If you’ve ever had to prep for a meeting, you’ll know that it’s more than simply sending out a calendar invite. Done well, your meeting prep can help set you up for a successful meeting. Done poorly, you can lose track of your purpose and get distracted by discussions that don’t move you forward.
In this guide, we’ll talk about why meeting prep matters and how to prepare for successful meetings. We’ll share 11 steps to help you plan and host better meetings in the future.
Why meeting prep is a must-have
Meeting preparation takes time, but it’s always worth it. Thinking about the meeting time, the speakers, who you invite, and what you’ll talk about means you’ll have a much more successful meeting.
Effective meeting prep can help you:
- Feel more in control of the meeting process
- Maximize the time of everyone invited
- Keep your meetings to time
- Make decisions faster
- Make more strategic decisions
- Make sure your meeting is more inclusive for all
- Create a process that makes managing meetings easier
It’s tempting to rush to put an agenda together and invite everyone you can think of rather than the people who need to be there. Take care with your meeting preparation so you can plan and host a meeting that delivers better results.
How to effectively prep for a meeting in 11 steps
Meeting preparation might be an artform, but you can master it with the help of simple steps and processes. Here’s how to prep for meetings in a more organized way so they can be more effective and productive.
1. Set your meeting goals
Before you can plan your meeting, you first need to understand your goals and desired outcomes. Determine the purpose of your meeting now, so you can make sure that every future decision you make supports it.
Your meeting goal might simply be to get to know your new team member better at their first 1:1 meeting, or it could be to align the team on your goals for the next quarter. Whatever your goal or purpose is, let it guide the rest of your meeting prep process — from who you invite to what you discuss.
2. Schedule the meeting thoughtfully
There’s no perfect meeting time for everyone, especially when your team is distributed, but try to find one that accommodates as many of your meeting invitees as possible. That way, it’s easier for you to make decisions and achieve your meeting goals. Send a poll (or even better, a polly) to your invitees to understand their availability, or check internal calendars for any conflicts before you set a date and time.
It’s not unusual for an agenda item to take longer to discuss than you thought, or for someone to raise new business at the end of the meeting. Plan for this by adding some buffer time to each talking point, with space at the end of the meeting to capture unplanned discussions and to recap.
3. Choose software that fits your virtual meeting
Before you send out meeting invites, choose the best virtual place to meet. Whether it’s a virtual conference room in a dedicated conference app or a meeting room in Microsoft Teams, the place where you host your discussions needs to fit your meeting’s purpose and guest list.
If you want your meeting to be engaging and full of interaction, look for a meeting software tool that offers a virtual chat and breakout rooms. You can also use our integration for Zoom apps to bring more engagement to your Zoom calls. You might also choose a different software for a large-scale virtual meeting compared to a 1:1 meeting.
4. Create an agenda
Every great meeting starts with a well-planned agenda. Your agenda should cover your talking points, who’s responsible for each one, and let your participants know exactly what to expect. Seek meeting agenda templates to use as they are or customize to match the needs of your meeting.
Meeting agendas should be created in collaboration. Reach out to your invitees and stakeholders to gather their input by sending them our meeting prep template. Asking the simple questions on this template helps you make sure your agenda items are relevant, and welcomes fresh ideas for the meeting. Once your agenda item suggestions are in, you can review and add them to your agenda and assign someone to be responsible for them.
5. Invite the right people
We’ve all sat in meetings that we really didn’t need to be in. As you remember these meetings, keep in mind you should invite only the essential participants. Invite guests who are responsible for presenting or making decisions, and those who are there to act as host or take the meeting notes. When you have a small yet intentional guest list, it’s easier to make important decisions and move forward.
When you send your meeting or calendar invites, give your participants as much information as you can. Share the meeting location and time (with a virtual link if you can), the agenda, and any materials you already have — or let them know to expect them in advance when they’re ready.
6. Share your meeting culture
Every company has its own unique take on what makes a successful meeting, or how they run meetings. This is your meeting culture, and it’s helpful to share this with your participants in advance — especially if they’re external or new to the team.
Share a quick summary of how your meetings typically run, so your guests feel more comfortable in an unfamiliar setting. Let participants know if you’re typically cameras-on or cameras-off people, ask them to prepare a short introduction to share, and tell them about all the different ways they can engage during the meeting.
If you’re using Polly, our instant engagement features include emoji responses, optional anonymity, and other features that help create an engaging and informal meeting culture.
7. Send materials in advance
If your participants are there to make decisions, make sure they have all the information they need before the meeting. Avoid sending materials last minute, and give everyone plenty of time to think, analyze, and prepare.
Send reports and background information alongside your agenda, or in the days before your meeting if you need time to prepare them. Let your meeting guests know where they can find information, or who to ask if they have any questions. Not only does this save you time in your meetings, your participants can take time to form their thoughts and do their own research if needed.
8. Communicate before the meeting
While this isn’t a must-have for a regularly scheduled meeting like a team meeting, it’s helpful to check in before a board meeting or client meeting. This check-in gives you a chance to make sure they have everything they need, and to confirm key details like where you’ll be meeting and what to expect.
Make it part of your pre-meeting routine to send a quick check-in email to your meeting participants a couple of days before you meet. Keep it short and simple, but include your virtual meeting link, the latest version of the agenda, any materials to review, and who to contact with questions.
9. Make final preparations
The day before your meeting is the ideal time to make any final arrangements. This way, you’re not scrambling to find the right materials or equipment, and you have time to tackle any roadblocks that might have arisen after you set the meeting.
Use this time to check that any meeting technology works — whether that’s your computer, Zoom link, or virtual whiteboard. Make sure your agenda is up to date and that materials have been sent to your meeting participants.
10. Plan a warm welcome
It’s always nice to see a smile and experience a warm greeting when you enter a meeting room, whether that’s in-person or virtual. Our Zoom icebreakers can help get the team smiling.
A warm welcome and expression of appreciation for coming is especially useful for a meeting with lots of participants — like at an all hands meeting or a town hall meeting — or a meeting about some challenging topics. Create a warm and friendly atmosphere from the start, so it’s easier to encourage people to engage and discuss topics that people are passionate about.
11. Plan to send an update after the meeting
It’s best to send your meeting minutes as soon as possible after the meeting, so plan time in your schedule to get this done. Send out a recap of the action items and who is responsible, so everyone’s clear about the next steps.
This email is also an opportunity to thank your meeting guests for their time and to plan any future discussions. It’s also the ideal time to capture meeting feedback so you can continue to improve your meetings.
Enjoy a more streamlined way to prep for meetings
Meeting management takes time, care, and attention. Once you have the right processes and steps, it’s easy to streamline the experience and create the right environment for successful meetings.
Use these steps to help you prep for meetings in a more organized way and gain more control and clarity over the process. Take advantage of technology where it helps, and bring Polly in as your helpful co-pilot. Discover all the ways that Polly can make meeting management easier today.
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Written by Nicola Scoon
Nicola Scoon is a freelance writer that's passionate about employee engagement and better workplace experiences. She draws on her experience in internal communications to help companies create content that empowers, encourages, and motivates people to create better experiences for all.