There are so many different situations where you may have a chance to receive valuable information from top consultants and mentors all over the world. This may be your usual consultant that you hired on retainer, a speaker that you met at a conference, or a mentor you applied to over the internet.
In all cases, what I’ve gathered over time is that lots of people are not prepared to receive the right piece of advice all the time, not ready to execute on it, or generally not maximizing the value they get from certain sessions.
This is why after 15 years of mentoring and 10 years of consulting, I have prepared this actionable guide that will help you to receive maximum value the next time you meet someone you want to use as a source of inspiration or advice.
Chapter 1: Before the Meeting
The first set of tips is designed to prepare you before meeting your consultant. This is especially valid if you’re meeting a keynote speaker, recognized expert at the conference, or just have a chance to meet someone that clearly inspires you.
Make sure you’re ready ahead of time so you don’t miss the opportunity to get insightful information from the person you really admire.
1. Know Your Mentor
It’s essential to make the most out of maximizing a session by knowing the mentor.
With keynote speakers or other recognized public figures, it’s normally given they have known characters in your lifestyle and you’ve probably known them for a while. However, if you are applying for a mentorship session with someone, or if you probably want to hire a consultant, it’s best to study them ahead of time.
Find out who they are, what their background is, other personal information, and what makes them worthwhile. Everyone has their own story.
As Josh Steimle says, everyone has their genius zone—what makes them unique is a combination of skills and certain traits that make them the consultant that they are.
Make sure you know your consultant or mentor before reaching out. And of course, read further to prepare yourself for the session.
2. Read Through the Resources
One of the main reasons I maintain this blog is as a resource to share when someone would ask me a question. Just last week, I jumped into a Twitter thread where someone was asking about blog topics, and lots of people replied with certain topic ideas. I DM-ed some of the respondents with “Hey, By the way, I have a resource for that. So go check it out.”
In many cases, I happen to share these resources via email as a reference check, as training room board and resources for my team, as sales pitch resources with statistics, or anything along those lines. In a nutshell, there’s a lot of valuable insight you can gain from this blog.
I always have fun when I have to send a link from my blog to my consulting blog, simply because it’s free advice that I’ve already altered, but they haven’t read it out yet. In other words, to make sure you get the most out of meeting your consultant or mentor, make sure you read through as much information as possible so that you don’t have to ask questions that are already being answered online.
This will always let you understand certain nuances of their work. Don’t step on any fields that you don’t want to such as certain political or religious preferences, or anything along those lines.
3. Watch and Listen to Their Interviews
There are plenty of resources that people get engaged with, as they reach a certain public profile status.
Speakers and consultants are often engaged in TV shows, radio or podcasts, webinars, or any other form of online interview. They may maintain their own podcasts, or YouTube channels as well. Given that video provides a lot more information about the person and so thus audio with the tone of voice, intonation, and pauses, you’re likely to understand and learn a lot more about the consultant than what you’d otherwise read on the internet.
So in addition to reading their resources, make sure you check out all the other interviews and ask-me-anything sessions to learn more about them and their styles.
It is also worth noting that, especially when it comes to interviews, podcasts, or YouTube, great interviewers would often manage to ask the right questions that consultants and mentors wouldn’t normally write about online so you would probably get a chance to discover the uncharted territory the way you wouldn’t otherwise learn elsewhere.
4. Assess Their Style
Find out how the consultant operates, how they communicate, and what triggers them.
In essence, try to build some sort of a psychological profile without getting into too much detail. The reason you want to do that is to get maximum impact on the value of your meeting.
Assess their style by studying the following information about them:
- How they process information
- What sort of follow-up questions they ask
- How they structure their thoughts
- What sort of insights they get
The fact that they know the industry, or they have all the insights, doesn’t mean that you would be ready to process the information or they would easily understand what you’re asking them.
Some mentors are more cryptic, short, and to the point, while others engage in more storytelling. Figure out whether that works for you and how to gain maximum results out of their answers.
You don’t want to fall into a position of asking a question or receiving the answer that you had not expected simply because this is how the mentor communicates.
5. Prepare Actionable Questions
Have a bunch of questions ready to go.
I’m pretty sure you’re already familiar with your main business pain points, but the problem is they aren’t crystallized in your head yet. For instance, you have revenue problems—that’s fine, but what’s the context? How much do you aim for? What is the end result? What are you doing so far?
To reiterate, prepare actionable questions with context. Make sure you have a bunch of questions ready with enough information that would really help the consultant get to the point and answer in the right manner.
I’ve had a lot of conference talks or after-party discussions with people who ask me generic questions which end up in one or both ways:
- I either try to give them a boilerplate advice, which isn’t actionable, and which puts me in a position of lack of authority
- Or, I just keep asking more and more follow-up questions which also makes me look like I’m dodging the question
In reality, most of my answers start with, “It depends anyway”.
Context is really important because whenever I give business advice, it’s contingent on the leadership style of the person asking, the size of their company, their industry, local market, certain challenges they’re facing and so forth. Of course, there are some actions that we all base our thoughts on.
When I consult agencies, some of them are struggling for work and overflowing with people who can start solving problems right away, while others have more on their plate than what they can handle and can barely hire any people.
