Have you ever been proposing or defending a project in a larger meeting – maybe even with senior management – and it didn’t go as smoothly as you would like?

Or do you prepare yourself for such a meeting and you feel unsure about what to expect?

Then, this episode will help you!

Such meetings require us to invest some work upfront. And we call this process prewiring. 

We walk you through the different steps and challenges and share our own experiences to make sure you

  • keep the meeting under control,
  • achieve the outcome you want,
  • and impress any senior members of the group with your professional approach.


How to prewire a meeting

You are listening to the Effective Statistician episode number 37, how to pre-wire a meeting. Welcome to the Effective Statistician podcast with Alexander Schacht and Benjamin Piske. This is a weekly podcast for statisticians like you in the health sector, designed to improve your leadership skills, widen your business acumen and enhance your efficiency.

talking about leadership skills. We are creating an online course for improving these leadership skills for you as a statistician, even if you have no direct reports. If you’re interested in that, register your interest on our homepage, thee slash course, and you’ll get all the updates on what’s coming, when it’s coming, and when you can register.

In today’s episode we’ll actually also talk about some leadership aspects and we’ll talk about difficult meetings, meetings possibly that you have with senior executives or with higher ups in the organizations, complex meetings where you want to propose something, where you need to defend something and maybe you have been in these meetings and they didn’t went as smoothly as you would like them to go. If that’s the case.

Or if you need to go into these meetings in the future, and at some point we all need to do that, then listen to this episode and win on such meetings like a pro. This podcast is created in association with PSI, a global member organization dedicated to leading and promoting best practice and industry initiatives. Join PSI today!

to further develop your statistical capabilities with access to special interest groups, the video on demand content library, free registration to all PSI webinars and much much more. Just visit the PSI website at psirep.org to learn more about that and become a PSI member today.

Hi, this is another episode of the Effective Statistician. And today it’s just me and Benjamin. Hi, Benjamin. How are you doing? Hello, Alexander. Yeah, very well. Okay, the topic for today is how to pre-wire a meeting. When have you first heard about this term, pre-wiring a meeting? Since you brought it up, actually. And I realize it’s a quite nice…

description of what’s kind of a way of preparing a meeting. It’s not only preparing, as we will see, but it’s really about how to put some structure in the preparation of the meeting. Pre-wiring is a pretty cool word for this.

It really reminded me of some stories that I had personally at work and where I only later found out that this was pre-Wire-Ringer meeting. So, the story goes like that. So, we had a very, very big observational studies that we wanted to set up and there was governance body.

that would look into the study from all different aspects and look from a scientific point of view, from a physicality point of view, whether that study is well designed and well set up. And so I thought, you know, okay, we go into this meeting, then discuss in the meetings the study.

come to a conclusion and that’s it. So that was kind of the official description of the meeting. The agenda. The agenda or the charter of the meeting. You see, you get into these processes and see, okay, who sits on this government? How often do they meet? And

When is the preliminary due and all these different things. And of course, what happened was in the meetings there were all kinds of questions coming up and some we could answer. Lots of them we didn’t know exactly where they were coming. We had lots of side discussions and in the end our proposal was rejected. And we didn’t really know why.

So yeah, yeah, but isn’t it the kind of these meetings where everyone had experience in kind of going to meetings well prepared, meaning that, you know, you have your questions, you have your thoughts made around it. And at the end, the meeting completely goes in another direction. And even worse, as in your case, there’s rejecting rejected the proposal. Yeah.

So one of the key learnings afterwards was, okay, what can we actually do to get it through this meeting and through this governance body? So we talked with some more senior members in the organization and they told us, well,

Don’t you know about the unofficial rules? And he’s, what unofficial rules actually? And well, he then explained, OK, this meeting says lots of senior people involved in there. And of course, they don’t want to kind of lose their face in this, because they don’t know about things. So you need to give people the opportunity to ask stupid questions.

beforehand. So you really need to set up meetings with key stakeholders of the governance body beforehand and talk your proposal through, get alignment, clarify all kind of different things, and really create some allies, so to say, in the governance body that will then vote for you. And so.

We did that. We actually didn’t have big adjustments to the study overall, but afterwards, successful. Successfully come through. Yeah, nice short discussion, some comments, some recommendations, and actually send lots of agreement and okay, passed. We could move forward.

