and only time will tell whether I got it right, but I hope that I have inspired my children to believe that we can manage our family, relationships, and careers in a fulfilling way that makes a positive contribution to the world.

SP: Share your best tip for managing people.

Cast people well from the beginning, i.e., set them up for success. Always look for and expect the best in people, give specific and honest feedback, and take it personally by enjoying the process of contributing to their success and learning together from their failures. Modify your management and development approach to get the best out of individuals, and set expectations and standards high but within reach. Watch what your best people do best, and use this to develop best practices. When people let you down, and they will, don’t allow yourself to become jaded or cynical; open yourself up for it to happen all over again.

SP: What motivates you to succeed?

Doing a good job, [having] a purpose, and the excitement of seeing how far something or someone can go.

SP: Name at least one leader you admire and why.

My children’s primary school runs a leadership program that encourages all the children to become leaders. This [program appeals] to the leader in each child and sets out how to demonstrate leadership qualities, such as showing courage, motivation, respect, collaboration, and trust. I am hugely encouraged to see the impact this has had on my own children’s understanding of what it means to become a leader, and I greatly admire the headmaster of the school for encouraging the next generation to understand what leadership really means.

SP: What sales-technology tools are your sales reps using right now, and what are the benefits?

My team uses a huge variety of online tools to access and build intelligence and knowledge about the organizations that they are targeting, from professional networking sites to company search tools to online publications, etc. Today, technology is sold to address the needs and issues of the business; buyers are highly educated and don’t want salespeople to sell to them. They want and need help to understand how they can change their current situation to resolve today’s business issues and deliver the future state their business requires. Through multichannel research, our business-development managers access a huge amount of information to equip enterprise salespeople with the information they need to design specific business and uses that enable them to engage senior stakeholders.

Connect with Claire on LinkedIn.

[Image via FlickrBrad.K]

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Four Ways Sales Leaders Can Motivate Their Millennials

By Josiane Feigon

So you think you know who your top performers are?

The Bridge Group and VorsightBP studied more than 2,000 sales professionals, including individual contributors, front-line managers, and directors. The study focused on the management qualities of and tactics used by the most motivated and enthusiastic employees. In the area of job satisfaction,

  • forty-five percent of respondents were “detractors,” or the least likely to recommend a role in their organization to a colleague or friend;
  • twenty-eight percent were “passives” who were not enthusiastic about recommending a role to a colleague or friend;
  • twenty-seven percent were “promoters” who were enthusiastic about recommending a role.

The study identified four keys to successfully motivating sales reps, focusing on motivational influencers:

  1. “My manager is hardly available for any coaching.” Reps who reported more than three hours of coaching per month were twice as likely to be promoters. The catch: the reps reported 40 percent fewer hours per month spent on coaching than their managers reported, so reps are not perceiving the same value in the coaching that managers see. Managers should make it a priority to get in sync with their teams on this topic.
  2. “What’s next after I accomplish that?” Identifying skill-development goals will make reps three times more likely to be promoters, according to the study. Reps (and this is especially true of your Millennials) really value a sense of progression and achievement in the workplace. If a rep has a development goal in mind, and he or she is receiving regular coaching to get there, then the rep is going to be much less likely to get antsy and feel like it’s time to move on.
  3. “Can you explain my comp plan to me one more time? I don’t get it.” Three out of every 10 reps in the study reported being unclear about their incentive-compensation plan, a state that correlated to a 300 percent drop in engagement (i.e., they were three times less likely to be promoters). Three out of 10 isn’t overwhelming, but considering how motivation – or the lack thereof – is contagious on the sales floor, it’s definitely enough to be influential.
  4. “I’ve been here for three months and believe I’m ready for the next step.” The study reported a significant gap between reps’ expectations about when they should be promoted to a new role. The less experience the rep had, the less time he or she thought it should take. This is a frequently cited issue when managing new hires who are Millennials. It’s also a major reason why having early conversations about career-path expectations is one major motivation factor cited in this study.
Josiane Feigon
Today’s post is by Josiane Feigon, author of Smart Sales Manager
and 
Smart Selling on the Phone and Online and founder of TeleSmart Communications.
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Four Things CEOs Need to Understand about Sales Management

By Gretchen Gordon

CEOs sales managers

The most productive, world-class organizations have dedicated sales managers, but not every CEO understands how to make the most of this very important role. Here are four things executives need to understand about the role of a dedicated sales manager.

1. Think before you promote your best sales rep to a management role. The role of sales manager requires a significantly different skill set from the role of a salesperson. In salespeople, we are seeking some combination of skills that might include hunting, qualifying, selling consultatively, closing, farming, and account managing. In sales managers, we seek the skills of coaching, motivating, holding salespeople accountable to behaviors, and recruiting. Evaluate sales-manager candidates for specific sales manager skill sets.

2. Hold your sales manager accountable. Both you and your sales manager need to focus on four disciplines: goals, pipeline management, activity, and coaching – but at different levels. For example, when the sales manager asks each salesperson about items in the pipeline, you need to request that the sales manager report back to you about the health and predictability of the pipeline. Make sure he or she supports each opportunity’s position in the pipeline. Ask the sales manager specific questions regarding the activity of the team. (For example, ask if the team had 20 first appointments this week. If not, why not? What is going to be done differently next week?) This reinforces the questions the sales manager should be asking of each salesperson each week.

