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It’s amazing to me how many people I’ve worked with over the years who seem to put absolutely no thought into how to prepare better for meetings and calls.
Look, the sad fact of the matter is — much of our work these days is task-driven, and many of those tasks occur across three spheres:
- Phone/Conference Calls
I guess you could add ‘business travel’ as a fourth here.
All 3 (or 4) are incredibly fraught in their own right: for example, meetings are typically a rehash of things everyone knows and don’t drive any ‘strategy’ forward. E-mails are basically just the purest representation of business hierarchy. Conference calls are typically where people do other things — like eating, or catching up on e-mails. And if your whole life is work travel, good luck proving any ROI there.
All this said, how could you prepare better for meetings and calls — and maybe make them a bit meaningful?
Prepare better for meetings and calls: The pre-context
I’ve done variations of this throughout my career, but now that I’m mostly doing freelance work, I do it a lot more. Basically, think about who you’re calling or meeting with. Think about how you’re connected and what they probably want from the meeting/call. Then think about what you want from the meeting call. Then send them a list of bullet points, i.e.:
- Who you are
- A little background
- How your paths intersected
- How you think you could help/be valuable to them
- Anything else that might be helpful for them to know
Keep it short and snazzy. This is basically something that they could choose to peruse in the 5 minutes before the meeting or call, and have a quick, effective backstory. Now, of course — most people won’t peruse it and rush in with their hair ablaze from another meeting or call (that’s pretty much the true definition of ‘The Corporate Athlete’ these days), but still, you’re giving them the option.
Quick pre-context — one simple way to prepare better for meetings and calls.
Prepare better for meetings and calls: Find the value-add
Things no one ever understands: no one actually sells product. They sell better versions of people via a product or service. In visual form:
To prepare better for meetings and calls, you need to think along the same lines. In short:
What’s your value-add here? Why are you part of this? What can you bring to the table here?
The other thing everyone secretly understands but no one discusses is this: most people predominantly like to talk about themselves and what they need and aren’t really very good at listening to other people. Sadly, listening and attention spans have probably gotten worse in the last 20 years, not better.
So in any meeting, or any call, you’re dealing with a bunch of people who are essentially half-there — probably not paying attention, probably between two other meetings, probably not entirely sure of the purpose of the meeting they’re sitting in, etc. — and as a result, you have to be very precise when describing where your value-add lies.
So to prepare better for meetings and calls, take a few minutes and find that specific value-add, instead of rushing in bellowing “What’s this meeting about?!? I haven’t even eaten lunch yet!”
Prepare better for meetings and calls: Do some research
By this, I mean:
- Who’s in the meeting / on the call?
- What groups or silos do they represent?
- What targets or goals are they likely chasing?
- What are going to be the ‘pain points’ of this meeting/call when you look at the parties involved?
- How could you mitigate some of these factors?
- Does the meeting or call have a stated purpose from the lead? (** It should, but they so infrequently actually do **)
- Whatever the topic is, what else has the company been doing around it recently?
The sad fact is, probably 70 percent of meetings and calls don’t even need to occur. They could be five-minute hallway check-ins, a couple of e-mails, or some information exchanges on a Trello board. We typically call meetings and organize calls for two reasons:
- More logical one: We think face-to-face is a better way to do any kind of business, or want to get people on the same page.
- More emotional/real one: It makes us feel busier, and thus more purposeful, and thus important — because most people are far too concerned with the quantity of their work, as opposed to the quality of it.
Again, one of the big problems with meetings and calls is how long they even take to get really started. There’s always that small talk period of time — nearly impossible to avoid that — and there’s always 3 to 5 minutes where everyone is trying to figure out what this meeting or call is, as opposed to their most recent meeting or call.
If more people tried to prepare better for meetings and calls by doing some simple research, there could be a lot more ‘hit the ground running’ moments when they actually start.
Prepare better for meetings and calls as the organizer
If you’re leading one of these things, here’s a quick checklist to provide to participants:
- Background of what the problem is
- Why the problem needs to be solved
- Who’s involved?
- Who ultimately owns the decision?
- Why is this meeting or a call and not some other format?
- What are the key topics to be discussed?
- What are the expected outcomes and deliverables to be assigned? (** Can obviously change **)
This seems like a lot of work for most people to do, so typically they don’t do it — again, rushing between other meetings and other calls — and then everyone hits the specific meeting X-Person runs, and no one knows what it is or why it’s happening. I’ve probably sat in 1,291 meetings with absolutely no purpose in my life, and that might be a low estimate.
One other thing about the organizer role in meetings and calls: think logically about the best day for a meeting or a call. If you’re having trouble with that concept, consult this day-by-day guide to managing one’s time at work. Phrased another way? A 4:15pm Friday meeting is a total joke. You think a soul in that thing even remotely cares what’s happening? They don’t.
It’s not hard to prepare better for meetings and calls, honestly — it’s just a little background, a little research, and a little context for those involved. And while that does take time, yes, so does anything worth doing — and it’ll save you time in the actual meeting, as well as drive forward some degree of productivity. Shouldn’t that be the real goal here?
My name’s Ted Bauer; I blog here regularly and you can learn about hiring me for freelance and contract gigs as well. You can also subscribe to my newsletter.
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