And so that was a quite, quite interesting experience for me in the past. Yeah, that is sometimes what people, including myself, this is something that I needed to learn as well, is that we underestimate the importance of pre-meetings. I mean, pre-meetings can be unimportant, to be honest. It is just, you know, who is attending the pre-meeting and who is the one, you know, that we need to work with in order to get to the real meeting where the decisions are made.

that we have the alliance of a proposal. I mean, there might be, you know, it’s not a guarantee for success, honestly, because if your proposal is quite bad, then it will not come through even if you build alliances. So it is really about the quality that you offer. But in general, I think it is, as you said, it’s the pre-meeting that is making the decisions while the meeting itself is just putting this into minutes. Yeah, exactly.

Exactly. That’s a very, very good summary of it overall. Actually, the overall meeting, the official meeting is really only more for communication of the decision that actually took place somewhere earlier in the process. And so there’s lots of kind of meetings that we as statisticians can go to as team members.

Today, we want to really speak about how you can structure these meetings, how you can structure the pre-meetings, control the process overall so that you go through that as a pro and not as an amateur, so to say. Because, yeah, first time I was an amateur, I was thinking, okay, this is a process, I follow the process and that’s it. Yeah.

What is the first thing you would do then when you prepare for a meeting? Not the premier, just in general. So when you know that there’s a meeting, you know who you have the names or you maybe not even have the names. So what is the first step? I mean, obviously, I always try to find out who will be attending. So the first step, of course, is that the meetings that are supposed to be pre-

pre-wiring, you know, is what are kind of key aspects that would really require a pre-wiring process. So, of course, not every meeting you need to pre-wire. So it says, you know, if you go to your usual kind of status update meeting of a study, you don’t need to pre-wire that. If you go to your usual kind of staff meetings, you probably don’t need to pre-wire that. But…

There are these meetings where there’s usually more senior people involved than you, where there’s… Or other functions, not necessarily more senior, but also other functions to people that you have to convince as well. Yeah. Where you need to get buy-in into a proposal from a larger group, diverse group, and…

probably from a group that you maybe don’t know that well, where you maybe don’t have a very, very good understanding of all the different people, maybe not a good, you know, or not any relationship to a couple of these people. And if that’s maybe your first time you go in that specific kind of governance body or meeting.

where you want to have a proposal. I think these are all aspects that you need to consider if that is something.

it’s worse to prewire it. Yeah. Yeah, but maybe, maybe this is this is also too strong. I mean, just thinking in more, let’s say, study specific examples. So if you, for example, if there’s a study running, and there’s, you know, there’s a mess about something, either, you know, for, you know, talking from a CRO side that, you know, for maybe to delivery will be too late or something. And there, there are many reasons for it. Could be.

sometimes data quality, sometimes that we have, we started too late or there are several reasons and there are several functions involved. And then it escalates, whatever extent could be just internal, even external. So it would be a good way, a good point to say, well, this is something we need to pre-wire. You don’t wanna start a discussion with different departments, with just your colleagues, saying, but they…

you know, he was starting too late. But you know, the statistician didn’t give us the timelines in time. And but the data quality was bad, you start fighting, you know, in front of your managers or so no, no. So your clients, I mean, you probably so then then you even, you know, for clients is probably then it’s quite a bad example. Then for this, you start fighting because then you just shut up and don’t say a thing, or just, you know, be very, very politically correct.

and putting this into overall content. But in general, these are also very good examples where you pre-wire, you really sit together, come to a conclusion, and then at the end, you have a common understanding or common declaration of the issue, of the problem that you present. So you don’t fight against each other. You have the forces combined. You have an alliance just built.

Even a very small with your colleagues. It’s not necessarily like a big senior management or scientific committee or whatever. It might be also just the team meetings, the internal team meetings that needs. It depends on the situation more than on the people that attend, I would say. Yeah. If the stakes are high and these kinds of things and there’s a high probability that it will end up in a heated discussion, then that’s fine.

Probably also a good situation for that. Yeah, yeah, completely agree. So, but in terms of starting in this, so I think the first point is you need to understand really what’s your goal that you want to get out of this meeting. Do you want to inform the group? Do you want to…

get a decision from the group, what exactly is the decision that you want, what are the official rules of the meeting. So that is really kind of the starting point. If you don’t know the official rules, then well, you’re already skewed. So that is really kind of you need to know when the agenda is, when the pre-reads are due.

all these kind of things. So that is the overall framing that is really important. And for these, let’s say more senior governance meetings, there’s also very often some kind of AA that manages these or chairs that is kind of structuring this. So if you’re unsure about a couple of these official rules, it’s for sure very, very good point to

have a discussion with the AAs that runs a meeting basically. Yeah, and that is also going right to the next part is to understand who sits there, who sits on the board or will be in the meeting. So who’s the decision maker, who is usually leading the discussions or I mean, there are people, different characters, people, there are people that talk a lot but don’t say a thing and there are people that just…

say one word and everybody is quiet. So really different characters in a meeting. And this is quite important to understand and to find out in advance who would be there and who makes the decisions. Yeah. And there it actually gets a little bit blurry in terms of the official side of things and the unofficial side of things. Yeah. Because…

