Classic Meeting Disasters and How to Avoid Them

A meeting notes pad with bright highlighter pens on a white table

We’ve all experienced a classic meeting disaster.

The meeting that went off the rails or the meeting where no one could figure out how to access the conference call or the meeting where your boss unexpectedly called on you for an answer. It's no wonder that so many of us dread going to meetings.

Believe it or not, it is possible to have a good meeting. A meeting where you feel confident and prepared. A meeting where the discussion is lively and productive.

Tips for preparing for a successful meeting

Your meeting’s success is determined before it even begins. Here’s how to best prepare for your next meeting so that it goes off without a hitch. 

Have an agenda. To host a successful meeting, you need to define your meeting’s objective or agenda. A clearly defined purpose ensures that your meeting stays on track. It also sets expectations for your participants and helps them prepare accordingly.

Choose the right participants. It’s tempting to include everyone in the office but a successful meeting is one in which you are thoughtful about who you invite. If you’re not sure who needs to be there, refer back to your meeting’s purpose. You’ll want to invite participants who can add a valuable perspective to the discussion. 

Give advance notice. Depending on the size and nature of the meeting, usually two to four weeks notice is enough. For smaller meetings or meetings within your team or department, a calendar invite a week or a few days before will usually suffice.

Send a meeting invite with key details. Your meeting invite should include the following pertinent information:

  • Date
  • Time
  • Venue (or Zoom link if it’s online)
  • Agenda items
  • Background materials

Make sure the date, time, and venue are in both the subject line and opening paragraph of your meeting invite. Oftentimes, people just skim the subject line to get the relevant information so you’ll want to make sure that your meeting details are there. 

Meeting disaster #1: The forgotten meeting

You sent a meeting invite a month ago and assumed that everyone would add it to their calendar. But here it is, the day of the meeting, and you are sitting in an empty conference room, alone. 

We’ve all made this meeting mistake before. Because so much of our work is online and automated these days, we assume that everyone will remember important dates and times on their own.

But even with online tools at your disposal it’s still essential that you personally send an email reminder a week and even a day before the actual meeting.

When it comes to meetings, it’s okay to err on the side of being overly organized. First of all, people are busy and they often forget to check their calendars. Second, it’s helpful to send a reminder with all the meeting information neatly laid out so that your participants don’t have to excavate their inbox in order to find the original message.

Send an email reminder to ensure maximum participation. 

Meeting disaster #2: The meeting with technical issues

The Zoom link doesn’t work. Or no one can figure out how to access the conference call. Or the powerpoint presentation won’t open. 

There’s nothing more panic-inducing than a meeting with technical issues, especially if it’s a meeting that you’re running. 

Prevent any technical disasters by doing your due diligence before the meeting. 

  • Double check that you and your participants have the correct Zoom link.
  • Make sure the participants have the correct conference line and access code.
  • Run your powerpoint before the meeting starts.
  • Have the name and number of the IT focal points in your office in case you run into any issues.
  • If you work remotely, make sure you designate an alternate meeting host should you lose connectivity. 
  • Fully charge your meeting devices (laptop, cellphone, etc). 
  • Back up your meeting files and presentations by saving them on your computer and on a thumb drive. 

Take care of the technical issues beforehand so that during the actual meeting you can focus on having a meaningful discussion and building strong connections.

Meeting disaster #3: The meeting that drags on

Uh oh. Your meeting was scheduled for one hour but it’s still dragging on and on. What went wrong?

If you want to avoid “the meeting that never ends,” then make sure your meeting agenda is focused and concise. Don’t try to discuss everything under the sun. Typically, five items or less is enough for one meeting. 

Additionally, you or another meeting participant should serve as a “meeting producer” so that you can keep the discussion moving along, tick off the relevant agenda items, and keep everyone aware of the time. 

Another solution is to shorten the length of your meetings and reduce the number of people involved. Do you really need one hour when 30 minutes will do? And do you really need everyone in your department to attend when maybe all you really need are the project focal points? The more participants in a meeting, the likelier it is that it will go off track. Keep your meeting compact so that it can stay focused and structured. 

Meeting disaster #4: The meeting where you feel unprepared 

Uh-oh... your boss has unexpectedly called on you to provide your thoughts and you have no idea how to respond. What do you do?

To avoid feeling like a deer in headlights, make sure you do your homework before the meeting begins.

Before the meeting. Review the invite, highlight important information, and review the attached background materials. It might also help to refresh your memory by going over your notes from previous meetings.

Prepare questions and comments. Make a list of possible questions or comments you may have. If you’re having trouble coming up with anything, look at the agenda again. What specific perspective or point of view can you offer? For example, if the meeting is about a new product launch and you’re on the marketing team, then think about the inputs you can provide from a marketing perspective. 

Take notes. During the meeting itself, write down notes by hand. Writing things down will help you retain the information better. So if your boss calls on you during the meeting, you can just glance down at your notes and respond like a pro.

Written by JiJi Lee

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