When you’re preparing for a meeting, it’s natural to focus on yourself: your message, your presentation, your talking points. These are important, but it’s just as important to prepare your colleagues, clients, or audience to make the most of your meeting.
This is especially true in hybrid work environments. According to a study published in Nature Human Behavior, hybrid workers tend to be more siloed and are more used to asynchronous communication, which can make it harder for them to convey or process complex information in fast-moving conversations. For this reason, it helps to prime people for real-time communication with a quick walkthrough of what they need to know before a meeting starts.
Linking to a pre-reading document isn’t enough, and all that reading can feel daunting if there’s too much to process in a limited time. That’s why we’ve created this checklist to help you put your meeting attendees in the right frame of mind. We think it’ll help you have more productive conversations—with less wasted time.
1. Define your purpose. If your purpose is simply to give people updates or information, you might be better served replacing your meeting with a recorded video. But if you need people to contribute to a common goal in real time, then define that goal before making other preparations. This will inform what your meeting should include—and what it shouldn’t. As Priya Parker says in The Art of Gathering, “Make purpose your bouncer. Let it decide what goes into your gathering and what stays out.”Knowing whether you want attendees to brainstorm solutions or make a decision can help you determine who needs to be there, how much time you’ll spend together, and what you need to achieve by the end of the meeting.
2. Prepare everyone to participate. Give everyone the information they need to be active participants in the meeting. Providing relevant files and documents can help everyone arrive ready to jump into the discussion, but be careful not to overwhelm them with detail or irrelevant data. If you’re giving participants a lot of homework, a recorded video can go a long way towards introducing and summarizing the key information in advance. It helps you draw everyone’s focus to only the most essential info, which is helpful if you’re sharing docs and spreadsheets loaded with data. And with important stakeholders, a personal pre-meeting note, discussion, or recorded video can prevent the feeling of being blindsided by a surprise.
3. Make your title approachable. Your calendar title is likely the first thing people will see regarding your meeting, so try to make it welcoming. In a survey we conducted in July 2023 among knowledge workers in the United States, we found that people generally respond better to casual titles, like “catch-up” or “chat.” Be wary of dropping the “discussion” bomb on people, lest they book a new meeting to get out of your meeting. (Yes, that’s a thing.)
4. Don’t be an over-inviter. It might be tempting to invite everyone who could contribute. Instead, try inviting only the people who need to contribute. It can be hard to move forward when it feels like the call is filled with silent lurkers. It’s even harder when people who don’t need to be there end up dominating the conversation. Responders to our survey said that 10 attendees usually feels like too many.
5. Watch the time. No one likes to see a brick on their calendar, suddenly breaking up their day. Almost half the people who replied to our survey said that their meetings were too long. Try to schedule only the necessary amount of time.
6. Set a positive tone. Choose a setting, and for video meetings, a background that helps everyone feel included. We recommend forgoing the conference room and going all-video when you have a distributed or hybrid team—even if some of the participants are working together in the same office. This helps to give everyone an equal seat at the virtual table.
It isn’t easy to make meetings productive right out of the gate. So much depends on the individual personalities of your colleagues and co-workers, which you know better than we do. But if you combine that knowledge with a clear purpose and some smart preparations, your meetings can help people do their best work.
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