Preparing for an important meeting requires more than simply coming up with a functional agenda. Whether the purpose of the meeting is to negotiate a contract, make a dazzling sales pitch, discuss important project elements or to achieve some other goals or purpose, solid preparation is necessary and can be a challenge. Whether you have participated in a hundred meetings or only a few, developing the skills for successful meeting preparation can take some effort.
Give yourself time to gather, solicit and design a functional agenda. More often than night, people wait until the last minute and try to throw together an agenda or walk into a meeting without a written and carefully selected outline of what will be discussed and the goals for what will be achieved. By designing the agenda, you can clarify that there is an actual purpose to meet and action that can be achieved. Do not waste time meeting if there is no purpose or apparent objectives. There is nothing worse than a pointless meeting that goes on and on without direction. Clarify the purpose, establish an agenda in advance and solicit input from those individuals who need to contribute.
Prepare materials in advance and make sure there are enough copies and supplies for everyone who will be in attendance. This can be a tough call if it is a new situation, department, etc. but take the time to do the research and gather information about who will be in attendance and what sort of materials and/or visual aids will be necessary. If it is a large meeting, consider whether a visual presentation (such as PowerPoint) will be necessary and whether or not any “hand-held” materials will also be needed. Well-produced materials send a strong message of competence, but at the same time–too many materials or expensively-produced ones can be inappropriate for certain types of meetings. Make sure that you have a good handle on your audience and know what is not only needed, but also what is appropriate for the meeting or circumstance.
Anticipate problems and obstacles and have a plan for how you will deal with them. If possible, discuss potential issues in advance and make sure the key people who can help problem-solve are available at the meeting. Doing the advance leg-work to iron out problems and obstacles can make meetings particularly productive and help to avoid surprises that could derail a project or plan. Take the time to think things through and work on the potential problems in preparation for a productive meeting.
Finally, keep accurate records of your meeting preparation details and notes from previous meetings. This way, if something happens to you or you are unable to attend, the meeting can still go on as planned. If you are not the main planner but have a role to play, preparation and record-keeping is still important. Let people know that you are organized and prepared and that the meeting can go on (and your input shared) whether you are there or not.