CEO: The most important thing you can say at a meeting

Next time you meet with a co-worker, client or potential client, or media contact, consider uttering this phrase.


The most important phrase you’ll ever say in a meeting isn’t “please” or “thank you.” It isn’t “How are you?” to open the meeting or “What are the next steps?” to close the meeting.

The most important phrase you’ll ever say in a meeting is: “How can I help you?”

My father-in-law taught me to show your friendship first. There’s no better way to show that you care about the person you’re meeting with than to genuinely, authentically ask her what you can do to help.

There are two possibilities when you ask how you can help:

1. The person will tell you, thereby giving you an opportunity to help, after which the person you helped will feel compelled to return the favor, and help you.

2. The person won’t tell you, instead politely declining, but then she will still feel like you care, and will be emotionally invested in helping you.

Either way, establishing that you care and that you’re there to help is a powerful emotional bond. It’s a paradox, I know—you’re not meeting with someone to find out how you can help, you’re likely meeting to get something sold, or bought, or done. But it’s through helping that you’ll gain trust, and eventually, influence.

Nine months ago, Michael Kislin, a financial advisor, met with me for the first time, and asked me, “How can I help you?” I told him about my startup venture Likeable Local, and said I could use some introductions to technology investors. He asked me a bunch of questions to learn more, and soon after, introduced me to several people he thought could help me. Then I called him to thank him, and thought to ask him to tell me more about what he did. I soon became a client of Michael’s.

Three weeks ago, I met with an employee for a one-on-one for the first time, and asked her, “How can I help you?” She told me how I could help make her job easier, more productive, and more efficient. I helped her, and now she’s more productive than ever before.

If it seems simple, it is. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a customer, a prospect, or a colleague you’re meeting with—we all like to be cared about, and we all can use some help. Just make sure you’re genuine, never contrived, and ask in your next meeting, “How can I help you?”

What do you think of this approach? Are there other important phrases to utter in a meeting?

Dave Kerpen is chairman of Likeable Media and CEO of Likeable Local and Likeable Dentists. This first story first appeared on his LinkedIn blog.

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