3. Be smart about the way you compensate your sales manager. It’s rarely productive to ask sales managers to sell in addition to manage a team. If it is more lucrative for the sales manager to close his or her own deals as opposed to growing revenue through the team, then the manager will be conflicted about where to spend his or her time. The manager may even compete with salespeople for deals. As CEO, you must be the sales manager to your sales manager, with scheduled weekly meetings about his or her behavior as a salesperson in addition to the scheduled meetings to discuss sales-management results. If you want the company to grow and the revenue base to increase, you will need to compensate the manager more for driving results through the team than for individual production. Here is a case study about how a sales manager who was also the top seller eclipsed the sales team until we helped realign his effort to drive more business through the team.

4. When necessary, know how to fill the role yourself. In smaller organizations, sometimes the CEO must function as the sales manager (click here for the CEO as Sales Manager Toolkit). To perform successfully in this role, you MUST

  • work with each salesperson to calculate what his or her activities need to be, and get agreement on a specific activity plan;
  • have frequent, scheduled meetings with all sales team members to focus their attention on the important activities for that day or week;
  • meet one-on-one with each salesperson on a weekly basis to hold each of them accountable for agreed-upon activities;
  • “pre-brief “and debrief sales calls to help team members improve;
  • go on sales calls to help coach team members (but refrain from taking over the call);
  • review each salesperson’s pipeline with him or her on a regular basis, and ask probing questions about each opportunity, e.g., “What is the agreed-to next step? What two deals are you going to move next week? This deal has been sitting here a long time; either move it or blow it up.”

If you cannot yet afford to employ a dedicated sales manager, make a specific, strategic plan for getting there. If you want to maximize sales growth, you must have a high-performing, dedicated sales manager.

Gretchen Gordon
Gretchen Gordon is founder and president of Braveheart Sales Performance, which improves the sales effectiveness of midmarket companies by transforming underperforming sales teams. Contact Gretchen at ggordon@braveheartsales.com or 614-396-6544.

[Image via Flickr / inertia NC]

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Manage Your Time in Four Simple Steps

time management

Image via freedigitalphotos.net/1shots

How much would you pay a consultant to help your managers become more efficient and effective?

In 1904,  Charles M. Schwab (then president of the second-largest steel producer in the country) asked public-relations pioneer Ivy Ledbetter Lee how his managers could manage their time more effectively. Lee sent the following list and told Schwab to send him a check for whatever he thought the adviceIvy Ledbetter Lee  was worth.

1. Make a list of the most important things you have to do tomorrow.
2. Arrange them in order of importance.
3. The next day, work on the most important task until it’s completed.
4. Tackle the other tasks in priority order.

Schwab knew the value of simplicity; he sent Lee a check for $25,000 (the equivalent of about $250,000 today).

How do you manage your time? What tools do you use to help you prioritize and get things done? Share your tips in the comments section. 

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Lessons in Determination: Remembering Muriel Siebert

This week we mark the anniversary of the death of financial-industry pioneer Muriel Siebert with this history of her perseverance in the face of rejection and adversity. — Selling Power Editors

Muriel Siebert Muriel Siebert established her legacy as a trailblazer when she became the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange on December 28, 1967. At the time, her historic application caused an uproar. No woman had ever had a seat on the Exchange before. Facing ridicule and steep opposition, Siebert got rejections from nine men before she finally found someone to sponsor her.

Siebert faced many hurdles on the way to success. In 1954, she had arrived in New York City with just $500 to her name. She set her sights on a job in finance, but when prospective employers saw a female name, they trashed her resume.

After repeated rejections, Siebert sent out new resumes with just her initials. She got an interview and a job offer. The deal fell through, however, when she admitted she didn’t have a college degree (she had dropped out of Case Western Reserve University to care for her terminally ill father).

When, after so many unfair rejections, she got a second job offer, she lied and said she had a degree.

“They didn’t check,” said Siebert in an interview with Senior Women Web. “But when I applied for my seat on the Stock Exchange, I told them. It was a historic application and I didn’t want to lie.”

Her next hurdle was a new rule put forth by the Stock Exchange requiring a letter from a bank promising to lend Siebert $300,000 of the near-record $445,000 seat price. Unfortunately, banks would not lend her money until the Stock Exchange would admit her. With dogged determination, Siebert jumped through every hoop and found the funding she needed. In 1967, she became the first woman to hold a seat on the Exchange.

Siebert became widely known as a force to be reckoned with in the notoriously cutthroat and male-dominated world of finance. Siebert created her own firm, Siebert & Co., and continued to take bold and controversial risks. In 1975 when a new federal law abolished fixed brokerage commissions, she transformed her company into a discount brokerage house. Her longtime clearinghouse dropped her like a hot potato, and she was nearly expelled by the Securities and Exchange Commission. At the eleventh hour, she secured another clearinghouse, and the success of her company helped pave the way for the now-thriving discount brokerage market.

