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Do Your Homework: Why Even Minor Meetings Require Maximum Prep


Managed to mitigate some of that meeting madness?

That’s great! But we’re not done yet. In our previous post, we challenged you to ditch the mindset that every meeting is a must. Now we want to ensure you’re getting the most out of every meeting you do attend. This is all about what you do before and after the main event – not during it.

First up? A reality check. “The key thing to understand is that the impact of a meeting on your workload or schedule goes beyond the timeframe of the meeting itself,” explains PEPworldwide:nz managing director Kathryn Anda. “There should always be an agenda, report or other relevant material for attendees to review before the meeting takes place. And once the meeting is over, everyone should leave with specific tasks to perform in order to deliver the agreed outcomes. So for every one- or two-hour meeting, you must also factor in the necessary time either side to complete the right preparation and the appropriate follow-up action.” Problems arise, she says, when people don’t allow for this extra time – and it’s an all too common mistake. “If you have 40 hours of meetings every week, how can you realistically achieve the appropriate preparation and follow-ups? You can’t,” she says. “People forget that every time they agree to attend a meeting, it will have an impact on their workload.”

Every meeting = extra homework: a simple formula. Now, most of us have been trying to avoid extra homework since primary school – so if our previous post didn’t convince you to cut back on multiple meetings, perhaps this will. However, take heart – the right preparation and follow-ups aren’t difficult to achieve. And, as always, we’re here to help. So let’s go into a little more detail about what that ‘homework’ for each meeting involves:

A clear agenda.

Pretty obvious, right? But it’s often overlooked when meeting requests are coming thick and fast. However, nailing down exactly what you want to nut out is an excellent exercise in establishing whether a meeting is required at all. “Every meeting needs a clear objective and everyone should understand exactly what preparation is required,” says Anda. “No one should walk into a meeting with nothing prepared – that’s a waste of everybody’s time.” And be ruthless in reining in anyone who deviates from the discussion directly at hand. This is not the time to go off-piste.

"No one should walk into a meeting with nothing prepared – that’s a waste of everybody’s time."

Clarify the “why”.

Ever wondered “Why am I here?” (in a meeting, that is – an existential crisis is beyond the scope of this blog). And if you have wondered why you’re attending, then no, you shouldn’t be there. “How often are we told, for example, that we need to join a meeting simply because someone from overseas will be there?” observes Anda. “But if no one can explain what relevance – if any – this foreign visitor has to your particular role, push back. Everyone present should have a sense of purpose.” Elon Musk (himself no stranger to a confrontational approach, as we’ve seen of late) takes this even further and advocates walking out of a meeting altogether if you have nothing to contribute. However, if you’re following our tips, this potentially dramatic response should – thankfully – not be required.

Who, what, when.

These three words may be little, but their significance is anything but. “Everyone should leave with a clear understanding of their responsibilities going forward,” explains Anda. “What ongoing action is required, who is performing each task and by when does it need to be completed?” Don’t leave a meeting “empty-handed” – that’s as pointless as arriving unprepared.

Context is key.

Never lose sight of the big picture. Just as important as defining a meeting’s objective is clarifying how this objective relates to one or more of your organisation’s key strategies. “If you can contextualise how a particular discussion aligns with your company’s goals, it transforms the whole dynamic of a meeting,” says Anda. “You don’t need to turn every decision into a default discussion. You just need your people to understand what they’re working towards and why. When they get that, it’s powerful.”

Your challenge now? Muddle through no more, people. Make every meeting matter. Deliver a sense of purpose. A positive dynamic. A clear direction.

We think that’s worth a little bit of homework. Don’t you?