HOW TO: Prepare for an effective meeting

Synopsis

Relevant To: EU, UK, US
Time to read: 20 minutes
Intended Audience: Everyone
Most people can prepare for a meeting with relative ease. Making that meeting a truly effective meeting takes more consideration and effort. Learn how to arrange a very effective meeting.

Before you start

  • Make sure you’re clear about what the purpose of the meeting is, and that you are the right person to be organising it. Good meetings take time and effort to organise and run!

Let’s get started

Step 1: Clarify the purpose

Being clear about what the meeting is for sounds obvious. However, you’d be surprised how many meetings are started without that level of clarity! This can happen because of a regular cadence that no-one questioned, or because the organised wasn’t clear about the meeting when making arrangements.

In this first step, you’ll need to also clarify what outcomes you want from the meeting. For example, are you looking for decisions, or is it a meeting to align the attendees, or a bit of both (like in the case of a governance meeting)?

Step 2: Identify the attendees

Determine what ‘level’ the meeting will be discussing the topic(s): will it be a detailed discussion to help with determining a design or approach, or will it be at a more strategic level discussing direction or more sensitive matters? It’s best not to mix detailed and high-level all in one meeting, as at least half the attendees will be disengaged throughout the entire duration.

When you identified your purpose in Step 1, you will have considered the intended outcomes too. Your intended outcome can only be achieved with the right attendees, so make sure you have those people on the list.

If you’re inviting people from other businesses, have a single point-of-contact to liaise with on who should attend. Go armed with your purpose from Step 1, and with some idea of who is being invited from your team. This information will enable the point-of-contact to identify the correct people in their organisation.

Step 3: Agenda and expectations

You need to circulate the agenda before the meeting, so be sure to give all attendees a chance to contribute to it beforehand.

Either send a message to attendees stating the purpose of the meeting and intended outcomes or call each person directly to seek their input.

Organise the agenda items into a sensible flow. We recommend taking an approach that ‘tells the story’ in a logic sequence. For example, you can’t expect your attendees to understand one agenda item and discuss or make a decision, if the detail and discussion doesn’t happen until further into the meeting. You should also take into account whether there are natural dependencies between agenda items, where the decision on one item will impact another.

Capturing the agenda items and expectations of attendees before the meeting significantly increases the chance of attendees turning-up to the meeting and contributing meaningfully.

Step 4: Prepare the materials

The agenda items and expectations will dictate the materials needed by the attendees.

For a lengthy background or context, we recommend circulating a pre-read beforehand, so all attendees come to the meeting prepared. This is a more traditional approach.

Some businesses, like Amazon, are now taking an alternative approach where context papers are circulated in the meeting. These are then read during the meeting by all attendees and then discussed. There are several benefits to this approach:

  • Everyone will have read the context paper before then discussing it;
  • Should the agenda item be pulled just ahead of the meeting, due to changes in circumstance, no one will have wasted time reading the context paper unnecessarily;
  • It supports the Agile methodology, in that time is only spent on something when it is of high value.

Either way, your materials only need to provide sufficient context for the meeting to be productive. Too much background reading might indicate that the wrong people are attending the meeting, or perhaps the level of information is too granular for the intended attendees.

Step 5: Book a date

Coordinate with the attendees, starting with some of the more key people first. If it’s getting tricky to arrange a date and time, try using a scheduling tool to help.

  • Doodle: a great tool that allows you to easily coordinate meeting dates and times for people in multiple businesses.
  • X.AI: if you’re looking for something a little different, employ the help of an AI bot to coordinate the diary availability for you. (This is our personal favourite!)

Don’t forget to send the pre-read material (if that’s the approach you’ve decided upon), a clear agenda and purpose of the meeting.

Step 6: Send a reminder

Everyone gets busy with work and sometimes even the most important meetings will slip the mind. A simple reminder the day or two before will increase your chances of everyone turning-up and will give attendees a chance to do any last-minute preparation.

What next?

Now you have learnt how to prepare for an effective meeting, let’s extend your skills into running an effective meeting.

FURTHER READING:

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