Prepare for a Meeting

Professional meetings vary widely according to tone, setting, formality, and content. No matter what kind of meeting you’re attending, though, it’s important to be thoroughly prepared. Know what role you’re expected to play at the meeting, identify your objectives, prepare relevant data and presentational materials, and get yourself in the right frame of mind beforehand in order to ensure that you make a positive, professional impression on your coworkers or clients.


Providing Technical and Clerical Support

  1. Confirm the meeting’s time, place, and duration with a manager. Before distributing information about the meeting to all relevant personnel, you should make sure all of the logistical details you have are correct. Failing to do so can mean that you’ll have to publicize corrections later, something which makes both you and your office look disorganized and unprofessional.
    • You might want to work up a draft of the meeting announcement memo or email and show this to your manager. This way the manager can review not only the logistical information within, but also the format and wording.
    • Also be sure to confirm who should receive the announcement. You might already know who will be attending, but your manager might want other, non-attending workers or clients to know about the meeting as well.
  2. Prepare an agenda for the meeting. The agenda is an important document for any meeting, as it notifies attendees of the objectives and purview of the gathering, as well as keeping the meeting itself focused, efficient, and on track. In order to draft an agenda, have your manager provide you with a short list of objectives and planned topics for the meeting. From this list, you can create an agenda which you’ll send out along with the notification of the meeting’s time, date, and place.
    • A good agenda should include topics to be addressed and their purposes, as well as speakers or members of personnel responsible for presenting on each topic. All topics and presentations should be placed in a logical sequence, as well as segmented according to the time your manager wants to spend on each step.[1]
    • If you’ve never crafted an agenda before, or if you’re still feeling unsure about your chosen format, check templates provided by word processing programs such as Microsoft Word and OpenOffice.
  3. Gather minutes from previous meetings. In addition to a short notification of the upcoming meeting and an agenda, you should attach any minutes from previous meetings which are relevant to the topics planned. If your company or group doesn’t take minutes, double check with your manager to find out if there is any additional data or background information they would like sent out with the notification.
    • If it’s not company or group policy to take minutes—perhaps there’s no one available to take the minutes, for example—consider changing this policy for the future, or at least having the meeting audio recorded for the future. This documentation will help personnel refer back to ideas and agreements discussed, as well as catch up on what happened at the meeting If they were unable to attend.[2]
  4. Distribute all documents. At least a week before the meeting in question is scheduled, send out the necessary documents to all attendees and other relevant personnel. Do this according to company protocol: for more formal meetings or larger companies, you might need to send out hard copies, whereas smaller companies or more informal, team meetings can often be arranged via email.
    • Some software and email platforms such as Outlook can help facilitate meeting scheduling, so check out these options if you’re looking for a way to streamline and modernize your office’s meeting calendar.[3]
    • This time frame accords with general office etiquette, but you should be aware that some organizations and professional protocols stipulate specific deadlines and terms. For example, some countries and states require meeting notices for Housing Association board meetings to be mailed at least a month before the scheduled meeting.[4]
  5. Gather the necessary equipment. Many meetings will require little more equipment and materials than a table, chairs, and some loose paper and pens for note-taking. Some meetings—especially those at larger companies or which include data- and multimedia-heavy presentations—will need special equipment, such as projectors, screens, laser pointers, microphones, cable hook-ups, or audio speakers.[5]You should collect and assemble all of these materials well before the meeting in order to make sure everything functions and is ready on time.
    • If one or more employees or team members is planning on presenting at the meeting, contact them ahead of time to ask if they need any specific technology or devices for their presentation.
  6. Assemble the room. In addition to setting up all of the necessary equipment for the meeting ahead of time, you should also make sure the room is well-appointed for everyone’s comfort and attention. For example, make sure there are enough chairs in the room, that water bottles are stocked and visible, and that the temperature and air circulation in the room are acceptable. Such considerations may seem like details, but studies have shown that little things like room temperature can make a big impact on peoples' moods and attentiveness.[6]
    • Depending on your company’s usual protocol, you might also want to provide some kind of snack or hot beverage for attendees. Always verify with your manager ahead of time to make sure you’re supplying everything they’d like.

