Making Meetings Suck Less: Preparation

“The will to win is worthless if you do not have the will to prepare!” — Thane Yost

You might think you don’t have to prepare for every meeting you attend.

You’re wrong.

If you’re going to meetings you get paid to bring your brain. You get paid to be focused and present, not to do check text messages or plan your kid’s birthday party. Every little thing you do that doesn’t help move the meeting forward, everything that distracts you from being present, contributes to make the meeting suck.

Even if your preparation consists of reviewing the agenda and meeting minutes from the last meeting, and making sure you’re completed your actions (the actions you entered into your personal productivity planner and completed when you first received the minutes), it gets you in the right frame of mind to make sure the meeting is productive, effective, and focused.

No matter the size or purpose of a meeting, preparation for all participants is directly proportional to its success. If you are running the meeting this goes double. This means having an agenda published ahead of time, and distributed to all the attendees in enough time for you and them to prepare properly.

Agenda is key. For a complex, multi-day, large meeting you may have to meet to decide the agenda and attendees! This may seem a little Dilbertesque, but if it clearly supports the purpose of the meeting you’re preparing for, then go for it. Having a stand-up meeting in your office a half an hour before an important client meeting is different. That’s called “panicking”.

Don’t be that manager: walking into a key, client facing meeting and winging it. It’s embarrassing for everybody concerned, and the only person you’re fooling is yourself.

Consider the following for your meeting agendas:

  1. Purpose – if you don’t have a clear purpose, then go back to setting goals. Even a weekly staff meeting should have a purpose that lines up with the team’s purpose. It doesn’t hurt to reinforce what the team’s priorities are.
  2. Time & Location – this may include an appropriate map for people coming from out-of-plant or out-of-town.
  3. Attendees – whose attending by name, company, and role as applicable. If you’re the boss make it clear to anyone that can’t attend that you expect them to send a delegate in their place. It’s a great development opportunity!
  4. Special Instructions – instructions for teleconferencing, security, etc.
  5. Description – a short but meaningful description of the purpose of the meeting. Think: “This meeting will be successful if _____.” Keep it to one line.
  6. Agenda Items, including
    1. Start time and responsible person – when to start and who is leading the discussion for this item. The start time for the next item is the end time for the current item.
    2. Description – a short but meaningful description of what to discuss, decide, or debate.
    3. Outcome – if you set up your agenda in three columns, “Outcome” is the blank column for making notes, capturing action items and due dates, etc. An easy way for you and the attendees to keep notes.

The last agenda item should be “clean-up”; a review of the action items (who does what by when), setting or confirming the date and time for the next meeting,etc.

So, if you’re leading a meeting,

  1. Create and publish an agenda of the appropriate level of detail.
  2. Facilitate, take notes, and take part in the meeting. Be present. Depending on the meeting you may wish to delegate the note-taking or facilitation or both to somebody else
  3. Create and publish minutes of the meeting as soon as possible, while the details are still fresh.