In 1977 Siebert took a leave of absence to serve as the first woman Superintendent of Banking. She had to ensure the safety and soundness of New York State’s 500 banks, which controlled $500 billion in assets and trust accounts. The economy made playing tough a necessity. Interest rates spiked during Siebert’s tenure, and banks all over the country went belly up.

Siebert facilitated mergers, supervised drastic restructurings and even convinced one bank president to cut his own salary by $100,000. Under her direction, not one New York bank failed.

After an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate, Siebert returned to her company in 1982. In 1996, her firm merged with a private company. Siebert Financial Corporation currently pulls in more than $25 million in revenues a year.

In 2000, Siebert Financial founded Women’s Financial Network, the first online trading site geared specifically toward women. Siebert was encouraged to see more women taking control of their financial futures. “When you get more confidence,” she told Senior Women Web, “you’re willing to take a higher risk.” Spoken like a true trailblazer.

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Eleven Ways to Run a Great Team Sales Meeting

By Josiane Feigon 

Salespeople know that every second spent away from sales-related activities impacts their ability to meet their revenue targets. You can’t just stumble into your next team meeting unprepared. At the same time, you should not think that meetings ought to give everyone a “Kumbaya” feeling, when everyone gets together to share success stories and daily challenges.

Good salespeople are good because they are productive and focused on quota attainment. When their daily activity is interrupted by needless, dull, and long meetings, they shut down. (As I explain in this video below, recently one manager told me he tries to keep his sales meetings “under two hours.” Two hours is way too long!)

Here’s the deal: call a team meeting only when you have something really important to say. Otherwise, just email your team and call it a day. Used wisely, team meetings can be a source of enormous influence for managers. Talent 2.0 is all about group dynamics, career advancement, acknowledgment, and breaking news updates. Use your meetings to send a unified message, make a statement, set the tone, and deliver your message loud and clear. Here are a few tips:

1) Start strong, stay strong.

YOU are in control of your sales meeting – and all eyes are on you. Your role is to facilitate healthy dialogue, inform your team, present new ideas, and encourage buy-in from team members. It all starts with you. Be prepared; don’t wing it.

2) Own your meeting space.

Remember, you own that conference room for the duration of your meeting. Don’t let anyone kick you out, and don’t get pushed out if the room is double booked. Just say, “Mine,” and use the room for whatever time you have in it.

3) Watch your body language.

Body language, or nonverbal communication, can speak much louder than words. It can make you look uncomfortable, stressed, distant, stiff, or stale. No matter what you say and what you want your meeting attendees to do, your body language may be screaming, “I’m outta here!”

4) Let your tone set the mood.

The last thing you want to be is boring. If your tone is too serious, you can throw your team members into the panic zone and prevent them from hearing what you’re saying. If your tone is too light, they might not take you seriously.

5) Make it all about the meeting agenda.

The more organized your agenda, the better your chances of creating a healthy discussion and getting your people to talk. Distribute an agenda in advance so that your team comes prepared, and ask team members to vote on a few ideas to help prioritize the flow. The more you can educate and reinforce concepts in your discussions, the more you demonstrate the desired behavior, the more it will all sink in.

6) Create cohesive team dynamics.

The life force of a team is so much stronger than each individual. The more you value your team members’ worth, the more they will outperform your expectations. Lift them up and hold high standards when it comes to creating a cohesive team dynamic.

7) Ask compelling questions.

“Any questions?” Forget asking that. Questioning and qualifying sits at the heart of your team’s sales effort, so you must model master questioning skills. The more compelling the questions you ask, the more you will encourage richer discussion and exchange of ideas. Ask open-ended questions but stay away from broad questions that require reflective contemplation.

8) Listen from the observation deck.

“Let me stop you right there – I know where you’re going on this one.” This manager just turned off the brains and ears of every rep in the room. If you want to build trust and commitment, you need to listen to what they say.

9) Set late penalties that sting.

“If you can’t make the meeting on time, the door will be closed and you can’t come in.”

Don’t you wish you could say that? You probably do, but it’s actually not the best strategy. Instead, try preventing tardiness by setting the ground rule: Be on time. It’s definitely not OK to roll in five or 10 minutes after the meeting starts with an excuse about not being able to end a call. Make sure everyone knows the ground rules beforehand so they have no excuses.

10) Invite compelling speakers.

Guest speakers should empower your team members, not bore them or make them angry, so choose carefully. If they don’t like the speaker, or if the speaker is boring or off track, it will reflect poorly on you. A great speaker shares power with you and helps you glow. Make sure that your invited speakers understand your group’s charter and knows your group’s world. Ask them to keep their remarks short and focused on benefits. You can help ensure this by giving speakers a seven-minute time limit to help them organize their presentation.

11) Close with energy!

“Alrighty, it’s time to end our meeting.” Look down at your laptop, put your papers in order… Wrong move. No matter how good your meeting is, if you don’t close with positive energy, you will inevitably lose some of the enthusiasm you worked hard to generate. Participants should leave the room with more focus, enthusiasm, and understanding than when they came in.

What do you think of these tips? Share your thoughts in the comments section. 

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