How I prep for a meeting.

14 Apr 2022

Preparing for a 30-minute meeting can significantly improve the quality of the content shared within that short amount of time.

Photo by Headway on Unsplash

Over the past two years, I’ve had many meetings in-person and virtually, but the preparation has mostly been the same. I find it increasingly important to design a preparative process that works for you, in order to come across as more professional and less embarrassing.

While I’ve had some good meetings, I’ve also had some bad ones and I’ve discovered what went wrong, and what went right throughout these experiences.

Making Notes

Before every meeting, I create a document of bullet points I will need to hit to get all of my ideas/asks across. Whether these meetings are internal to a project, where you’re just talking with a teammate, or if these meetings are external to someone you’re trying to learn from, having prepared notes is a must.

I’m someone whose brain is all over the place. I’m not embarrassed to say my attention span is decreasing by the year. Having notes while I speak leads to these great results:

  1. I’m not worried that I’ll miss anything, therefore I come off as less nervous.
  2. I am actively listening to the other person in the meeting because I’m not busy thinking about what I’m going to say.
  3. I am able to focus more on how I’m speaking rather than what I’m speaking.

All of this leads to a more productive conversation, so I highly recommend you go into your next meeting with some prepared document of notes.

Taking Notes

This process is a lot trickier because you need to find the perfect balance between taking too many notes and taking too little.

Taking too many notes can lead to a “checked out” kind of appearance. The other people in the call will see that you’re not giving them your full attention and this will look bad. I mean really bad. You must give this person your full attention if you want to be taken seriously.
Taking too few notes will lead to a moment after the call where you panic write everything you remember. Meetings can often feel like a dream, where you feel like you should remember everything that happened, but for the life of you, you can’t remember all of the pieces.

What’s the balance?
  1. Jot down only a few words at a time. Whoever, you’re meeting with will understand that you have to take some notes so they won’t get mad if they see you scribble something down for a few seconds. But they will get mad if it goes on too long.
  2. Let them know that you have to write that down. Sometimes you have to write down a full sentence, and that’ll take some time. But be respectful and say, “Hey, that’s some great info, let me write it down.” People will honestly appreciate the fact that you value what they’ve said enough to have to write it down.

Better Ways to Speak

No one wants to be in a meeting if what’s being said is boring or monotone. Instead, try telling a story that covers all of the points you want to hit.

Part of what makes prep notes so important is now you have a list of things you know you need to get to. But what’s even more important is not the content, but how it’s delivered. If you have these things as your topics: budget, complaints, and future tasks. You can convert this to a story that is interesting enough to listen to.

Example of an argument for restructuring the budget to account for more electronic devices in the office:

Thank you all for coming to this meeting. Just one year ago, this office space was not worried about the idea of having to purchase more electronic devices pre-pandemic. But then the world changed. We now need a lot more tablets and other devices to be delivered to our employees, and none of this is accounted for in our current budget distribution. Ashley, one of our sales representatives, does not have her own laptop at home. Instead, she’s been doing a terrific job hosting Zoom calls with her phone. Although this has been working for Ashley, it has become clear that the company has enough resources to make her and many other lives in this office, much easier by increasing our device budget.

This is much better than the typical kind of meeting conversation:

I’m here to talk about increasing our electronic device budget because many employees have made complaints about how it's difficult to host calls while working from home. Thank you for listening.

While this might be a sort of simple example, storytelling can have a massive impact on your audience’s information retention. And it also leads to a much more convincing argument.

Video Call Best Practices

Some things only have to do with video calls, so let’s get into it.

Audio and Video Quality

A lot of this is self-explanatory. You want to make sure you’re clearly visible at a good angle. And that you’re audible with a pleasant sound. A lot of people instinctively say this: Never take a meeting on your phone, that’s embarrassing. Not necessarily… I mean if it looks good, and sounds good… who cares?

What’s Your Name?

Even if this person knows you and has spoken to you before, no one wants to see these as your name: samschmittsschmitt703sam, or the classic Samuel’s iPhone.

What we want to see: Samuel Schmitt. It’s just more professional.

Screen Sharing

So many things can go wrong with screen sharing, so let’s figure out how we can make sure it always goes right.

  1. I would recommend closing all windows and tabs that are not needed prior to the meeting. If you share your screen with 100 tabs open in the browser, the other person will probably understand, but it still doesn’t look good.
  2. Don’t share for too long. Sharing your screen changes the dynamic of the whole conversation. Rather than looking at your face, the intimacy is cut off, but you might want to bring it back. Always stop sharing once the call comes back to the basic conversation.
  3. Practice. Practice. Practice. If it takes you longer than 10 seconds to get the screen share started, that’s a problem. Everyone’s been sharing screens throughout the pandemic, so if you can’t do it now, figure it out.

Gallery View

This may be a personal preference, but it has always helped me conduct better meetings.

I switch my video call settings from speaker view to gallery view, because it helps me keep everyone in mind as I listen and speak. For those of you who don’t know, the speaker view is where the current speaker at any given time takes the full view of the screen, while the others are put off to the side. Gallery view is when everyone’s video is equal in size and shape, with as many people on the screen as possible.

It’s also important to note that this setting only affects your experience, and it doesn’t alter the view of the others in the call.

Turning on gallery view can help simulate a real-world conversation better, where everyone has an equal presence, even if they are not speaking. This also helps me figure out who is paying attention to what I’m saying and who isn’t. It can help me figure out when I need to change the subject if I'm being too boring.

Other Notes

Listener Attention

Something that is very important to understand is that it is never the listeners' fault if they stop listening or start to tune you out. That’s your fault. You’re probably boring them to death! Some subject matter is more difficult to present than others but it is always possible to make something interesting enough to capture your audience’s attention.

Body Language

Whether it’s a meeting in person, or online, you can still express your body language correctly and incorrectly.

  1. Smile when you need to smile, but don’t smile too much. Smiling does something to the listener. It can either make them feel more or less comfortable in the conversation. Make sure you’re doing it even if you’re not happy. Some parts of a meeting do become a performance.
  2. Move your arms and hands. Especially on a video call. A monitor is flat and boring. Moving your arms and hands can put some depth to the video stream and reignite your listeners’ attention. This is the same when meeting in person.
  3. Avoid looking distracted. You can know in your head that you’re paying full attention, but if you look distracted, then it doesn’t matter. Something that happens often on a video call is your camera is positioned somewhere else than where you’re looking. Change this. You need to be constantly looking in the direction of the camera, to simulate eye contact in your meeting.

To End

This is everything I’ve learned from joining and conducting many meetings during the peak and now the winding down of the pandemic. Hopefully, this has helped you or reminded you to prepare for meetings that you will be a part of in the future.

Thank you for reading!

About Me

I’m a twenty-year-old web developer still in college. Check me out on my website where you can find some software projects that I’m working on.

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I loved your point on body language! I think with all these zoom meetings it is often neglected nowadays...
MBA ChitChat
Good educational post, looking forward to your future posts.
These are so applicable to me! Thanks for these helpful tips.
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