The next time – or anytime – you’re planning a meeting, there’s one thing you must do to get the most out of it.
Even after planning meetings for years I didn’t know this simple step – and wound up in a very uncomfortable situation.
I had a project meeting that involved a director who was known for being intimidating. He had high expectations of his team, and his reputation was well-known. I had not met him before and wanted to make every effort to hold a meeting that met his high standards.
I put forth extra effort to carefully prepare the agenda and ensure all the critical participants could attend.
On the day of the meeting, I was nervous, yet sure I’d done everything needed to have the best meeting possible.
As we came together we made small talk around the table as participants arrived a few minutes before the start time.
I watched the clock and started the meeting promptly at the appointed start time.
I turned our attention to the first item on the agenda, ready to go.
Immediately the director interrupted, “Excuse me.”
All eyes turned to him.
Then he calmly said, “Before we start, I’d like to know the purpose of this meeting.”
Wait…what? I hadn’t anticipated this question.
Everyone turned from him back to me, waiting to hear my answer.
I froze like a deer in headlights.
Time seemed to expand.
And as I sat there frozen, I realized I couldn’t give a clear answer. I wanted to point to the agenda and say “Here. It’s here.” But these were bullet points on a page – not a clearly identified meeting purpose.
I stammered a bit and managed to pull together a cohesive sentence that generally summed up why we were meeting. But it was obvious I didn’t have a clear focus. We then spent time discussing the meeting purpose and goals. Only then did we move forward on the agenda.
I’d been thrown off my game, but it all ultimately turned out fine.
And I learned something valuable that I’ve never forgotten. From that moment forward I never plan a meeting without being very clear on the purpose. This one simple step has improved my meetings immensely.
As soon as you decide to have a meeting, do this first:
Identify the purpose of your meeting.
Then put your meeting purpose at the top of your agenda to make sure everyone else knows what it is, too.
How to Identify Your Meeting Purpose
Usually, it will be easy for you to identify your meeting purpose. But if you’re having trouble with it, simply ask yourself what you want to accomplish by the end of the meeting.
“By the end of the meeting, what will we have accomplished?”
Or you could complete this sentence: By the end of the meeting, we will have ________________(fill in the blank).
This helps you narrow your focus to clearly identify your goal for the meeting.
This simple step has several benefits.
Benefits to identifying your meeting purpose:
- You can better decide if you actually need to have a meeting. If your goal is to share a recent status and there’s no need for discussion, then you can possibly accomplish it by sending a report.
- You’ll be better able to assess who needs to be involved. For example, if the goal is to get a final decision on a software vendor or approval process, you know you need to invite key decision makers.
- You’ll be able to create an agenda that supports the purpose.
- You can communicate it to others so they come prepared.
- You can start your meeting by reminding attendees of the purpose. This gets everyone focused on the main goal as you move into your agenda.
Once you begin this practice, it will become second nature. It’s such a simple step, and yet provides so much value to your meeting.
For more on creating a meeting agenda and notes, including a free template and samples, visit this post:
Download the templates there for easier meeting prep!