When meetings go right, they’re painfully predictable. (In a good way.)
A meeting is called.
Everyone who’s there is someone who should actually be there.
The attendees are prepared and focused.
Updates are given. Decisions are made. Tasks are assigned.
And then—the meeting ends.
This predictability is why a meeting preparation checklist is so useful. You can download or copy this meeting prep checklist as a GoogleDoc.
(By the way, this checklist is based off of best practices from the Vital Meetings framework.)
To develop this checklist, we examined companies known for their effective meeting cultures—companies such as Amazon, Atlassian, Zoom, Slack, and Apple. We also interviewed dozens of professionals across all types of organizations about their meetings and meeting-related challenges.
The sum of that research a simple set of values and practices for better meetings used by high-performing teams. Let’s dive into how to check off your key tasks in preparing for a meeting.
To easily identify the purpose of a meeting, examine the why behind it. If there are no clearly definable goals, the meeting should not be held. If there are, then the purpose for the meeting likely stems from them.
In other words, your purpose is the reason your meeting exists, i.e. to discuss a conflict, share development goals, etc.
State that purpose upfront, so everyone knows why they've been invited to the meeting.
It's more common than you might think for people to have a meeting, only to walk away needing another meeting. Usually the reason is a failure to make a final decision. So, to avoid wasting people's time, make sure to list out what decisions must be made for the meeting is adjourned.
To encourage note-taking, leave empty space in the agenda, like a list of bullet points at the end for "Action Items".
Also, remember for when the meeting happens, your meeting notes do not need to be a verbatim accounting of everything that happened. They should, however, highlight what was accomplished, what responsibilities were given, and what decisions were made.
Usually, these notes can be taken in real time during the meeting but you can also complete them from memory after.
Good meeting preparation includes having an agenda. You now have all the mains parts of a good agenda:
After you create the agenda, make sure it’s shared by creating a calendar invite with an agenda link right inside it.
Why share the agenda in the calendar invite? Well, often people don't see the agenda until they show up in a meeting, which gives them no time to prepare their thoughts. Other times, an agenda is shared in an email, or in chat, or alluded to in conversation. Having the agenda outside of the calendar makes it much harder for someone to match it to the meeting.
Remember: Everyone should be able to find the meeting’s purpose, agenda, notes, and associated tasks in the same shareable place every time: the calendar entry.
Ready to send out that invite? Hold on there, cowboy! Look at your attendee list and think carefully about who needs to be invited to your meeting. If you’ve clearly defined the purpose of your meeting, it should be straightforward to select only the relevant participants.
Look again and see if you've doubled up by inviting people who bring the same knowledge or decision-making power to the meeting. Who else can you cut?
When you send the invite, if at all possible, schedule the meeting so it's clustered around other meetings for your participants—although not so many hours of meetings they're likely to be exhausted. This shows respect for your attendees because your meeting is less likely to split their focus. (This can also improve engagement at the meeting.)
At the end of your meeting, all action items should be assigned to a directly responsible individual (DRI). In other words, when you agree to do something, always decide who will own it.
For a big meeting, it can be helpful to have a sense of who these DRIs will be in advance.
And remember, the DRI doesn’t have to be the person who ultimately does the work. Though they are the person who is responsible for carrying the idea forward and making sure it gets done. Note that person’s name next to any task they are responsible for.
This isn't part of your meeting prep, but it can be helpful to think about when preparing for a meeting. Who wasn't invited to the meeting but should know about what happened? You'll want to send meeting notes to them, as well as everyone who attended the meeting in case they want to refer back to something.
When you send your notes out, you may not fully know everything about each meeting task yet. However, you should know who the DRI is, and you hopefully have a sense of when the task will be completed or moved along.
Share that information with your organization within 24 hours. At first, this new process may seem like a lot of extra work. But in practice, far more time is wasted in meetings that are unclear about their objectives, have a free-for-all approach to notes, and have undocumented results.
You can also copy this checklist from this Google Doc.
As I said in the beginning of the article, these principles are based on Vital Meetings. As part of the short (and free) guide to Vital, you can also download a free printable copy of our Meeting Room Cheat Sheet and hang it up in your conference room (or your home office).
Take the time to ensure every meeting follows these principles, and you’ll save much more time in the long run.
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