This article was based on episode 146 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Get the full episode guide when you become a member at themodernmanager.com/join. Purchase any full episode guide at themodernmanager.com/shop.
How many times have you sent a calendar invite and thought, “Done!” Or maybe you spent a few minutes thinking through the meeting’s purpose in your head, but never wrote anything down. Or perhaps you sent an email suggesting a meeting on a few topics, but didn’t expound any further on what the meeting was meant to accomplish.
Most of us utterly fail when it comes to proper meeting preparation. We’re so busy running from one meeting to another while trying to find time to complete the tasks on our growing to-do list, and also be responsive to our team members via email and email. Unfortunately, this vicious cycle leads to less productive meetings, often resulting in the need for yet another meeting.
The time we have together in a meeting is precious. Instead of winging it, it’s critical we properly prepare ourselves and our colleagues so we can make the most of it. Here’s how you can do that.
DECIDE IF A MEETING IS THE RIGHT COLLABORATION FORMAT
Meetings are only one tool in our collaboration tool box. Before planning a meeting, consider if an alternative might be more effective or efficient. Technology enables us to collaborate in many ways including a written memo, email, voice or video recording of ourselves talking or presenting a slide deck, text or chat message, and collaborative documents. Meetings are the optimal format when the material is sensitive, relationships matter, or you need to bring a group together to process content in real time and come to a quick alignment.
DETERMINE THE DESIRED OUTCOME
Before designing the agenda, you need to know exactly what the meeting will accomplish. While it’s natural to think about why we are holding the meeting, the better question is to ask what this meeting will achieve.
The desired outcome describes what will be different after the meeting. It articulates what success looks like in the language of what’s been achieved. If you find yourself planning a meeting with a verb or action word such as to discuss, to review, to plan, to decide, to update, to introduce, to develop, stop. These are great activities for the agenda, but few of them will help us know whether the meeting accomplished anything. Imagine at the end of the meeting asking if we accomplished our goal of updating participants. Sure people were updated, but so what?
Instead of a meeting purpose of updating the team on the latest marketing campaign results, perhaps the desired outcome is that meeting participants are informed of the prior campaign results and feel prepared to incorporate the insights or learnings and run the next round of campaign experiments. The difference may seem nuanced, but it’s meaningful.
PLAN THE ACTIVITIES
Now that you know what the meeting aims to achieve, you can design the activities that will get the group there. While open discussion is useful, there are many other ways to engage people. Consider preparing specific questions for the group to respond to as well as using sticky note activities, mind mapping, workshopping a piece of content, polling or a word cloud, a creative activity, whiteboarding, brainstorming, and sharing round robin. The possibilities are endless regardless of whether you’re meeting in person or virtually.
PREPARE THE PRE-WORK
What a difference it makes when everyone enters the room ready to dive in. Often, in order to make the most of a group’s time together, it helps to have participants complete some learning, reflecting, or task prior to gathering.
To identify what pre-work is necessary or helpful, ask yourself the following questions:
What do participants need to know in order to be ready for this discussion?
What do I want participants to think about ahead of time so that they bring their best thinking into the room?
What activities can people do ahead of time so that we can spend more time in the meeting processing together?
Pre-work takes many forms including reading, watching or listening to a document, voice or video message, article, video or podcast, adding comments to a collaborative document, reflecting on a set of questions, answering a poll or survey, filling out a template, or any other activity. Sometimes pre-work materials already exist while other times they must be created. While it takes time to write up a summary or record yourself giving a presentation, it’s worth the investment and will pay off in having more time during the meeting for conversation instead of information transfer.
COMMUNICATE WITH MEETING PARTICIPANTS
In order for your meeting participants to properly prepare, you must give them clear instructions and adequate time to complete the pre-work activities. When sharing pre-work, a suggested “review the attached” isn’t enough. Instead include the following in your request:
An explanation of why this pre-work will help the meeting be successful
What specifically people need to do
How long the activity will likely take
When the pre-work needs to be completed by
By sharing clear pre-work instructions along with the agenda you provide your meeting participants with the information they need to prepare for a productive meeting. When everyone comes ready to engage, you’ll experience the power of proper meeting preparation.
Get the full episode guide when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at themodernmanager.com/join. Or, purchase an individual episode guide at themodernmanager.com/shop to help you implement the learnings and continue to enhance your rockstar manager skills.
This article was based on episode 146 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.