How to Prepare for a Meeting

In business, preparation is fundamental for success. Why shouldn’t we give as much attention to preparing for meetings as to preparing for other tasks, activities and challenges? We have all attended meetings that are a permanent fixture on our calendars, only to wonder why we were there. We felt that we could be more effective doing “real work,” which was probably a result of lack of preparation and forethought by the person conducting the meeting. Preparing for a meeting is not particularly complicated, but it does require some thought. Here are some points for consideration:

What is the overall purpose of the meeting? Time is often allocated to creating an agenda, but we recommend that you first focus on the specific purpose of the meeting. What is the overall objective? What is the expected outcome? What decisions need to be made?

Who needs to attend? Once the overall purpose has been established, it will be necessary to understand who needs to be involved. Who has the required knowledge to make key decisions? Which of the stakeholders need to be involved? Who is likely to be responsible for actions resulting from the meeting?

How long should the meeting be? All too often, meetings are scheduled around specific periods of time, the most common of which is an hour. Does the meeting really need to take an hour? What amount of time will really be needed to reach the objective? The length of the meeting should be adjusted according to the objective, and the amount of discussion required to reach it…no more and no less! Note: Finishing on or before the scheduled end time of a meeting is a great example of how to “over-deliver.” 

Where will the meeting take place? Should the meeting be held in the office building or is it best to take the team offsite? A change of scenery can be particularly effective for more creative endeavors such as strategic planning, brainstorming activities and new idea generation. Wherever the meeting takes place, it is imperative that the meeting room is comfortable and large enough for the group and for the type of activity that is planned. If breakout sessions are required, for example, there should be sufficient space for the breakout groups to work autonomously from one another.

Treat the agenda as a guide for your meeting.

Treat the agenda as a guide for your meeting.

Have an agenda. An agenda is simply a list of the topics to be covered and the order in which they will be discussed. Quite simple, isn’t it? However, agendas are typically over optimistic and do not allow sufficient time for each topic. The temptation is to include as many items as possible and to cover them all, regardless of whether the meeting runs past its allotted time. With a clear purpose set, it is much easier to develop an agenda that covers only the topics necessary to achieve the goal. Allow sufficient time to cover each topic and be realistic about the amount of discussion time required. Also, treat the agenda as a guide, rather than an absolute representation of how the meeting will unfold. Doing this keeps the focus on achieving the objective, rather than checking off a list of topics.

Prepare the participants. Is there information that the participants need to prepare for the meeting? Distributing it for review ahead of time will save time in the meeting. Not only will the attendees have a better idea of exactly what will be discussed; if there are decisions that need to be made or problems that need to be solved, they can be thinking about those before the meeting and bring valuable ideas to the table.

There’s an old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” We believe that when it comes to meetings, “An ounce of preparation is worth a pound of success!”