Awkward Meetings – Volume I

The woman at the front of the room, closest to me, knew exactly what was going on, was loving every second of it, and was (mostly) silently laughing her ass off.

At a recent working session with a client, we were chatting during a break and the conversation veered into the subject of awkward meetings…I had a good time recalling a few, and figured I’d share them here.

Because.

Why.

Not.

So, in no particular order, I present to you: Awkward Meetings – Volume I.

Catching Some Zzzzs

I’m cheating a bit, because this one’s actually happened on, sadly, more than one occasion.

Usually it plays out like this:

  • I fly somewhere as part of an in-region roadshow, and I’ve got a gauntlet of customer meetings; in Europe, I might easily have a dozen meetings spread across seven or eight countries in a ‘standard’ work-week
  • I meet up with a sales rep, usually at the airport or a hotel, but sometimes at a tube station or coffee shop, and we head off to a customer meeting
  • The sales rep does a brief introduction, we go around the table for personal intros, then things get handed over to me
  • I start leading the session: asking questions, answering questions, giving presentations, delivering demos
  • The sales rep falls asleep in the corner – and I don’t mean resting the eyes or zoning out or nodding off, I mean full-on sleeping

It only gets really awkward when there’s snoring.

It only gets really awkward when there’s snoring.

Dance Monkey, Dance!

If I’m remembering correctly, this one happened in Germany.

A colleague and I were doing an in-region roadshow to promote our cyber security products; I was the product manager and he was (and remains, although at a new company) an insanely knowledgeable security expert. Basically, I’m there to give a high-level presentation of the value proposition, to show the roadmap, to solicit input, etc. and he’s there as the technical expert.

As with many meetings, though, the scope often goes way beyond what was actually booked and agreed-upon.

In this particular meeting, things have veered madly off course. Well, really, they started off course.

Things have veered madly off course. Well, really, they started off course.

Prior to the meeting, the sales guy assured us that business meetings in Germany require the full suit-and-tie treatment. So my friend/colleague and I are all done up in our finery when the sales guy arrives at our hotel to pick us up. We’re somewhat surprised (and a bit miffed) that he’s in more relaxed dress…shirt, jacket, open-collar. Not weekend grunge, but less than what we were told to do.

OK, no big deal.

We arrive at the customer’s site and get ushered to the meeting room. Everyone’s in really chilled out clothes. Like, we’re talking shorts, sandals, t-shirts.

By comparison, we look ridiculous…like we totally missed the memo.

Alright, back to the meeting. Things are veering, because it turns out the customer really doesn’t care about security, so the meeting was almost an utter waste of time.

Desperate to make something positive happen, the sales guy, from the back of the room, starts spouting nonsense about what non-security things our product can do. I mean he’s just pullin’ stuff out of his Arsch.

This display would be funny to watch, but unfortunately I’m a participant; to make matters worse, the sales guy had the annoying habit of ending every absurd claim with, “Right, Lee?” or “Lee can explain how it works.”

So here I am, full suit-and-tie, standing at the front of a meeting room full of unimpressed German folk, improvising…

So here I am, full suit-and-tie, standing at the front of a meeting room full of unimpressed German folk, improvising about how our product could, technically, perhaps conceivably, under certain circumstances, achieve or approximate the remarkable services and capabilities currently being attributed to it.

And this went on for an uncomfortably long amount of time.

I’ll never forget the expression on the woman at the front of the room, closest to me – she knew exactly what was going on, was loving every second of it, and was (mostly) silently laughing her ass off.

And who says Germans don’t have a sense of humour?

Culture Club

This one was a friendly awkward, and actually wasn’t at all unexpected.

A couple of years back I was in Tokyo for a customer event – about 35 representatives from customers and prospects were kind enough to join us for a day’s worth of presentations, discussions, demonstrations, sneak-peeks, and so forth.

This session would be my first business meeting in Japan (I’d been there as a tourist a dozen or so years earlier, and I’d met with plenty of Japanese customers in Waterloo), so I did a bit of research ahead of time to make sure I was up on the latest customs.

Here’s a neat article that I read in advance, for instance.

Let me tell you, presenting to a roomful of Japanese businesspeople is an interesting experience.

Let me tell you, presenting to a roomful of Japanese businesspeople is an interesting experience: everyone sat perfectly still, and perfectly silently, with one or two putting their heads down to not-sleep (see the article link, above).

I’m kind’ve an energetic presenter, and I usually engage quite a bit with the audience, so this ‘dynamic’ was very different. Fortunately, I just went with it and adapted on-the-fly; plus, our local sales team had been diligent and organized enough to supply our attendees with printed translations of all our material, so I knew the crowd was following along.

So I just did my presentation, thanked everyone for their time, and finished up.

