When you are organizing an important meeting, one of the most important things you can do is ensure that everyone attending the meeting is well prepared (in addition, of course, to setting the right context at the beginning of the meeting).
Being well prepared for a meeting typically means thoroughly reviewing and thinking about all the materials shared by you ahead of time.
Of course, it’s impossible to ensure with 100% confidence that your attendees will read the materials ahead of the meeting, there are things you can control that increase the likelihood that you will be met with a room of attendees that are well prepared.
To help increase your odds, here is a quick guide that can help you plan ahead for a successful meeting.
There are no hard and fast rules about exactly what materials to share ahead of the meeting, but of course, you should always lean on sharing more rather than sharing less.
The best way to determine the materials to share is to think through the meetings attendees and how they operate and what they need. Most likely, you will be pretty familiar with the characters attending your meeting. After all, you are the one that invited them!
Think through what questions you think the attendees may have about the background or the current situation. Will they want some financial data? Information about customer behavior? Internal operational metrics? Your job in framing the discussion is to anticipate the questions and concerns of the attendees.
Successful read ahead materials are the proactive response to the questions and concerns that your meeting attendees will have, so you should focus on providing read ahead materials that do just that.
Every team and organization has a different approach when it comes to content management, so the specifics for exactly how you will share depends on the tools and approach you use at your company.
However, regardless of the system or tools used to share content, there are a few rules of thumb that are critically important.
First, if you are naming files, please make sure you use clear, descriptive file names. This is important because if you are using a naming convention for your files that only you understand, it’s easy for a meeting attendee to misunderstand the intent of the document.
Second, make sure that you give a quick explanation of the particular document and any specific instructions that your attendees will need to navigate or understand the document. Sometimes when sharing more complex materials like an excel based financial model, if you do not provide instructions to your attendees on how they should use the document, disaster can ensue.
Finally, and arguably the most important, is to make sure you are sharing the right version of the materials. With how much content we all create these days, it can be easy to accidentally send the wrong version of a file. This can create a big mess, especially if the file in question does not tie out to the deck you are using for the meeting, so take the time to make sure you are sharing the right version with your attendees.
As a good rule of thumb, you should always aim to share materials at least three business days before the meeting. This will give your attendees plenty of notice to carve out some time where they can focus on thoroughly reviewing the read ahead materials.
This rule can be changed depending on both the importance of the meeting and the quantity of the read ahead materials.
For instance, a critical annual company board meeting that will be used to solidify a strategy and budget for the next three years may require more read ahead materials and more prep time for your attendees. In a case like this one, anywhere from five to ten business days will give you attendees enough time to review.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you are getting together with a group to do a quick ad hoc analysis of the latest marketing campaign, you can probably get away with sending the read ahead materials as little as one to two days in advance.
As a meeting organizer that wants to hold a productive and engaging discussion, sending read ahead materials should be one of your most important techniques. Choose the right materials, keep them organized and clear, and give your attendees enough time ahead of the meeting to read the materials thoroughly. If you do these three simple things, you are much more likely to hold a great meeting.