Planning and Preparing for Meetings

Planning and Preparing for Meetings

The first step in making your meeting effective begins with your planning and preparation activity. Determining the purpose of your meeting, the people who should attend, and the place of the meeting will form the foundation on which you will build your agenda, decide what materials you need, and identify the roles each attendee hold in the meeting. In addition, planning and preparing for your meeting helps to reduce the stress that may result from managing a meeting, because you will avoid unexpected incidents and issues that could derail your meeting.

Identifying the Participants

Determining your meeting participants is an important planning step. You should not approach this casually. Who attends your meeting could help or hinder the meeting dynamics. There is a tendency to invite everyone you know in an effort to cover all angles. This is overkill. Before you think about whom to invite, think about the purpose of the meeting. This will help you determine who should be invited. Be specific when determining the purpose of the meeting. For example, if you are meeting to resolve a problem, invite only those who are capable of providing solutions to the problem. Avoid inviting a high-ranking manager, who could thwart solutions before they are developed.

On the other hand, if your meeting is to come to a decision on a policy or product, do not invite people who do not have the power to enact those changes. Having people who cannot contribute to the meeting will exclude them and affect the meeting environment. Identifying the purpose of your meeting first will help to determine who should attend. Here are some common reasons to call a meeting:

Problem solving

Decision making

Conflict resolution

Project initiation



Once you determine your meeting purpose, you can list all the names of the participants you wish to attend. Once this list is created, then determine what each participant will contribute to the meeting. If a participant is deemed a non-contributor, they should be removed from the list. When all non-contributors are removed, you should have a good list of participants for your meeting.

Choosing the Time and Place

There are several considerations you must address when planning the time and place of your meeting. For instance, the time of day is essential if your meeting is meant to be a brainstorming session or problem-solving meeting. Setting these types of meetings right after lunch or late in the day could be a frustrating experience. Humans after lunch are usually lethargic and meetings at the end of the day are plagued with participants looking at the clock in anticipation to leave work and go home.

Meetings that require energy and high level of participation are best scheduled between 8 and 9 AM in the morning. Most workers are not engaged in their daily work yet so you will have their attention and energy for use in your meeting. The next best time for a meeting is around 3 PM. This gives your participants enough time to recuperate from their lunchtime meal. It also gives you at least an hour of cushion before your participants start thinking about going home. Meetings that are low key could be scheduled anytime during the day. Just remember not to schedule them to close to lunch or the end of the workday.

The location is also important to your meeting dynamics. Try to schedule your meeting in a well-lit spacious room. If you can get a room with windows, do so. Dark and cramped rooms will bog down your meeting. Some people get claustrophobic and are distracted by their surroundings. A couple of other things to consider are the need for privacy or if you intend to have an outside visitor attend. If the meeting topic is of a sensitive nature, then getting a meeting room with more privacy will make participants more comfortable to discuss the issue. Furthermore, if you plan to have an outside visitor attend your meeting, get a room that is closes to the main entrance. This way your visitor does not have to search the halls of your organization in search of your meeting.

Creating the Agenda

Creating the agenda can be easy if you know what to do in advance. The SOAP technique helps to collect the topics, organize them, and select the ones that will contribute the most to your meeting.

Seek topics from your participants: send an email to the list of participants you created, asking for agenda topics. Give a brief explanation of the purpose of the meeting and an idea of what you are looking for in terms of topics. Do not make this the formal invitation. When you make the request, make sure you ask the participants for the time they need to discuss their topic, and provide a deadline to get their topic to you so it can be included on the agenda.

Organize topics into a list: once you receive the topics, organize them into a list along with the time and the name of the presenter. This will give you the ability to scan through the list, narrowing it down to the topics you will select for the agenda.

Assess which topics are relevant to the meeting purpose: with your list organized, determine which topics are the most relevant to the purpose of the meeting. Scratch out those topics you do not intend to use.

Pick the number of relevant topics that will fit into your meeting time:  review the time of the remaining topics. Select the enough topics to fill the time of your meeting minus ten minutes. Give yourself ten minutes for meeting overrun. If you go over, you will end on time. If you do not, then you get to adjourn your meeting early, making everyone happy.

Remember to contact the presenter that had their topic removed from the agenda, explaining the reason why it was not put on the agenda and recommending that topic be saved for another meeting.

Gathering Materials

Each meeting you hold will require both basic and special materials. Your job as the meeting manager is to determine what you need and acquire them in advance, avoiding last minute surprises.

The SHOWS acronym stands for stationary, handouts, organizer, writing tools, and special requests. Let us break down each letter so you get a better understanding of what this means.

Stationary: this is all the paper you will need at the meeting. It includes, note pads, sticky notes, index cards, envelops, tape, paper clips, folders, and flip chart. Each meeting is different. You do not have to bring everything on this list. Determine what is going to take place at the meeting and materials needed for each activity or presentation. It is also wise to consult with the people on your agenda to see if they are going to facilitate activities that require stationary.

Handouts: many times you or your presenters will need to distribute handouts. There could be a worksheet or an outline from an electronic presentation. In any case, you should consult with your presenters and acquire any handouts they may use. Determine if the handout they are giving you will be the most up-to-date version. If not, have them send it to you when they finalize it.  Remember to set the expectation to have it a day or so in advance, giving you time to print and file it in your handout organizer.

Organizer: when it is time to meet, the last thing you want to do is show up with a stack of handouts. Using an organizer like a portable accordion file or Pendaflex is an easy way to file your handouts and other stationary materials in one container. The filing system will allow you to file the documents in an orderly fashion, making distribution of the materials more professional. You want to avoid shuffling handouts around in front of your participants when it comes time to distribute them.

Writing tools: this includes pens, markers, highlighters, and dry erase markers you may need for your meeting.

Special requests: from time to time, your presenters may make a special request. An example could be a poster. Ask your presenters ahead of time for special requests.

Sending Invitations

Many times invitations are sent without much thought. We figure the sending mechanism, whether it is Outlook or any other type of electronic program, will do the job effectively. It is wise to use an electronic tool for your invitation; however, there is more thought that should go into it. The three “P” approach gives a consistent and clear method of structuring your meeting invitation. Here is the breakdown:

Purpose: the purpose of your meeting must be stated up front. It is not enough to put in the subject line: “Planning Session.” The vagueness of your purpose could result in low attendance. Be specific with your purpose. Instead of “Planning Session,” you could state, “Planning our budget for the first quarter.” In addition, you should attach your agenda, which gives more detail of the discussion topics.

Place and Time: determine ahead of time where and when the meeting will take place. Avoid sending out invitations with a to-be-determine (TBD) message. The more effort you place on getting the details done in advance the more your attendees will take you seriously. In addition, provide clear instructions on the exact location.

Pact: create a sense of binding agreement by setting expectations so you get the most responses as soon as possible with a level of commitment. For example, state, “Please respond to this invitation within 48 hours.” Also, set a cancellation policy by stating, “If you need to cancel, please call, or email me as soon as possible.” You could also include a statement that states, “Upon acceptance of this invitation, you are expected to attend.” Finally, you could also include a statement like this, “This meeting is a planning session, and your participation and idea-sharing will be greatly appreciated.”

Structuring your invitation with clear and concise information and expectations sends the message that you are seriously managing this meeting. You do not want to be famous for holding boring and inefficient meetings. This is something that takes a long time to correct.


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