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Today’s high-tech devices and multi-media presentations can be very impactful, of course; still, the essence of live, in-person business communications is real-time speech.  That’s why we often overlook or willingly accept its greatest drawback: each spoken word is dead and gone a nanosecond after it’s uttered.  The consequences of business meeting participants not fully hearing, understanding, valuing, or remembering verbal communications are incalculable.  Luckily, a humble, low-tech, inexpensive and simple tool can overcome all that.

The tool is an art pad on an easel, plus the accompanying paraphernalia— marker pens, masking tape, etc.  By far, the biggest benefit of displaying selected meeting content on easel pads is that it stays alivefor all to see, refer to, build upon and remember.  Idea-generation and problem-solving meetings best illustrate these advantages.

  • Displaying each idea gives its contributor a chance to correct any potential misunderstandings and to field questions for clarification and amplification.  Technique: as much as possible, capture the speaker’s salient words verbatim.  The essence and richness of the idea may be lost when short-handing it; when necessary, ask the speaker to condense it him/herself.  Make sure the transcription is large enough to be readable by everybody in the room.  The scribe’s golden rule: spelling doesn’t count (for now), but legibility does.
  • “Captured” ideas are implicitly valued— encouraging the participants to voice their thoughts without self-consciousness or anxieties about judgment.  This is the climate that makes problem-solving meetings work.  Technique: make sure that every idea offered is written down, regardless.  Running two (or three) easels is better than one.  They enable simultaneous comparative listings (e.g., pros and cons, keeps/stops/starts, our responsibilities vs. the client’s, etc.)
  • New ideas beget more new ideas.  The group will spend a lot of time looking at the easels; each displayed idea is a potential stimulus for more ideas, which may start out as an improvement or expansion— a “build” — yet leap into new territory.  Technique:  number every item consecutively, and title each individual list— that’s the only way people can keep track of and refer to ideas which are necessarily disorganized when offered extemporaneously.  Tear off each completed page and hang it up for display (don’t mar the walls, please); consider assigning a helper to do this automatically, so the flow of ideas isn’t interrupted.

After the meeting, the lists become a ready-made historical record— the “group memory” — avoiding the need for someone to reconstruct (maybe inaccurately?) what was said.  Perhaps surprisingly, it’s usually better not to send the easel notes to people who didn’t participate in the session. The unique nature of a problem-solving meeting’s process and content can be unsettling (if not downright incomprehensible) to outsiders!

Despite not being new, high-tech, or exciting, the easel and art pad continue to help generate, nurture and preserve good business-building ideas and enhance consultative selling skills.  Should this tool play a part in your next meeting?

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