Afterwards, a very polite and orderly line formed, and people took turns thanking me for my time and asking me extremely informed questions – proof that everyone was paying attention!

On a related note, if you’re ever in Japan then I strongly recommend you attend a Nippon Professional Baseball game – it’s a truly wonderful experience.

Shall I Speak with an Accent, Then?

Now we’re really reaching back…

I’m at a tradeshow in…Berlin, maybe?…Paris?…whatever, somewhere in Europe, and a colleague and I are chatting with a guy from some large prospect from the continent.

At the time, out company was still quite small, maybe 100 people, with our business largely concentrated in the US.

Eager to impress this prospect by making us appear larger and more global than we are, my colleague confidently states that, “Lee is based out of our London office.”

Eager to impress this prospect by making us appear larger and more global than we are, my colleague confidently states that, “Lee is based out of our London office.”

I’m sorry, what was that?

So for the rest of the conversation I’m dreading that I’m gonna get quizzed about London: what I like, how long I’ve lived there, etc. Thankfully it didn’t come to that.

The super annoying thing was that there was really no reason for the lie – we had a handful of people, maybe even a dozen, legitimately based in Europe…several of whom worked out of London.

Phew, Glad I’m Not Those Guys!

Alright, let’s wrap things up in the sunny environs of the United Arab Emirates. I was in town to meet with the CTO of a globally recognized operator group; in particular, I was there to give a joint demonstration and education session by using our business intelligence product to teach him and his team things about their own network, while at the same time showing them how to get the most out of the product.

I flew into Dubai a day before the meeting to prepare; basically, I worked with our SE and our onsite resident engineer to understand what really mattered to this customer; based on their input, and with their help pulling data,  I built a pretty extensive deck that explored all sorts of interesting network facts, trends, weirdness, and so on.

Things are going pretty well, and I’m feeling good: prepared, confident, and only significantly jet-lagged.

The day of the meeting, a few of us pile into our sales guy’s car and drive from Dubai to Abu Dhabi – cool, I’d never been to Abu Dhabi, and I’d recently seen a documentary on all the neat architecture.

But for the whole drive – and I do mean the entire drive – the team is telling me about how meetings with this particular gentleman occasionally go…shall we say, awry. Just the week prior he’d cut a meeting off after five minutes by calmly but ‘firmly’ stating that the presentation wasn’t at all what he was interested in, that it was a waste of his time, and that he’d give the team one more shot the next week. Crap, that’s this week. Crap, that’s this meeting.

What the hell was I walking into?

What the hell was I walking into?

So we get to the meeting, and it turns out it’s with the CTO and a bunch of his VP lieutenants; some are there in-person, some are joining via video-conference.

I do my thing: I start going through the presentation, I show some neat things that we’d found, I focus on what matters (he was obsessed with network quality), I ask a few questions about weird things we’d seen, and so on.

At one point I casually noted a weird drop in the QoE of some Google services the week before, and there was a bit of discussion in Arabic, and one of the guys ran out of the room; he came back a few minutes later and announced that yes, he’d confirmed that a Google cache had gone down the week before.

Cool, a valuable win for our data!

Anyway, blah blah blah, something like two hours later I’m done presenting and the session has really gone quite well. I’m wondering what all the fuss was about in the car ride over.

Something like two hours later I’m done presenting and the session has really gone quite well. I’m wondering what all the fuss was about in the car ride over. Then the CTO and his VPs start chatting. Then the CTO starts yelling. Like, really yelling.

Then the CTO and his VPs start chatting. Then the CTO starts yelling. Like, really yelling. Like, I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed this sort of yelling in person. It’s almost out of a movie. People on the videoconference are shrinking away, they’re not making eye contact. Occasionally he gestures at/towards me. This ‘discussion’ goes on for some time.

Then, like nothing happened, we abruptly move onto the other agenda items and my colleagues take over. At about 8pm (long workdays in the UAE!), we wrap up, say our thanks, head downstairs, and hop in the car to drive back to Dubai.

As soon as we’re in the car, the team tells me that:

  • It was one of the best meetings they’d ever had with the CTO
  • Apparently, most of the yelling was him threatening to fire most of the VPs: “He’s told me more in an hour than you have in the nine months we’ve had this deployed!”
  • The gesturing in my direction was to emphasize that he’d gladly hire me instead

Lee Brooks is the founder of Cromulent Marketing, a boutique marketing agency specializing in crafting messaging, creating content, and managing public relations for B2B technology companies.

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Posted in Careers, Everything, Marketing
2 comments on “Awkward Meetings – Volume I
  1. Matt Duench says:

    Haha! Love it!

    I feel like you could add Dallas from a few years ago, when our colleague fell asleep while we presented! 😉

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