The Discussion Document

Last Updated Apr 27, 2008 9:01 PM EDT

Now bear with me please, this is a tricky concept to introduce. I must start by clearly stating that I totally endorse the maxim "under-promise, over-deliver" as one that is essential to carry with us in our work.

There's nothing like blowing a client's socks off to really get attention and build a strong relationship. However, under-promise, over-deliver is open to misinterpretation, particularly by the slightly overzealous.

Let me explain.

Sometimes in the pursuit of new and exciting work, we get a little carried away with our response to briefs and requests. Fair enough?

Yet when we're really busy and don't get so carried away (because we're er ... really busy) we often enjoy better results and win more business. Go figure.

I have. Here's the theory:

When we spend too long responding to briefs and requests we have a tendency to give too much away and/or go off in a direction that proves to be off the mark.

What's more, by the time we've written, edited, rewritten, printed and bound our totally gorgeous presentation we've burned an alarming amount of time ... speculatively (aka free).

These are ideal conditions for the little voice in our head to pop up and gently remind us that we've done it all for nothing. Welcome to the body language of Loser Inc.

There may be another way. I give you: The Discussion Document.

Serving suggestion: To be used when either you don't really know enough about the project or the client, or when you're concerned you're showing all your cards way too early in the relationship.

The set-up: Don't say you'll prepare a document for presentation, say instead you'll prepare a document for discussion.

What I do is write on a sheet or two of A4 all the headings that would normally be in my all-singing, all-dancing presentation. Then under each heading I list sufficient one-liners (with accompanying bullet points) to indicate the thrust of my approach.

As long as I'm clear what I want to say with respect to each comment, I'm happy. Often I'll take my own notes along with me, but only hand out the summary sheets.

When I go to my meeting I talk through the points and elaborate as necessary depending on my client's reaction to what I'm saying. If I'm on the wrong track, I'll be brief. If I've struck a chord, I'll expand.

The use of discussion documents won't suit everyone, but in the right context they can be hugely beneficial. What say you? Leave a comment and let me know.

  • Robert Gerrish

    Robert Gerrish is a coach, author and professional speaker and the founder of Flying Solo (www.flyingsolo.com.au), the Australian online community for solo business owners.