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How to prepare for a meeting

This articles discuss on how one shall prepare for a meeting especially if you are the organizer.

In order to prepare for a meeting, follow these six steps:

  1. Determine the purpose or objective of your meeting
  2. Determine if the meeting is actually necessary or not
  3. Create the agenda of the meeting
  4. Create / determine the attendee list of the meeting
  5. Identify the tools needed
  6. Make the final preparation

Determine your purpose

The purpose for a meeting drives all other key steps in preparing for a meeting, including what you put on the agenda, whom you invite, and when and where you hold the meeting.

Meetings have several basic purposes:

  • Solve a problem. A challenge is defined, such as unexpectedly rapid expansion of the business or declining product quality. Participants suggest ways to address the challenge. To get the most value from such a meeting, participants must be able to understand the problem. And they need enough energy and the right expertise to solve it.
  • Make a decision. The group selects a solution to implement. With this kind of meeting, participants need to agree on how decisions will be made.
  • Provide updates. Participants might report and give feedback on something, such as the status of an important project.
  • Brainstorm ideas. Participants try to generate as many ideas as possible, such as ideas for a new product, service, business process, or business model.
  • Rally the troops. The leader makes a presentation and tries to inspire participants to take a particular action.

A meeting can have more than one purpose. For example, if you hold a weekly staff meeting to update your team on the status of their work projects, you might also use the meeting to solve problems facing your group.

Do you need a meeting?

If you’re like most managers, you spend a bigger chunk of your workday in meetings than you’d like. Meetings interrupt your workflow and eat up hours you could be spending more productively.

While there’s often no way around gathering people in a room or on the phone to discuss an issue, it’s rare that managers stop to consider whether a meeting really needs to happen.

To determine if you need a meeting, consider your purpose. Also consider other criteria such as whether you need input from a group and whether the subject of the possible meeting is truly worth everyone’s time.

When to meet

In general, call a meeting when you:

  • Need a group to take part in making a decision, solving a problem, providing updates, or brainstorming ideas
  • Want to provide updates to a group—project status, a success, a concern
  • Face a problem that needs input from members of different groups
  • Discover that your team members feel a strong need to meet

When not to meet

It’s better not to hold a meeting if:

  • The subject is a personnel issue that’s better handled one-on-one, such as an employee’s poor performance
  • You don’t have time to prepare
  • Your group members are upset over a conflict or other problem and need time apart before being ready and able to address the situation (cool-down period)
  • Another method of communicating—email, phone, text message—would work as well or better
  • The subject isn’t worth everyone’s time

Create an agenda

If you’ve decided you need to hold a meeting, create an agenda: determine agenda items, the length of the meeting, sequence the discussion appropriately, and specify logistics.

Agenda items

To determine your agenda items, consider the meeting’s purpose, then the items that need to be discussed in order to achieve the meetings’ goals. Decide how much time you will grant to each item.

Include only as many agenda items as the group can realistically handle in the time allotted for the meeting.

Meeting length

Allotted time for the entire meeting depends on its purpose and its agenda items. Most business meetings are 30 minutes to two hours long. Although I’ve been in meeting which take 2 full days, and honestly, the meeting was highly unproductive and in general a waste of my time.

Usually, shorter meetings are more useful than longer ones because people have limited attention spans. Studies show that people have attention spans of no longer than about 30-40 minutes. If a meeting goes longer than that, participants may start squirming with impatience. When you’re deciding how much time to allot for a meeting, keep this in mind.

Sequence agenda items

Sequence your agenda items to create an optimal flow to the meeting.

  • Look for issues that build on each other.
  • Start with a few easy issues. Then work up to the most complex or controversial ones. But take care not to run out of time for the most important discussion items.
  • Separate information-sharing issues from problem-solving, decision-making, or brainstorming ones.
  • During long meetings, such as off-sites, address the most difficult issues at a time when participants are at their most focused. Attendees probably won’t be at their best just before or just after lunch, for example.
  • Break complex issues down into manageable parts.

Logistics

In your meeting agenda, indicate logistics such as:

  • Date, time, place, and length of the meeting
  • Name of the person calling the meeting, names and roles of participants, or name of the group that’s meeting
  • Anything unusual about the meeting format, such as the fact that the meeting will be held online or at an offsite location
  • Any background materials participants will need to review or prepare before taking part in the meeting

In selecting a setting for your meeting, book as small a room as everyone can comfortably fit in. This fosters a more cohesive group experience and encourages everyone to participate.

