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Better Meetings

How to get better at meeting preparation [+ free checklist]

Meeting preparation blog post featured image

Have you noticed that most meetings tend to be unproductive? You spend 30 minutes listening to status updates, then someone dives into a topic that’s not on the meeting agenda. 

The meeting ends with the promise of more meetings, without having resolved a single action item. It’s a real headache, isn’t it? 

Well, it doesn’t have to be — not if you invest in meeting preparation

This guide will show you the key things to do before a meeting starts, so you can enter the meeting room confident that you’ll gain useful takeaways and move work forward. Let’s get cracking.

Table of contents

  • The importance of meeting preparation

  • How to prepare for a meeting in 9 easy steps

  • Free meeting preparation checklist

The importance of meeting preparation

In many organizations, unproductive meetings are the norm. The kind that don’t end up with any useful decision-making and where nobody actually knows what the purpose of the meeting was. 

According to a study from the University of Nebraska, employees only enjoy meetings when they have a clear objective and when relevant information is shared beforehand. 

That’s why everyone in the organization needs to become a stakeholder in a meeting culture that emphasizes the importance of preparedness. 

Aside from having  a clear meeting agenda, there are a few more things to keep in mind before you schedule your next meeting.

How to prepare for a meeting in 9 easy steps

Meeting preparation doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s only because a lot of people approach it in an unstructured way that it becomes one of those boring administrative activities that’s easy to put off and ignore.

No matter what type of meeting you’re preparing for, these nine steps will help you (and other meeting participants) get the most out of your time together and get productive work done.

Step #1: Define the meeting goal

The first thing you have to do is understand the “why” behind your meeting, aka a clear purpose. Why are you asking people to take time out of their workday and attend a meeting? Is it to brainstorm, make a decision, or plan the next steps of a project? 

Following the “why” is the “what” of your meeting, and ensures you’ll get the desired outcome, such as a deliverable, decision, or next step. 

Remember: If you can’t answer the “why” and “what” questions about the meeting, then the meeting shouldn’t take place. 

Step #2: Create and share a meeting agenda

A meeting agenda is an outline of the meeting goal and and discussion points — in other words, how the meeting will proceed to achieve its objectives.

Knowing why you’re meeting and what you want to accomplish makes it much easier to create and share a meeting agenda. Because other participants may not have time to properly contribute to it, the meeting facilitator should create and own the agenda.

Good agendas have these things in common:

  • Clearly state the goal/purpose of the meeting 

  • List all discussion topics and decisions to be made

  • Leave time and space for notes, questions, and action items 

Once you have all the agenda items set, decide how long to spend on each and put an approximate timing next to each section.

A screenshot of the Vowel meeting agenda feature

With Vowel, you can create a meeting agenda from the same place you view your upcoming meetings. Pick a meeting agenda template or start your own. Tip: Type “/timer” your agenda to add timers to each topic – you can start and stop these during the meeting to stay on track. 

When you’re done, you can share the agenda with team members in one click. It’s all right in the app, so there’s no need for separate docs and shared links.

Whether it’s a first-time 1:1 meeting, a weekly team meeting, or even an all-hands meeting, taking the time to craft a good agenda pays off. That’s because it aligns all the meeting participants and allows you to dive right into the “meat” of the meeting. 

Author’s Note: Want to know how to create agendas in Vowel? Check out this quick tip video

Step #3: Inform everyone who's presenting

If you’re the only one who’ll be presenting at the meeting, you can skip this step.

But this won’t often be the case. Be mindful of the fact that public speaking and presentation don’t come easily to everyone, especially when the meeting is in-person. 

When you’ve decided who needs to present at the meeting, let them know as early as possible, including the topic and how long they have. This info will give them enough time to prepare slides and run through them beforehand. 

Step #4: Attach any supporting material

If there’s any material that attendees need to go over before the meeting, be sure to send it well in advance (at least 24 hours beforehand is a good rule of thumb). The worst thing you can do is spring a 50-slide presentation on people at the last minute and tell them they need to review it before the meeting starts. 

It’s also good practice to clarify which of the materials is a must-read, and which is nice to have. You can include links to meeting pre-reads in the agenda, or send an email out in advance with attachments or links. 

Step #5: Be proactive

Anticipating any obstacles — such as conflicting priorities or missing information that you’re waiting for someone else on — is a key part of effective meeting planning. 

