This question came up on /r/consulting recently – let me paraphrase:
“As a young consultant, how do I manage to add value to a client meeting, even though my senior colleagues in the room are much more experienced?”
Here’s my answer:
This is not limited to the juniors – might as well happen to you after 5 years of experience when working with people more senior than you are. But there are things you can do that might help:
Before the meeting
- Make sure you have a role: Agree with your colleagues, in advance, what your role in the client meeting will be. Are you presenting part of the slide deck? Are you there to answer questions on a certain topic? etc…
- If you don’t have a specific role, ask to take the meeting minutes.
- If there is no content-related role for you, and being the note-taker is not an option, then propose to not take part. Say that you want to make sure that the client doesn’t see you idling on their clock, and that you will be doing XYZ (meaningful task for the project) in the meantime. A project lead who has sense in him will value your thinking. If he/she then decides that you shall partake anyways, then you can see eye to eye and agree that in this case, the mutual expectation should not be that you add significant value to the conversation, but that you will of course use the opportunity to learn.
During the meeting
- Take notes (pen/paper or tablet with stylus, not laptop/keyboard) during the meeting, even when not doing the minutes. Don’t doodle, it will get noticed. Don’t try to record everything said, but capture the essential points discussed. This often helps to identify things you can add to the conversation (e.g.: “I just realized we covered A, B, and D. Just to make sure – is C out of scope, or should we look into that as well?”)
- Come prepared. Even if you’re told “we’ll just throw some ideas around”, etc…. then go ahead, take 10 minutes and write down some ideas. Google the topic. Ask a colleague knowledgeable on the topic. Make sure you have at least one thing that you can add to the conversation. If it is never needed – fine. Do it anyways.
- Don’t rehash what the others just said. This is something I learned the hard way…. thinking “hey, I can add value by summarizing things and making sure everyone is on the same page!”. The client might value this. Many more senior consultants don’t, and they notice it. If you recap a point, make sure to add something to it. If you don’t have to add something to it, then sit still.
- Body posture!!! Absolutely underrated, but vital. If you are perceived as passive, you’re at a disadvantage no matter what you actually contributed. Make sure you have enough space between your chair and the table to use your arms (body language) – or sit so close that your arms rest on the table anyways. Make sure to sit on the front third of the chair – this gives you freedom of movement in the upper body. Put one foot forward and the other one slightly back – like making a small step. This will make you naturally lean forward. You will be perceived as more active, more engaging, more partaking.
Hope there’s something in it here for you. Feel free to follow up in the comments.