Also choose a room size and seating arrangement that will best help you reach your objectives. For example, if you want to encourage the free exchange of information and opinions, use an informal setting and seating arrangement, arrange tables so people can see each other, and use round tables to deemphasize hierarchy.

Some careful thought can help you schedule your meeting so that people arrive on time and have the energy to focus on your agenda.

  • Schedule it when most participants aren’t in back-to-back meetings.
  • Avoid meeting first thing in the morning, when people are rushing to get to work; and the end of the day, when people are tired.
  • Avoid scheduling a meeting right before vacations, when people are rushing to finish their to-do lists, not yours.
  • Provide snacks to keep everyone’s energy levels up if you need to schedule a just- before-lunch or end-of-day meeting.
  • Try to limit the meeting time to no more than one hour. If there’s really that much to cover, break the information into several smaller meetings.

Decide who to invite

The purpose of your meeting helps you determine whom you invite. Identify individuals who need to take part in the meeting. Select the right number of invitees. And clarify what roles each person will play during the meeting.

Who

Invite people to your meeting who:

  • Are the key decision makers for the issues involved
  • Can give relevant input
  • Have a commitment to, a stake in, or a role in the issue
  • Need to know the information that will be reported in the meeting in order to do their jobs
  • Will have to implement any decisions made during the meeting

To make sure key players attend, invite them personally and make sure the meeting fits into their schedules. Remind them of how they and others will benefit if they attend the meeting. Also, notify them if they will play a specific role.

How many

To determine how many people you should invite to a meeting, consider using the “8-18-1800” rule:

  • If you have to solve a problem or make a decision, invite no more than eight people. If you have more than eight people, you may receive so much conflicting input that it’s difficult to deal with the problem or make the decision at hand.
  • If you want to brainstorm, then you can go as high as 18 people.
  • If the purpose of the meeting is to rally the troops, go for 1,800 or more.
  • If the purpose of the meeting is for you to provide updates, invite however many people need to receive the updates. If everyone attending the meeting will be providing updates, limit the number of participants to no more than 18.

Roles

In selecting people to invite to the meeting, think about the roles and responsibilities that will need to be covered. One individual may fill several roles in a meeting.

Your roles

As a meeting leader, you might fill numerous roles during a meeting to address challenges that can arise.

Identify communication tools and technologies

Identify the kinds of tools you’ll need in the meeting such as phones, whiteboards, computers, flip charts, and markers.

Also consider the need for communication technologies, such as videoconferencing, teleconferencing with Internet support, and Web conferencing. The best meetings are face-to-face, especially when highly contentious matters are at stake or when a topic is emotional or sensitive. But with so many people working remotely, face-to-face isn’t always possible. In fact, more and more meetings today are conducted not around a conference table but through communication technologies:

  1. Video-conferencing. Videoconferencing enables colleagues who work in diverse locations to meet without leaving their offices. However, it can be complicated and typically requires the help of people with technical skills. For basic video, each conference participant needs the appropriate computer, camera, audio equipment, software, and internet connection.
  2. Tele-conferencing with Internet support. When you need to tie remote participants together and exchange visuals or data in real time, a teleconference with internet support can be an alternative to videoconferencing. If you have lots of data to exchange, ensure that all parties have high-speed internet connections. Otherwise, delays will keep some participants behind. Test the connections beforehand. Offer a quick tutorial to everyone at the beginning of the call if the software or website is unfamiliar to some.
  3. Web conferencing. Web conferencing can cover a wide range of possibilities, from simple slide sharing on a website to full streaming video. In general, the more bandwidth required and the more complicated the transmission that’s being attempted, the more likely things may not work perfectly. Test the technology beforehand, and opt for the simplest possible connection.

Make final preparations

Before the meeting, make final preparations:

  • Collect relevant documents and data.
  • Distribute relevant information beforehand, especially if doing so will help shorten the meeting.
  • Circulate the agenda you’ve created.
  • Talk with stakeholders about their opinions of and objectives for the meeting.
  • Encourage stakeholders to complete any pre-work needed for the meeting, such as reading documents or developing suggestions.
  • For people who have an interest in the meeting’s outcome but who won’t be there, send them the agenda and let them know that you’ll be holding the meeting.

As a final check to ensure that you’ve prepared adequately, ask yourself:

  • Am I clear about the meeting’s purpose?
  • Do we really need this meeting?
  • Have I covered all required information in the agenda?
  • Do I know how decisions will be made during the meeting?

If you answer “no” to any of these questions, take whatever actions are needed in order to answer “yes.”

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