Waiting until the last minute or the start of the meeting to raise these issues will result in a lot of wasted time as everyone tries to work through something that should have been addressed beforehand.

In some cases, there may be too many of these blockers, making the meeting unnecessary or pointless.

So, when you’re done setting the agenda and the meeting objectives, be sure to think through any potential problems and address them before the meeting happens. And don’t be afraid to push for answers on questions you need answered to have a productive gathering.

Step #6: Check if there’s information you can share asynchronously

Once you have the agenda locked and loaded, check to see if there’s information you can share asynchronously with the rest of the attendees beforehand.

Your meeting should focus on things that need to be discussed face-to-face, not things that could have been easily shared over email or Slack.

These are most often questions that you can easily answer before or after the meeting. By getting these out of the way, you’ll let everyone go into the meeting with more clarity and purpose. 

Doing this can be as simple as dropping a few questions in Slack or you can even add a “questions” section to the agenda. Just make sure to give everyone enough time to respond. 

Sharing some info asynchronously gets people on the same page more quickly and can also save time. For instance, if your meetings start with status updates, you could have everyone share them beforehand in your communication app of choice. 

Then you can quickly ask for clarity on anything at the start of the meeting and get to more productive conversations faster. 

Step #7: Get “pre-meeting” work done

Your meeting agenda is like a loose script. For each agenda item, you should think about the things you specifically want to touch on and how your team should prepare to go in.

For instance, if you’re organizing a brainstorming session, you can ask attendees to think of a few ideas before the meeting. That way, they won’t be going into the brainstorming session cold and the creative juices might start flowing faster. 

In many cases, embracing the idea of pre-meeting work leads to more effective meetings. For example:

  • If the point of the meeting is feedback, ask your team members to review the work beforehand by sharing any drafts and materials with them.

  • For OKR progress review, make sure that all the dashboards, metrics, and project management systems are up-to-date. Ask the person in charge of the data to have it ready when the meeting starts. 

  • When looking to make complex decisions, create an email or doc with relevant materials and context and add it to the list of things to read before the meeting (we love this template for collecting decisions beforehand). 

Doing this pre-meeting work gives everyone space to think. Remember: Meetings go smoother when no one feels they’re being put on the spot.

Step #8: Practice what you have to say

Here’s one for your word-of-the-day calendar: glossophobia. It’s fear of public speaking, and according to experts, around 77% of people have some form of anxiety around it. 

So, if the prospect of presenting and speaking in front of people always gets your heart racing a little, you’re not alone. 

Luckily, by practicing what you have to say, you can get confidence and pull that presentation off. You can also come in with prepared meeting notes.

Even if public speaking is second nature to you, you’ll still want to prepare a little bit. Think about how to start and get people engaged – maybe with an interesting story and a nice ice-breaker joke. 

If all you’re doing is presenting slides, make sure to add a little bit of your commentary and insight to the proceedings (and interactive elements, like asking for emoji reactions or hand raises). There are few things as boring as someone just reading off slides for 20 minutes. 

You can do better!

 Step #9: Give people opportunities to contribute

To make sure everyone’s voice is heard but in a way that won’t derail the agenda, think about where it makes sense to add “interaction points.”

These are the spots on the agenda you can set for attendees to actively contribute. 

One quick way to get people to do this is through the use of polls. Many apps will work both for in-person and virtual meetings

In Vowel, you can ask a series of questions and ask people to react via hand raises or emoji reactions. 

You can also take the last 5-10 minutes of each meeting to go over next steps, questions, and action items. 

Vowel in-meeting with emojis feature

Free meeting preparation checklist

Nine steps to better prepare for meetings might sound like a lot — but don’t worry. We’ve prepared a checklist you can download to make sure you stay on track with the whole meeting preparation process. 

Download our FREE checklist here.

How to prepare for better meetings

Meeting preparation is key for organizing and hosting productive meetings that don’t waste anyone’s time. While not every meeting requires the same level of prep, the ones where you’re bringing together multiple stakeholders, making decisions, or planning and working through problems and projects benefit immensely from pre-work. 

By getting everything ready before the meeting starts, you can make sure that you and your team are having useful and productive discussions that lead to great outcomes. 

Looking to better prepare for your meetings and turn them into searchable, shareable knowledge? Sign up for Vowel for free.