Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Fix Broken Meetings With Better Invites

When creative individuals convene for a meeting, the potential breakthroughs are limitless. Brilliant ideas can be born, intelligent decisions resolved, and complex solutions coordinated. Alas, this potential is rarely ever realized. Meeting mediocrity is spreading like the plague, and we’re missing an important ingredient: engagement.

The competence and willingness of participants to contribute to your meeting dynamically is what determines its success. But what determines whether your participants will be engaged? Two factors come to mind:

Preparation: Your participants need to be primed with knowledge, insights, and experience around the topic being discussed in order to contribute in a way that is meaningful. If the beginning of the meeting is spent educating the group or worse bringing participants “up to speed” your meeting is doomed.

Posture: If your participants are not invested emotionally in the meeting’s topic, purpose, or outcome, they won’t participate at a high level. Is the topic being discussed interesting? Is it important to them, or just you? Do your participants feel like they’re attending because they have a unique gift to offer, or simply because it’s their job?

If your participants are not invested emotionally in the meeting’s topic, purpose, or outcome, they won’t participate at a high level.

What’s fascinating is both preparation and posture are largely developed before the meeting even begins.

This is why the meeting invitation is the key to building engagement.  Instead of the usual thoughtless invite that often feels like a subpoena, here are two suggestions to make your invite significantly more effective.

1. Tell your participants what’s at stake in your meeting.

Why does this meeting matter? People want to feel like the session is going to be worthy of the heart and soul they bring to work each day. Is it? Leadership expert Patrick Lencioni tells us that conflict and drama are what get people excited. Why is this meeting the beginning of something big for the organization? What would happen if the wrong decision was made? Is there a competitive threat looming that makes this meeting urgent? How can you use the invitation to authentically frame the meeting in a way that gets people to care?

2. Tell your participants why you picked them.

People want to be picked. What type of specific unique skill, perspective, or experience makes each of your participants uniquely suited for this meeting? Use the invitation as an opportunity to acknowledge them for that. Tom Kelly of IDEO points us to ten different faces of innovation. What if you asked someone to prepare from the perspective of the experimenter? The hurdler? How might that change the posture from which participants approach your meeting?

If we can change the way our attendees show up in our meetings, we can transform the work that happens inside of them. By inviting people powerfully and purposefully we can make our meetings once again feel like special events, and produce the type of breakthroughs that are only possible through creative collaboration.

Over To You

How do you make meetings more effective?

What are your techniques for preparing attendees?

More insights on: Meetings

Al Pittampalli

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Al Pittampalli is the bestselling author of Read This Before Our Next Meeting, the most popular Kindle book in the world during the week of its release.
load comments (16)
  • Matt Bertuzzi

    Al, I just held my 1st Modern Meeting this morning. Here’s initial feedback:-Everyone knew why they were there-Everyone had reviewed the pre-meeting homework-Based on a few pre-meeting 1-one-1’s, the discussion was tightly focused on ‘the decision’I’ve got nothing but praise for your manifesto. Just great, great stuff.

  • custom paper

    Generally I do not post on blogs, but I would like to say that this post really forced me to do so, Excellent post!

  • Thomas Hansen

    Love it! 

    I have a weekly meeting with my key team. Together we lead a non-for-profit volunteer led movement of hundreds of people. How to run effective meetings is always a challenge. Main thing I think is key, is what you focus on, you value! Your meetings are an indicator to your team, what is really important. If there is not accountability and follow through from you on something, it doesn’t matter how much you speak about it publicly

  • Al Pittampalli

    Absolutely right, Thomas. Accountability is key…even more important–Trust. 

  • Nico Rb

    How about Easy way to have better prepared attendees and more effective meetings.

  • essays

    Interesting article so many usefull advices so thank you for this article!)

  • PicholasNaradise

    I’m sensing a serious trend with engagement these days. I do agree though, keeping anyone engaged can lead to better production, in any circumstance.

  • Stanza Vida

    I think this is so wonderful and I will be sharing this with my team via email and print.  Very good for starting businesses to adopt such important behaviors.  Wonderful, Wonderful article!!

  • Elizabeth Saunders

    Really excellent points!

    A few other thoughts on how to make meetings engaging and effective:

    -Never leave without specific next actions, delegated to specific people to be completed by a certain time, and also if necessary, the next meeting scheduled. This clarity saves enormous amount of time figuring out what to do after the meeting and ensures the time moves you forward.

    -Don’t be afraid to end early. If you’re done after 20 minutes, there’s no need to hang out for 10 more. Accomplish your goal, clarify next steps, and then give people the bonus “extra” time as a reward for engaging efficiently and effectively.

