Meetingsby Steve Roche
You ALWAYS need to do some preparation. For a simple meeting that is held regularly, the preparation is minimal, but still very important. For a larger formal meeting, it could be considerable.
You can use the checklists below to remind you of the things that need your attention before a meeting. Some of these you need to do yourself, others could be delegated.
Why, where, who, when?
- Who owns the outcome of the meeting?
Decide who the ‘owner’ of the meeting is. This will be the person who is responsible for achieving the goal that the meeting is being held to support. Thinking about who owns the meeting ensures that you think about what business goal(s) the meeting is supporting, and why it is being held. For most meetings you run, you will be the ‘owner’.
- Clarify the goals
Ensure that you understand why the meeting is being held and what the desired outcome is. Think about what you (or the meeting owner) would want to see being different after the meeting as a result of the meeting.
A not so obvious part of this process is to determine if the meeting is necessary at all, or if there is some other simpler way to achieve the desired outcome. Many meetings held in business are simply not necessary. What about this one?
When you are setting goals for a meeting, make sure they matter to the people who will be there, and then they will stay engaged in the process.
To help clarify the goals, ask the owner very specifically ‘What will success look like to you? What are your criteria for a successful meeting?’
- Consider the costs
Is the cost of the meeting worth the intended outcome?
If this question was asked more frequently, there could well be a lot fewer meetings called. The highest cost is usually the attendees’ time doing preparation and attending, including travel time. Another overlooked cost is the opportunity cost. What could those attendees have achieved if they were not at the meeting?
You could even work out an actual figure by using rough salaries and overheads figures together with room rates and so on. Is the outcome really worth that much to the organisation?
Think of your meeting as a mini-project with a requirement to deliver on an outcome within a time limit, within a budget and within quality parameters.
How would this change your approach?
- Clarify your role with the owner
If you are not the meeting owner, what is the owner expecting of you and what do you expect from him in return?
- Set the time and date
You need to decide both a start AND a finish time. Ensure that the duration is sufficient to get through the agenda with perhaps a little contingency time. If you are unsure, ask other attendees what they would guess as a reasonable time required.
- Choose the attendees
The two-thirds rule says that each person invited must have information needed for two out of every three agenda items. This is a guideline you can adapt to suit, but it will help cut down talk and time.
Another way to reduce people’s unproductive time in meetings is to have them attend only the parts of a meeting that involve them. This does require good agendas and good time keeping.
- Talk with the attendees if you think this will help prepare you for what might surface at the meeting. Ideally, you don’t want any surprises or ambushes.
- Ensure that the attendees are briefed on what they should be prepared to contribute, such as presenting a report or explaining a process, for example. It is then up to them to bring any handouts or props they need.
- Choose the location
Think about the sort of environment that would be most conducive to getting the meeting outcome. In some busy offices, you may have little choice, so think about how you can make the most of what is available.
- Find a recorder or scribe (if necessary)
Think about what output is required and how that can be created. It may be a formal set of minutes or the collation of brainstorming ideas onto flip charts. The format and type of output should be decided in relation to achieving the meeting goals, not just because it can be done, or it has always been done.
- Identify resource people
Are there any people you will need to attend the meeting, or even just part of the meeting, to provide input? This could be a report from a research team, a person from outside the company to present a proposal, or a presentation of the results of a previous workshop.
- Identify physical resources
Do you need any props to assist the process of the meeting? These could be display props such as laptops and projectors, or that prototype gizmo from research that is being exhibited to the board.
- Notify attendees and confirm attendance
Prepare an agenda
Every meeting needs an agenda which arises out of the reason for having the meeting in the first place. You should create an outline agenda together with the owner before the meeting. The agenda should be ‘flexible’, so that it identifies the main items or tasks to be covered, without going into detail or precise timings. You may want to have a more detailed version which you keep to yourself (then only you know how much you are deviating from the plan).
Be prepared to review the agenda with the group, and modify it as necessary until you have everyone’s agreement before beginning work. Check and re-negotiate agenda items as necessary throughout.
Tips for agendas:
- Keep them short
- Have stated objectives: know what you want to accomplish
- Put the difficult issues first (otherwise time runs out and they get neatly avoided)
- Make sure the order of agenda items is logical and check if any items require other items to be completed first
- Give a specific amount of time to each agenda item
- Avoid lumping too many items under Any Other Business (AOB) If possible, avoid AOB altogether (prevents the ‘executive ambush’).
- List the things will you need to run the meeting, and gather them together in one place so they are ready
- Test any equipment you intend to use, particularly things like electronics. Even test that your marker pens have not dried out.
Many a meeting has failed due to recalcitrant laptops and projectors. Have your material on handouts and be prepared to show your presentation in another way.
- Write an introduction
This may be needed to accompany the agenda that goes out to attendees prior to the meeting. It is used to set the scene, introduce any guest speakers, to make any requests for attendees to familiarise themselves with material they will need to know on the day and so on.
- Write and send out joining instructions
If people are attending at an unfamiliar venue, send them all the information they need to find it, and be on time.
- Prepare a list of attendees (and biographies if necessary)
It is often useful to send out a list of attendees with a little information about each one if the people attending have never met before.
- Confirm site arrangements
If the meeting is not in your own building, you have some extra things to think about.
- What room layout do you want?
- Coffee, tea and refreshments. Who is providing these and at what times?
- Are there any fire alarm tests due during the meeting?
- Are there any special rules of conduct at the venue that you need to be aware of? Safety helmets if a construction site, for instance.
- Are there any special parking issues or permits required?
- How do you control the room lighting and temperature?
- Does the room need to be signposted so attendees can find it?
This is not a complete list, and every venue will be different. You will need to create your own list for your meeting.
Remember to do whatever works for you so that you are in a good and resourceful state when you open the meeting. This may be a few minutes of quiet on your own, or chatting with the attendees who have already arrived. For some more information on how to manage your own state, look in the NLP topic on States and also the Emotional Intelligence topic.