Sometimes maybe the official charter says there is kind of a voting or something like this, but unofficially, everybody needs to say yes. Or there’s certain people that would have veto rights. So don’t know, maybe, you know, the safety physician or, you know, maybe the statistician or these kinds of things. So that is…

something that you need to know who is really influential in the meeting and who has these kind of different veto rights, who is influencing mostly the decision and these other people that you need to concentrate on. So, how do you find out about who these relevant people are? Well, I think I will be starting with…

people that are on the meeting and that have been in these meetings or in contact with the other persons beforehand. Usually colleagues that you just pick up the phone, talk to your colleague, the medical monitor, let’s say talking to the DMC members. So to understand what is the experience that people had with the different characters of those. Yeah.

you know, the committee, or maybe you know one person in the committee and can have a pre-meeting with that person to understand how the atmosphere is, what are the key decision makers, what is the relationship between the different people, are there kind of, you know, bigger egos involved in the meeting. So these kind of things is first, I think, is important to find out.

And yeah, but I think also it’s, you know, if it’s if it goes into scientific direction, it’s probably also important to understand or to maybe just look into. I mean, you find presentations on YouTube of people, you know, when they when they did the presentation on a last Congress or podium discussions or these kind of things. So to kind of understand to get a feeling of how how do they behave? How do they present themselves?

So this could be, especially if it’s the, in our days, these, you know, congresses, there’s a lot of material that you can find in terms of presentations, input minutes, presentations that are here already, and videos, just recordings from the actual congress. And I think the other thing is, you need to know whether there’s…

certain key things that they are specifically interested in. So, there’s certain people that will always ask on a special topic, which is just their kind of favorite topic. So, you need to know, this is probably a question you’ll get. Prepare for that and then everybody is happy. So, in terms of the big egos,

I think it’s really important to manage these and these are probably also the people you want to have a pre-meeting with because these are the people that you want to have on your side and that you want to give the opportunity to ask some stupid questions in the beginning. If you give them the opportunity to contribute…

to your proposal, maybe even if it’s a tiny thing, then it becomes also their proposal because they have invested in it. And that helps you to build a partner and build a partnership and have someone that speaks for you in this committee. Because that is what you really want to have. You want to have people that

appear to be independent from you as the proposal that supports the proposal. And the more you have that, the easier it goes in the official meeting. Yeah, but I mean, again, if you have such people where they’re quite influential and have big egos, it’s also quite tricky.

On the other hand, because if you have more than one in the pre-meeting, that might be also a challenge. No, no. Then you need to have separate pre-meetings. Yes, and you have separate pre-meetings. Then you have one for each of these persons. And you manage them separately. You don’t manage them together in one big meeting. Because then they don’t ask the stupid questions. Exactly.

I agree. But again, that could be the same strategy if you don’t have big egos, but just two different colleagues. Just don’t think of the whole discussion. We’re not talking about bringing up new laws in the European Union and you have to bring all the people together. We’re just talking about the day-to-day business that we are involved in, and some of the meetings are more or less important.

So in some of them you can prepare and it could be a big ego, it could be just your colleagues and you handle them separately. And so you manage these separately, you get them on your side one by one and that way you create more and more partners. And the good thing about this, it’s much easier to control a meeting with

one person, then to control the meeting with five, six, seven persons in the room. Different opinions. Because then it becomes even more challenging. Another kind of problem could be if maybe you’re dialing into this meeting and all the other are sitting in this one room and you’re just dialing in.

that makes it even more important that you kind of control the setting upfront. So it’s really all about controlling the steps one by one and really making sure that you go through this very, very smoothly. One point, if there is another statistician in this committee, or maybe even two or three other statisticians in this committee, in this cross-functional

meeting you are going into. Since these, I think, are the first people I would make sure you have on your side. Because what you really don’t want is to have a deep, technical, controversial discussion at a governance meeting. Because that only means that you have not done your job well.

