Meeting leaders know that getting their people to prepare for a meeting can be challenging. It’s no surprise that with busy schedules and 62 meetings per month, completing meeting prework is given short shrift. What else might discourage people from taking time to prepare for a meeting?
The prework is generally not addressed in the meeting.
The team reviews the prework as a group during the meeting.
The meeting leader sends out the prework too late.
There is too much prework or the content is dense and uninviting.
Prework information is buried in email or chat streams.
People's other priorities overshadow this one.
If the value of preparing for a meeting is unclear and there are no consequences for failing to do so, prework will naturally fall down people’s lists of priorities. If those who do complete it end up feeling like they wasted their time, the cycle is perpetuated. This is especially true when the prework is reviewed in detail during the meeting to catch others up.
7 Strategies to Get Others to Prepare for a Meeting
If you’re a meeting leader or participant frustrated by a collective lack of commitment to completing meeting prework, you’re not alone. Here are seven approaches you can try with your teams and clients. You don’t have to adopt all of them. Try a few and see what works best for your team or organizational context.
Provide (or ask for) clear prework instructions that include how long the prework should take and what you want participants to do with the material. Should they come prepared to share their reflections or to answer a specific question? For example:
Read the attached document and come ready to share your takeaways and how this will influence your next steps. (~5 min)
Review the attached materials and reflect on what’s missing from this proposal. (~10 min)
When you provide specific instructions, people can connect how the prework will help the meeting achieve its desired outcomes. It also reduces the human tendency to delay doing work that’s not clear.
Be sure to give people enough time to prepare for a meeting. Send the prework along with the agenda at least 24 hours before the meeting. If you send the prework too far ahead of time, expect that some people will forget about it. Try sending a reminder email with the prework instructions and attachments again a few hours before the meeting. This one action brings the prework back to people’s minds and makes the prework materials quickly accessible.
Supplement or replace paragraphs of text with bullet points, images, and/or charts to make the content more engaging. Consider sending a voice or even video message if those formats are better suited to the content. The tone and inflection of your voice can make it easier and faster to explain the nuances of a complicated situation.
Be mindful of how much time the prework takes to complete. The more there is, the less likely people will take the time to do it. In general, 5–10 minutes of preparation per 30 minutes of meeting is acceptable.
When you receive a meeting invitation with prework, immediately block time in your calendar to get it done in the day or hours before the meeting. The idea is to time-block prework in your calendar as if it were a meeting itself. That way, you have a visual reminder to do it -- you’ll see it on the schedule -- and you’ll avoid running out of time. You can suggest this practice to others as well.
There are times when everyone except a key decision-maker has completed the prework and so you still have to run the meeting as if no one did. This is a very frustrating situation.
To avoid this, consider if there is a particular person, such as a senior leader, who needs to prepare for a meeting ahead of time in order for the meeting to be successful. Then schedule a 5-10 minute check-in with him or her to review the work together. Either present the content or actually walk through the prework using the materials as your guide. Alternatively, send a personal reminder about the importance of the prework and how it will impact the effectiveness of the meeting.
If not preparing for a meeting is an issue with your whole team, bring it up during a meeting. Explain how doing prework in advance will help the group make the best use of meeting time. Ask each person to respect the time of the group by committing to doing the prework before the meeting. Sometimes just calling attention to the issue will spur people to change their behavior, especially when they’ve publicly committed to it.
When it’s clear that people are doing the prework, commend them for their effort and note how it led to a more productive meeting experience.
This is a last resort approach. If you cannot get people to prepare ahead of time, schedule longer meetings and use the first 5–10 minutes for people to quietly read and reflect on the prework. Use written or video materials rather than presenting the prework as content during the meeting because:
You can control exactly what is included and how it’s presented. When you present live, you might miss a few points or explain the issue using less than ideal language.
The time for content consumption is contained. It’s easy to let a presentation run too long. If people are reading a document or watching a video, the time is automatically limited.
Prework can improve the quality of your meeting conversation
Influencing team members to prepare for a meeting is an important strategy to make productive meetings part of the company culture. Over time, colleagues will come to appreciate the importance of prework and become more consistent in their meeting preparation.
What strategies for completing prework have been successful at your organization? Let us know how your team works!