Even if it is the same market, different leadership styles, and different business strategies used to grow the company that reshaped the way the business works, then my advice may not be applicable in either of those cases. So, make sure you prepare the right questions and provide the right contextual advice to ensure you get the most out of the conversation.
Chapter 2: During the Session
Once you get the chance to meet your consultant or mentor during a Q&A session after a conference, or in an after party, make the most out of this time.
This is the session you need to prepare for to get maximum insights from the meeting.
6. Figure Out Your Quota
Understand how many questions you have a chance to ask, and prepare the questions accordingly.
Having a known quota in place is dependent on the way you prepare your questions—how brief, yet, actionable they are, how much time you’ve got and how well you know the leadership style, or how long would it take the consultant to respond.
When hiring a consultant or having a scheduled session with a mentor, there is not much need to know your quota. Of course, you can still go over time, or over a budget if it’s consulting, but it’s probably not such a big pain point.
However, when you’re sharing consulting or mentors, such as during the Q&A session, or when a dozen people surround them during the conference, the context is going to be different, and you don’t want to be the annoying person blasting all the questions and who won’t respect anyone else on the line.
7. Design the Right Context
Now, we have spoken about context multiple times already. But if you meet your consultant, after a conference, or maybe at the after party, your context may change.
For instance, meeting your consultant on the street or at a coffee shop is one thing because there’s no context whatsoever. However meeting them at a conference or after a webinar designated for a certain buyer persona or a target audience already puts you in a position of disclosing your background, without necessarily having to reiterate that.
In other words, if I meet you at a business conference site for executives, I know that you’re probably a business person in a company. If I meet you on the street, you may as well be anybody. Additionally, after a specific talk or after answering multiple questions at an after party, the consultant may already have stated certain things that you want to answer.
This is why you need to reshape your context in the most optimal way depending on when and how you’re asking the question in your environment.
8. Limit Ambiguity
I can’t stress this enough—ambiguity is created by two things:
- Insufficient communication skills
- Lack of context
When I say that, I don’t mean to imply that your communication is absurd. It’s really hard to get the right piece of advice from someone who doesn’t know you, or they don’t know you well enough to understand what you do and how you do it, and how you process information.
You need to be wise in setting up the right environment to limit ambiguity. Neuro Linguistic Programming, as one key strategic concept which is kind of a core pillar, states that everyone has their own map of reality. We all live in the same society, come from the same countries or cities or even neighborhoods, but we see the world differently. Our background has shaped us in a way that the device determines the way we see things, the way we communicate, and the way we process information, etc.
Meeting your mentor on the street may as well play out in different ways, depending on the following considerations:
- How were they feeling?
- Did they have enough sleep?
- What did they have for breakfast?
- What sort of conversation they had prior to that?
- Were they on a call right before they met you?
- Were they in a good mood?
Making sure that you ask only a few follow-up questions by designing the right context without taking ten minutes to set up the environment is really important. So, depending on the specific situation, reframe your question in the best possible manner.
9. Ask and Listen
Once you finally get the chance to ask the question, ignore all distractions and external factors, and focus 100% on listening.
Active listening is integral in all sorts of communication, but when you have limited time or very expensive time with someone who can give you tons of value, we want to make sure that you really put in 100% of your attention.
Pay attention to how they approach the problem, the bigger pain points they take as a consideration, and the way they’re thinking. One of the key things that lots of people don’t understand is that consultants and mentors follow certain mental frameworks, which they have developed over the years.
Oftentimes, answering one question may reveal the framework they will apply for a hundred other questions you may have. For example:
- Do they always pay more attention to people or to revenue?
- Are they people-oriented or business-oriented?
- What sort of value framework do they have?
Listening carefully will let you reveal certain patterns that you will not understand unless you get a chance to set up the context straight so they apply the right framework attuned to your specific business.
10. Take Notes
Unless this is a post-conference meeting or a very informal event, make sure you make the most of it by taking careful notes out of the conversation even if it’s not directly possible.
For instance, you just interacted for five to ten minutes somewhere. After this is over, go back to the drawing board and write down everything you had shared with the person. Human memory, especially the short-term one, is fairly limited. You want to avoid the situation of not really taking notes, the right time.
I have met certain influential people over the years, including some billionaires, and when I get a chance to ask the right questions, I always sit down, write them down, and then get back to them even multiple times to just reiterate and just make sure I can still validate the information they have shared.
So once again, even if you don’t get a chance to write things down right away, memorize whatever you can, and get back as soon as possible to writing. If you’re outside, you may as well just record a message for yourself, and then write it down.
11. Ask Follow-up Questions
Again, setting up the context straight, is important.
But even if you don’t get it the first time, quickly ask follow up questions so that the answer is contextually relevant. It’s fine if you have one or two follow-up questions during the conversation and you may have additional questions on top of what you already asked as well.
Just make sure the situation allows you to follow up, which oftentimes is the case, unless you’re eating up non-scheduled time from them, or you know there are other people who also want to ask questions.
But if you get the opportunity to get maximum value, prepare follow-up questions.
12. Make Sure the Takeaway Is Clear
Again, consultants have different styles.
