How to manage your first meeting with a project sponsor

It’s a chance to impress a sponsor. This is your chance to impress your sponsor and get the project started. This will give you an idea of how you will work together to achieve your goals.
What do you actually talk about with a project sponsor when you first meet them? Five project managers were asked to share their experiences with the project sponsor. Here’s what they had.
1. Learn More About Them
I learn as much about them as possible, their background, and what they love most about their job. It gives me a good idea of how to best tailor my interactions with them.
Helen Curel, UK
2. Establish Trust
In short, you should try to get to know your team members and build trust. Learning Tree was a great tool for influencing people. It was one of the best courses I took in Project Management. According to the course model, influence is nearly impossible without trust. The course was mainly about how to quickly build trust by observing the values of others.
I currently have three projects. One sponsor is a senior manager who has extensive sponsorship experience. She is organized, pragmatic, and driven. She loves detail and is always aware of any risks and issues.
Another sponsor doesn’t care about the details but wants to feel that the project progresses well. She wants the project manager not to focus on the details of the meeting. Meetings are focused on people-related issues. She finds a detailed agenda frustrating because she wants to focus on the members’ feelings. She is great at getting people involved and being with people.
The third sponsor is a mixture of both. He is not experienced in project management and feels threatened by the possibility of things going wrong. He is a great leader and can get people involved. Once he understands the issue, he can make quick decisions.
As project manager, I must quickly understand the strategy I use when interacting with sponsors. To establish trust, I must understand their values. I don’t dive into project-related matters until I know their responses. This should be done in a team meeting, where I can observe them and get to know them. If possible, I follow up with a 1-to-1.
Paul Nicholson, MBCS UK
3. Start building a relationship
I try to put my efforts into building a relationship. Factual discussions are important, e.g. what is their rationale for the project (and that is also what most sponsors expect from a first meeting), but I use that more as a lever for relationship-building rather than an end in itself.
We hope to have more meetings to discuss these issues. It is important to discuss our expectations from each other right from the beginning. Include the time that the sponsor is able to dedicate to the project.
David, Sweden
4. Listen
Listen. Notes I have my own agenda. What are the underlying problems? What can we do to overcome them?
Claire Sezer, FCILEx, UK
5. Take a look at The Bigger Picture
Ask them to explain their roles and responsibilities and the impact they expect the project will have on the organization.
Dave Gordon, USA, blogs at The Practicing IT Project Manager. He is also on Twitter as @PracticingITPM
How to get your first conversation right
You can learn a lot from the experiences of real project managers. Hopefully these stories will give you some ideas for your first meeting.
You want to achieve a combination of big-picture thinking and forward-planning. What are their overall goals for the project? How much time will they dedicate to it? This will help you to start your relationship off in a positive way.
As Paul and David said, the details can come later. You want to leave the meeting with an idea of who this person is.