In order to get all of your participants ready to engage in a meaningful dialog, it is critical that you set the stage to get everyone on the same page.
Remember that everyone will come into the meeting with many different things running through their minds and, most likely, they are busy and have a lot on their plates. Plus, even though your meeting may be super important for you, for your attendees, it may just be yet another meeting on a long list of things to do.
One way to help get everyone’s head in the right space is to take the time to set the right context for the meeting. The context, in this case, basically means providing attendees with a summary of the current situation and the goals of the meeting.
Not to be confused with an agenda, setting the context is all about getting people on the same page on the “why” behind the meeting.
This sounds super simple on the surface, but in practice, most meeting leaders do not do this.
The best mental model to use for setting context is to mirror how popular TV shows remind the audience of key plot points before a new episode: “Last time on Survivor…”
The summary doesn’t get into recapping everything that has ever happened on the show. First off, that would take too long. Second, a lot of those details may be unimportant for the discussion at hand. Third, overwhelming the audience with too much information will distract from the current episode.
You can think the same way for your pre-meeting context efforts. It’s important to give enough information, but don’t overwhelm the audience.
To set the right context, you want to start by laying out the main topic of the meeting and the goal of the meeting. This should be done very concisely in no more than a couple sentences.
Next, you should include a summary of important facts about the topic, including figures like costs, revenues, key dates, and other important measures. This is your opportunity to ground and quantify the topic with high level stats.
Next, describe the way that the meeting will work. Is it a “free for all''? Guided through different discussion items? As the meeting leader, setting the ground rules for the meeting is important, and can be done while giving context.
Finally, you should briefly summarize by reinforcing the goal of the meeting and then kicking off.
Hi everyone, we are here today to talk about our next family vacation spot and to make a decision on which location and which dates.
As you know, we received 12 different vacation spot suggestions and have narrowed it down to three potential dates in July. Thanks everyone for submitting your ideas. We got some great ones.
Flights are getting more expensive by the day and the great Airbnbs are getting scooped up, so we need to make some decisions.
Since we all have strong opinions on what would be most fun, it’s important that we use our time wisely to make sure we all get to talk.
We will kick off the meeting by running through the agenda and structure for the conversation.
We will start by going through each suggested location and the person who suggested the spot will give a one minute pitch for why they chose this location. After the pitch, we will have an open discussion about the pros and cons of the location.
After we run through all the locations, we will have a five minute summary to decide collectively on the vacation spot.
We have to make a decision today or else prices are going to go up. We’ll start with a discussion on the location by doing a short pros and cons list for each spot. Let’s get started!
Ok, our example is a little hokey, we get that. We made it simple to show off the different components that help communicate context and get everyone on the same page.
Notice the structure that is used in this simple example: short opening with the topic and goal; some facts and figures; a quick overview of the meeting structure; then urgency in reinforcing what must be accomplished during the meeting.
Next time you are heading up a meeting, take two minutes at the beginning to set the context for the team. Those two minutes can make the rest of the time much more productive.