Some of them prefer it short and to the point while others are more into storytelling. Some are actionable and break things down simply, while others are taking a more philosophical approach, making it harder to digest what exactly you need to do.
In the latter case, what you need to do is make sure the takeaway is clear. If we get back to the previous point regarding follow-up questions, this is just as relevant here.
Even if you get an answer to a question, it doesn’t hurt to ask, “Okay, but what should I do?”. You may have to decipher this yourself. But in any case, once you receive an answer, it’s important to turn the answers into actionable steps and an actionable framework that you can follow.
If needed, sit down afterwards and start thinking how you can turn this piece of information into an action plan for you.
Chapter 3: After the Session
At this point, have time for some reminiscing.
Once the conversation is over, probably after a conference or after a consulting call or meeting, you will have some time to take a break for a couple of hours or so. Get back to the answers and start analyzing.
13. Analyze the Answers
This is especially important after a longer consulting session, or maybe a training course, or anything that is really packed with information.
Sifting through tons of different pieces of advice isn’t easy. And when you ask them one by one, you may be missing out on the bigger picture. So after the session, sit down and analyze all the answers together by asking yourself the following questions:
- How do the answers blend in together?
- What’s the common thing between them?
- How to turn all these pieces into a value map that you can apply yourself?
- Do you want to work with this consultant over and over again?
14. Create an Action Plan
Since we have already talked about takeaways and clear action steps, this is where you really need to confirm and reassess your action plan.
The number one problem of the consulting industry is that lots of people simply don’t follow through. Think about all the self-help or personal-development books you have probably read, or maybe MBA books that you read last year and examine your answers to questions similar to the following items:
- How much advice have you actually implemented in practice?
- How many times have you stumbled upon a podcast or a YouTube video that tells you how to be better, or how to eat, sleep, or workout better?
People tend to not follow through on the majority of valuable tips. So if you want to get the maximum value of mentoring programs and if you firmly believe in them, and you want to really follow their steps, make sure you take action.
15. Set ETAs for Completion
Aside from creating the actual plan itself, the next step is setting some estimates, and specific time-driven steps to make sure that things actually happen.
If the consultant says, “Hey, you need to hire an HR manager or something”, you don’t have to put that into the long term agenda especially if it is a very important matter. It should be something that you set up as an action step that needs to happen within a certain number of months.
If your mentor tells you, “You need to get enough sleep so that you can think carefully”, or “You need to communicate better with people, present better information”, create an action plan and follow through. In laying down your action steps, indicate how much time you will allot to achieve or complete a certain goal.
The point is to ensure that you follow through and that you are taking practical steps by adding the time element. Set actionable items with time frames so that it actually happens.
16. Define Assessment Milestones
Some guidelines that consultants share are hard to digest. For instance, they may say, “Create 20 pieces of top-of-the-funnel content and spend on some paid traffic”. Or, they may say something like, “Create a webinar series”, “Create an email list, and send an email to at least 500 people out there”.
Even if you create an action plan and set the ETA straight, it’s important to evaluate results and measure differences. Many of those action items will take some time to evaluate and some of them may actually take months or even a year to see results.
It doesn’t mean that you don’t have to measure incremental improvements, and just reevaluate how this plays out into the bigger strategy. So, define assessment milestones and measure accordingly.
17. Report Back
After executing the vision, sure you get back to the consultant one way or another. If you have regular consulting sessions, just as my advisory clients have, it would be easy because you can reevaluate after every session, or every quarter, making sure that nothing gets lost in translation.
If you have a way to meet a speaker at a conference, or a year later, make sure you report back what they shared with you and how you executed them. This is one of the most exciting moments for speakers’ events, sharing a piece of advice and then getting feedback on it over time and how it changed their life.
Even if you can’t personally meet the consultant, shoot an email or send a direct message, just letting them know how they made an impact on you and what you did to take the next step, and how it changed you.
This is a sign of respect and a sign of admiration, and really confirming their value. It is also a great opportunity to build a stronger bond with them over time or turn them into a long-term mentor for you.
Don’t stop there. If you have a chance to work with a consultant continuously, and their pieces of advice were valuable, try to build a stronger connection with them. If they are not reachable or are not available that often, build a network of mentors, consultants, and advisors you can reach out to.
Make this a recurring thing. The process itself is tricky, and will teach you discipline knowing that you have a meeting or a call every two weeks or every month on things that could change your personal life, your professional life, or things that will improve your business, is the right type of habit to develop.
It’s almost like an investment. You need to be accountable. You need to show progress and growth. And this is what keeps you on your toes, at all times. Because there are quarterly meetings, there are monthly board meetings, and so on. You just need to do your best.
So make sure you don’t stop after the first piece of advice, and you iterate.
Create a plan if needed. Create a schedule. Reach out to your consultant first and ask them if you can work with them on a recurring basis. If not, find out who you can work with on a recurring basis or touch base with each of them every three months. You can also check the conference schedule in your area, and find out who you can reach out to for advice.
In any case, don’t give up after the first steps so you can continually receive maximum value from a consulting session.
Iterate. Make it a habit and make the most out of it.