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Christopher Martello

    I post this to my teams when I want to foster a climate of productive meetings:

    —–=====<<<<< Seven Tips for Effective Meetings – Creation >>>>>=====——    1. Provide enough notice        a. at least 24 hours for planned topics.        b. one week for all-day meetings    2. Have an Agenda and distribute it ahead of time.    3. Have a Clear Purpose with outcomes and Goals        a. Informational        b. Input Gathering        c. Decision Making    4. Include people needed to accomplish the purpose    5. Start and end on time.    6. Get everyone involved.    7. Capture Action Items and Decisions        a. What; Who, and by when?    —–=====<<<<<       >>>>>=====———–=====<<<<< Seven Tips for Effective Meeting Participation >>>>>=====——1. Politely decline if you are not needed.Attend
    only if needed. Make effective use of your time, as well as the other
    meeting attendees. To determine if you are truly needed at a meeting,
    consult with the meeting organizer and see what level of participation
    the organizer is looking for. Perhaps you can provide the information
    required ahead of time. 2. Read the agenda ahead of time and be prepared with your contribution. Prepare whatever information you anticipate needing.3.
    Work with the team to achieve their goals. The main purpose of a
    meeting is to gather ideas, input, and decisions so that progress can be
    made and folks can move forward.  No obstacles are too big to overcome.4.
    Pay attention and Listen actively to the discussion. [Be Present] 
    Burying yourself in a laptop screen and focusing on emails is not active
    participation.  5. Get There On time.
    It is discourteous to the chair and to those who make the effort to be
    on time. Also, do not hold participants past the allotted meeting times
    as a chair, or as “That Guy” who continues to talk past the meeting end
    time.6. Get involved in the
    discussion. Review the agenda and clarify your thoughts prior to the
    meeting. Make some notes. Being prepared will make it more likely that
    you will have some energy behind your points of view and, therefore, be
    more likely to express them. Be courteous. 7.
    Be willing to help the team where it is appropriate for you to do so. 
    Action items that are within your area of expertise should be easy to
    accept and complete in a reasonable amount of time for the team to make
    forward progress.—–=====<<<<<       >>>>>=====——



  • Nancy

    If meetings are the currency that we work in, investment of time in preparation is invaluable. Calling a meeting for a one word topic i.e. Budget, new ideas, changes  etc. are doomed to fail. What part of the budget? the schedule? the execution? the defecit? all are worthy topics but participants need to know what the topic is and how to prepare for their own participation.  Participants also need to know if we are making decisions or if we are discussing and clarifying ideas and positions so we can then make decisions. IF not told otherwise, everyone thinks you are making a decision- implementing. Yet, if you are told in advance that no decisions will be made, rather we are working to fully “unpack’ the issues, participants participate in a very different way.  Lastly, if the meeting is 2 hours, I usually spend an hour preparing. Every meeting deserves a thoughtful and thorough preparation time so you do not flounder at the beginning not clear on what you want to do, which part of the discussion you are having, if you are making a decision etc   I always bring in two other people to prepare for the meetings. Usually the people that have the opposite positions on the topic so they can help really unpack the issue and clarify the agenda. If they are involved in planning they own the meeting when it takes place. 

  • ZenCX

    If maximizing creativity and problem solving in meetings is of interest, the Coyne brothers pitched a great formula in “Brainsteering”. Their method relies on asking “Right Questions” during meetings. To ask the same people can often lead to getting the same kinds of answers in creative sessions. Also, the IDEO folks did a nice job in “Art of Innovation”. I find myself using techniques from both books in conversations and meetings…

  • interview preparation

    One of the keys to having more effective meetings is differentiating between the need for one-way information dissemination and two-way information sharing. To disseminate information you can use a variety of other communication media, such as sending an e-mail or posting the information on your company’s intranet. 

  • interview techniques

    Encourage feedback. Ideas, activities and commitment to the organization improve when members see their impact on the decision making process.

  • Povl Henningsen

    Excellent post also from a Danish perspective. Meetings and culture are tied closely together. It is in meetings personal, professional and national cultures are acted out. Fantastic to observe international meetings in practice.

    And your ideas seem a great step in the right direction. An interesting question though:
    Do you think we can agree on meeting rules that are apply anywhere in the world. My experience: it may be more difficult than we think.
    And also interesting to see whose rules apply to any particular meeting. Who is running the show so to speak?
    The winners are the chairmen who know what they want and manage to build bridges across differences. It is art. No more no less.

  • Sean

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