Not only that, but also that means that the non-statistician will get bored very soon. Because the statisticians usually are not your colleagues, like your colleagues from your company or from your team or something. These are usually the statistical advisors to the big egos in the room. And therefore, you know, if…

they are in line with you or you are in line with them, the big egos will be sorted out already. Yeah. So that is basically in the statisticians that regularly sit on the committee. They are much more trusted resources to the non-statisticians on the committee than you are as a proposer, as a statistician on the team that proposes something. So if you can convince the statisticians that sit on the committee…

that will help a lot with the trust for the overall setting. And of course, that is the same thing with the other functions. If you speak to your medical counterpart, and you can make sure that you go with your medic to the physicians that sit on this team and you create the same alliance, that’s just perfect.

pre-wiring the meeting. Maybe just to remember, I mean, we are not talking here about selling old bread or something. It’s really not that we try to sell or to convince anything from anything bad. It is really that I just remember so many meetings where we sit in, we talk about the same thing and just completely languages. Yeah. Or it seems that we have…

we have the completely different understanding of the same topic, which is often just caused by the fact that we haven’t been preparing the other persons good enough for this meeting. So that we start technical discussions and misunderstanding. It could be that it’s only these things of we are talking about the same, we have the same naming convention for different things. Yeah. Or different definitions for the same thing.

And therefore, we’re just talking, if you’re talking not together, we are not putting the same string. And therefore, these the statisticians, I mean, we are usually, unless we talk about really controversial discussions, but usually it’s, we have good arguments why we suggest or propose something. And on the other hand, the other statisticians have as well, and we have to align it. And this is usually easier if we sit together in one room or one to one on the phone.

and discuss, go through it, understand where the other has problems to understand your points and give the explanations and the definitions and the surrounding thoughts that you have and make them understood. And this is something we can’t do in a big meeting because it would be embarrassing for either side that we haven’t been exactly in the communication or maybe have the same…

admit that we mean the same thing, but the other one is right because yes, it would be the case in this case, we wouldn’t admit it or hardly. Because then emotions become involved. Then it’s embarrassing, like you said, or it’s then more about making a point. It’s more about not losing your face. It’s all about these kinds of things in these bigger meetings.

That’s something that you can take out in these smaller group discussions or these one-to-one pre-meetings. And there you can, as I said, everybody has and there’s a possibility to ask stupid questions, so to say. Because that’s something you do in a one-to-one, but you don’t do it in a bigger meeting. And if you don’t ask these questions in a bigger meeting,

by default, you will say no. Just because you haven’t clarified these points, you feel you don’t completely understand it. And rather than saying yes to some things that you don’t really understand, you say no. So that is one of these key psychological things that happens there.

Or, I mean, you are lucky if you walk out the meeting and say you have a to-do list of 20 items where all the questions need to be clarified later on. And that means that you have actually the same discussions that you could have before. You have it after the meeting with the individual person sorting out what you actually mean. And then you have to also put this then, you know, back to the wider audience. And it’s just double the work. Yeah. If you do it after. And the bigger difference.

Even bigger difference for you is, as a proposal is, if you do it prior to the meeting, you appear like a pro. And then you sail through and everything, wow, this is a really, really good team. They know their stuff and they control everything and they’re super prepared. And that was very, very easy for everybody. Well done. Congratulations.

and you get excellent reputation. Whereas if you go into it and then you need to fix everything afterward, it’s the same work but completely different appearance. And of course, there’s a couple of things that you can do longer term if you want to improve these kind of things. So one of these things is

to build relationships in advance. So maybe you know that you need to go through this government’s meeting in, I don’t know, three months or something like this. Or you know that at a certain point in time, you will surely go through that. Try to build some relationships with these key members upfront. So for example, have a lunch meeting with them.

whatsoever to speak about various topics. Just connect with them, build these relationships so that when you then go to the meeting…

they know you already, at least a little bit. And that helps so much. So it’s again about kind of influencing, but I think today we really talked about kind of a step-by-step guidance of how you go into these crucial meetings and actually lead on a very, very specific process and control the process.

so that you can influence other people in a good way. You convince them to your proposal. You get feedback in a way that helps with the overall process, that makes it smooth. And that way, you get to a good outcome in a usually faster time overall. With less work connected to it. And less work connected to it.

work upfront. But overall, it’s not that if you don’t do it that you get away with it. So key takeaways for today are you need to control the overall process. You need to make sure that you understand all the different rules, the official ones, and even more important, the unofficial ones.

You need to make sure that everybody is comfortable in the bigger meeting to say yes. And you need to make that sure before the meeting. And you really need to invest in building relationships. And why is that? Build trust so that you have an easy and impactful work in that regard. Okay, very good.

Have fun with pre-viring the next meeting. Yeah. And if you have any questions regarding this, just leave a comment on our homepage, thee And if you want to learn about something different that’s burning topic for you, we are also very much appreciate your comments there. All right. Then talk to you next time. Talk to you next time. Bye.

So I hope you enjoyed the show today and learned a lot about leadership aspects. Talking about leadership, don’t forget we are creating a leadership program to improve these in a very very nice way for you. Just register your interest at thee slash course. This show was created in association with PSI. Thanks for listening.

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