12 best practices for effective meeting preparation

Almost everyone who works in a professional environment has attended meetings that made them question if they actually accomplished anything. Maybe there was no clear agenda, leading to a circular discussion without a satisfactory conclusion. Maybe the meeting planner didn’t adequately prepare the other attendees with the necessary background information. Or maybe the meeting concluded without a clear path forward.

Spend enough time in the workforce, and you’ll likely experience all of these situations—maybe all in the same week if you’re unlucky. The average organization spends about 15% of their time in meetings, with 71% of those considered unproductive by attendees.

With so much time lost to unproductive meetings, it’s critical for business leaders and meeting planners to do everything they can to avoid the common pitfalls of unclear goals and underprepared attendees. Whether you’re gathering in–person, remotely, or a combination of the two, proper meeting preparation gets everyone on the same page and helps organizers and participants use their time more effectively.

To help you prepare for your next meeting like a pro, we’ve pulled together some important things to keep in mind while planning any group discussion and a few best practices specific to face-to-face, hybrid, and remote meetings.

Important ways to prepare for any meeting

1. Create the meeting agenda collaboratively.

Every meeting needs a clear agenda to keep the conversation focused and results-oriented. Encouraging meeting attendees to contribute to the agenda ahead of time ensures you’ll cover the most important topics on everyone’s mind. It also facilitates input from people who may not feel particularly comfortable speaking out in a group setting. By preparing your meeting agenda using collaborative tools, you can give everyone an equal voice and show people their perspectives are valued.

2. Determine and communicate clear goals.

Before any meeting begins, every person in attendance should have a good grasp on what needs to be accomplished during the allotted time. Maybe you’re discussing competing project priorities and taking a group vote on the preferred path forward. Or perhaps you’re gathering input from different department heads to better inform executive decisions. Whatever the desired outcome, putting it in writing beforehand encourages people to come prepared with ideas and ask clarifying questions ahead of time.

3. Establish next steps and action items.  

While the final answers will likely be determined during the conversation rather than as part of the preparation, whoever is running the meeting should have a strategy in mind for defining next steps and action items before the group adjourns. Using the meeting agenda as a guide, plan out the decisions that need to be made and the discussions that need to happen in order to answer a critical three-part question for each topic: who will do what, and by when?

Best practices for face-to-face meetings

1. Familiarize yourself with the attendees.

Trying to memorize a bunch of new names and faces during in-person introductions can throw you off your game when gearing up for an important pitch or presentation. For small to midsize meetings with new clients or unfamiliar colleagues, take a few minutes in advance to review everyone’s names, faces, and roles. A quick look at LinkedIn or the company’s org chart will make it much easier to remember everyone during the flurry of greetings and handshakes.

2. Get to know the space.

If you’re planning to host a brainstorm with 45 people, booking a cramped conference room won’t be much fun for anybody. Make sure you choose an appropriate space for the size of your group—and if you’re headed into unfamiliar territory, try to scout the space ahead of time so you can familiarize yourself with any monitors, projectors, or sound systems you’ll be using. Five minutes before the meeting is not the time to realize you’re missing the necessary adapter to display the presentation you’ve been working on for several weeks!

3. Know what your audience knows.

Nobody wants to feel like they’ve already heard everything that’s being said—or like they’re totally out of the loop with important background information. Especially when meeting with larger groups, sending out a pre-meeting assessment lets your attendees weigh in on their familiarity with certain topics so presenters can meet the audience where they are and cater the content appropriately.

Best practices for hybrid meetings

1. Encourage equal participation.

When you’re hosting people both in-person and remotely, it’s a natural tendency to focus primarily on the people you can see in front of you. While planning a hybrid meeting where you’re trying to garner input from everyone, try to opt for communication methods that encourage equal participation. Skip the sticky-note-adorned whiteboard in favor of virtual tools to gather project feedback, conduct a brainstorm, or decide with the whole team how you should prioritize new ideas.

2. Proactively engage virtual attendees.

When conversations and ideas start flowing around a conference-room table, it can be easy to forget about the people joining remotely who also have important thoughts to share. If the size of the group permits, meeting leaders should make a plan to individually address each attendee and ask for their input. For larger meetings, consider planning ahead with open-ended interactive polls. Remote employees can contribute through a browser window while in-person attendees can respond via text or smartphone app.

3. Send a follow-up survey.

Following up on your meeting with a simple survey is useful for ensuring everyone understands their next steps and allows anyone to voice any final thoughts or takeaways from the discussion. With tools like Poll Everywhere, you can even collect responses in real time to ensure you’ve hit all the important project updates and talking points before wrapping up the meeting. Responses can remain public for groups where everyone is comfortable speaking their mind or be kept anonymous to encourage candid feedback that people may not be comfortable sharing otherwise.

Best practices for fully remote meetings

1. Plan an early-meeting icebreaker.

While most remote workers have attended too many video conference calls to count, there’s still always that awkward early-meeting phase when people are making small talk and trying to feel out the group dynamics. Starting your meeting with a lighthearted icebreaker can be a fantastic way to get people’s creative juices flowing and get everyone accustomed to contributing to a group discussion.

2. Be flexible about camera preferences.

Many managers assume that mandating camera usage for virtual meetings will keep employees engaged and participating. However, recent research shows time spent on-camera contributes to fatigue and burnout significantly more than the total time spent in virtual meetings. These effects are magnified for women and new employees, who often feel pressured to live up to certain self-presentation standards.

While showing faces on-screen may still be appropriate for smaller groups and one-on-one conversations, instituting a “do what makes you comfortable” policy for larger meetings can help people with packed schedules stay fresh enough to contribute.

3. Avoid back-to-back meetings.

Zoom fatigue is a real phenomenon, with nearly half of all remote professionals reporting exhaustion due to their volume of daily video calls. While stacking up meetings can sometimes be difficult to avoid, it shouldn’t be your standard operating procedure. Jumping from one call to the next takes away time people need to prepare and review any relevant materials.

To build better meeting preparation habits, managers should encourage their employees to block out a chunk of time in advance of important calls, so they have time to stretch, get a drink, and focus on the conversation or challenge at hand.

Whether you’re hosting your next big meeting face-to-face, remotely, or a combination of the two, you want your attendees to be proactive participants rather than passive listeners. Poll Everywhere makes it simple to engage your meeting attendees with real-time surveys, word clouds, open-ended responses, and dozens more interactive activities. After all, the most inspiring meetings are rarely ever a one-way conversation.

If you’re looking for more tips on how to host effective remote meetings, download our free ebook for helpful advice on building a remote-ready workforce. With the right tools on your side, you can keep your digital audiences engaged in meetings of any scale and empower people to share the ideas and insights that propel your business forward.