How to Plan the Perfect Meeting

how to prep for the perfect meeting

Why are we even having this meeting?”

Have you ever found yourself asking that question while fighting to pay attention at work? Of course you have. Everyone has. When you find yourself zoning out like this, you know that one of two things is happening: either your ADD is acting up or, more likely, you’re participating in a badly planned meeting.

Because you’ve experienced this yourself, you certainly don’t want to be the bad meeting planner who causes such grief for others. That’s why, when tasked with planning a meeting — or helping to plan one — you’ll do everything in your power to make it productive, inclusive and useful to all in attendance.

Here’s how to do that:

Determine your meeting goals. 

As obvious as it sounds, planners often seem to overlook the most basic step in planning a meeting: determining its goals. In other words, these so-called “planners” get into the habit of holding a meeting just for the sake of tradition.

However, a meeting should never be held just because it’s Wednesday, and you always have a meeting on Wednesdays. Rather, a meeting should be held because your team needs to discuss a new development, collaborate on a project, analyze an issue, attack a challenge, solve a problem or for some other reason that requires the combined brainpower of the team.

So before you call a meeting, make sure you have evaluated the reason(s) you think this meeting needs to happen. Then, make a list of the goals you feel your team can and should accomplish while it’s happening.

Choose your guest list wisely. 

Not every team member needs to be invited to every meeting. This lazy strategy is another common cause of in-meeting boredom. If Phil is working on Project B, but is required to come to Project A meetings, of course he’s not going to be a very enthusiastic participant.

Sure, Phil may know a lot about Project A and its components, and if he weren’t invested in Project B, he’d probably be glad to interject with his outsider’s perspective at the meetings. However, Phil is invested in Project B, and all he’s thinking about during whole-team meetings is that this is valuable time wasted that he could be spending on his own project.

Don’t do this to Phil.

Assign a task for every attendee. 

Once you’ve determined why you’re having a meeting and who needs to attend, you should double-check the guest list by assigning each person on it a specific task to accomplish before the meeting.

Remember those goals you identified earlier? Well, your team wants to know about them, too. Otherwise, several things may happen:

  • They’ll question whether this is just another pointless get-together.
  • They won’t realize there’s something they could do to make the meeting awesome.
  • They’ll walk into the meeting — that is, if they haven’t decided to skip it, since they’ve deemed it “pointless” — with a detached attitude.

By assigning tasks to each participant — whether those tasks are very specific or a general “bring us a complete update on your part of this project” — it gives each team member a sense of involvement.

And that involvement makes each worker more engaged, because they know they’re contributing to the team, they feel they have a definite reason to attend and they’re more inclined to speak up during the meeting itself, since they already have to talk for their task anyway.

Choose a meeting location with care. 

More often than not, your meeting location will be a conference room at the office. But don’t limit yourself! Sometimes the best meetings are those that break from the norm.

Switching up the usual format of a meeting can:

  • Loosen up stressed minds and boost creativity
  • Take employees out of their comfort zone, which can lead to new perspectives and ideas
  • Help a team feel more connected, as the only common factor in all meetings is one another

There are many ways to break a monotonous meeting routine, like holding meetings at different times of day, hosting one outside or meeting in a virtual chatroom. But a really fun and productive way to shake things up is by planning an annual destination meeting.

Don’t panic! “Destination” doesn’t always mean an expensive tropical location — though that’s certainly not to be ruled out! The location may be chosen based on popular demand or strategic location if, for example, you’re inviting your colleagues from the cross-country office to join. Even just a simple trip to the next state over can give you and your colleagues a productive and fun mental break from the office.

If a destination meeting sounds stressful to plan, don’t worry! You already know how to plan a great meeting, and once you choose a hotel that prides itself on catering to your business and non-business needs (AKA the food), you’ll be all set.

Feed your guests! 

In this sense, “feed the room” has a twofold meaning: feed them literally and feed their fun side.

Of course, the primary goal of meetings is to get down to business in whatever sense the occasion calls for. But as a planner, you must take your attendees’ more human needs into consideration.

For your run-of-the-mill, 20-minute meeting, you may not need to plan for food or fun, though tea and coffee are generally very well-received. But for longer meetings, and certainly for destination meetings, you’ll want to feed the crowd.

The basic rule: the longer the meeting, the more the crowd needs. For a one- to two-hour meeting, make sure water is available at the very least, and consider having an intermission for socialization and bathroom breaks.

For three-hour meetings, provide snacks and social time. And for anything you’d consider an “all-day” meeting, send in the pizza guy. Or the sandwich guy. Or the Chinese delivery guy. And make lunchtime its own social event.

For destination meetings, there’s good news. Those hotels that cater to your meeting needs? They do so literally. If you’ve chosen well, your hosting hotel will make sure your people are getting the brain food they need and the fun activities they deserve.

Make your meetings count. 

You don’t enjoy sitting in badly planned meetings, so make sure your colleagues don’t have to, either. Become a model meeting planner by planning ahead, getting the right people involved and creating a productive environment.

If you’ve done your job right, no one will ever sit in one of your meetings staring at the wall and wondering why they’re there.

Sarah Landrum

Sarah Landrum recently graduated from Penn State with degrees in Marketing and PR. Now, she's a freelance writer and career blogger sharing advice on navigating the work world and achieving happiness and success in your career. You can find her tweeting on her coffee breaks @SarahLandrum