Pitching an Idea or Proposal

  1. Research your position. If you’ve been assigned a particular project, or if you’ve called a meeting in order to pitch an idea or request funding, you should make sure that you “do your homework” before entering the meeting. For example, if you’re pitching a product idea or marketing strategy, you should research and compile data on audience demographics, current and projected spending patterns, and focus groups or surveys which speak to the demand or relevancy of your product or idea.
    • If you’ve been assigned a task from a higher-up at your company and you’re unsure what is expected, check with other, senior employees to find out what information you should have and how you should present it.
    • It can help to imagine you’re in the shoes of someone listening to your pitch. Ask yourself, if someone was asking you for money or for the approval of a particular strategy, what kind of information would you want to hear? In other words, what kind of data would help persuade you of the cogency of the idea or demand of the product in front of you?[7]
  2. Create simple, visually interesting slides or materials. While you should be able to talk through any of the data you’re presenting and using as evidence of your argument, you should also provide visual representations—for example, pie graphs, bar charts, or decision trees—of the most important figures. Not only do such visual representations convey complex information in a tight, efficient manner, but they also tend to be remembered more clearly than data communicated verbally.[8]
    • There are many software programs designed to assist you in business presentations, so check out options like PowerPoint and SlideDog when putting together your presentation.
    • Be sure to use large—24 point at the minimum—font on your slides and posters, as well as clear, streamlined graphics which don’t clutter the page. The last thing you want is for your audience to be unclear or confused about the information you’re presenting and how it’s relevant.[9]
  3. Consider your audience. When planning your presentation, you should always keep in mind what kind of people will be attending the meeting and listening to your talk. Are they fellow team members with whom you work closely? If so, chances are that you won’t have to adjust your diction or tone at all in order to communicate effectively. In contrast, if clients you don’t know well will be at the meeting, or people from other departments and other areas of expertise, you should strive to make your language and materials as accessible as possible.[10]
  4. Write a loose script for your presentation. You don’t want to read off a document or cue cards throughout a meeting, as there’s perhaps no faster way to lose your audience’s attention.[11] That being said, you should organize your thoughts and arguments in written form beforehand. Even if you don’t take the document with you to the meeting, you’ll benefit from the process of writing out and reviewing your points before you need to communicate them to others.
    • If you plan on using the script in your meeting, write down only the skeleton of your argument so that you won’t be tempted to read from the document rather than speaking off the cuff.
    • It can also help to jot down intervals in the presentation when you want to take a sip of water, make an anecdotal aside, pause meaningfully, or switch slides or visual graphics.
  5. Rehearse your presentation. Once you’ve assembled all of the information and presentation materials you plan to use, you should do a dry-run at least once before taking your show on the road. This will allow you to time your speech, practice tricky wording or segues, and smooth out your demeanor and public speaking persona.[12]
    • It’s particularly helpful to do this mock presentation in front of other people. Ask friends, family, or friendly coworkers to observe your dry-run and give you feedback. They can let you know if you’re speaking too rapidly, what points seem unclear, and even advise you as to gestures and voice volume.
  6. Select a simple and sophisticated outfit from your wardrobe. Even if your company or the clients you’re pitching to are consistently informal and relaxed, you should attend the meeting in smart attire. It will show that you care and that you take the meeting seriously, whereas a slapdash outfit can make it look like you didn’t prepare your presentation at all, even if you spent all night or week doing so. Fashion and business experts agree that the most tried-and-true sartorial selection for a meeting—regardless of one’s gender—is a suit.[13]
    • A dark color such as navy or black is best. If the meeting is more informal, you can skip on the tie or dress the suit down with more casual accessories.
    • If you’ve ransacked your closet and can’t find anything suitable, ask friends or family for advice. They might have an idea as to how to improvise an ensemble or be able to lend you an item from their own wardrobes. Worse comes to worse, you can visit your local shopping center to look for an affordable pair of slacks and a blazer.
  7. Wake up early. Pressing snooze on your alarm and then rushing to work will leave your nerves frazzled and your thoughts disorganized. Avoid this fragmenting factor by waking and rising well before your meeting is scheduled. Taking your time getting dressed, drinking coffee, and completing your morning routine in a leisurely fashion will allow you to focus your thoughts and get into a positive mindset.[14]
    • Some experts contend that ritualistic practices—even superstitious ones that make little rational sense—can have a positive impact on performance. So, even if it seems silly, feel free to don your lucky socks, listen to your favorite song, or kiss your lucky memento before setting off![15]
  8. Eat a protein-rich breakfast. Studies have shown that eating a healthy breakfast full of protein has a big impact on the rest of your day. In addition to keeping you full for a longer period of time, it also revs up your metabolism and promotes healthy muscle maintenance.[16]
    • Additionally, foods rich in flax and folic acid have been shown to help stimulate brain function, so loading up on cereals and breakfast bars can help you speak more fluently and creatively during your meeting.[17]
  9. Get in a positive frame of mind. Once you’ve done all the legwork for your presentation, you should get yourself in the right headspace. You can run through your presentation quickly but, more importantly, you should bolster your mood and confidence. Do this by talking to yourself in an encouraging, positive manner; for example, remind yourself how much work you’ve done and how proud you are of the effort in spite of what happens at the meeting.
    • Additionally, try to picture yourself smiling and feeling relieved and happy after the presentation. Positive imagery like this can make a big impact on your performance.[18]

Identifying Questions for an Informational Meeting

  1. Consider asking a professional contact for an informational meeting. If you meet someone with a good job in the industry you’re interested in, or you have an acquaintance or manager at the firm where you’re interning, you might want to conduct an informational meeting with them. An informational meeting—also known as an informational interview—is a conversation with a reference or acquaintance who can serve as a professional resource for you. You get to ask the person about their experience, their field, and any advice they might have for candidates trying to get into the field.[19]
    • When considering who to ask for an interview or whether or not to ask a specific person, try jotting down what you want to accomplish and what kind of information you’re looking for. For example, are you interested mainly in strategic advice for application materials, or do you just want some general information about the field in order to determine your interest in a career in the industry? Answering these kinds of questions will help you determine who will be a good interviewee and whether or not a specific candidate will be useful to you.
  2. Request a meeting. When asking a contact or acquaintance for an informational interview, you should mention the phrase ‘informational meeting’ or ‘informational interview’ explicitly. If you don’t request this specifically, the person might show up expecting informal drinks or a friendly chat and then feel miffed or caught off-guard when you start asking serious questions.
    • For example, if you’ve met someone at a party or networking event and chatted for a bit, say something like, “I have a lot of questions about the field and your experience in it—would you mind getting coffee some time and having an informational meeting with me?”
    • If you don’t have the chance to ask them in person, you can make contact via email or telephone. Just make sure to be concise and polite so that they don’t feel burdened by the request.[20]
  3. Pick a setting and time that is convenient for your contact. Though the person giving you an informational meeting might be glad to help you, they’re still doing you a favor by giving you some time out of their work day. This means that you should make the meeting as convenient for them as possible, taking up no more of their time than 15-30 minutes.[21]
    • Check with your interviewee as to what time of day—for example, during lunch break or after work—and what kind of venue—for example, a coffee shop or their office—they prefer.
    • You should also let them know that, while an in-person meeting would be great, a telephone or online conversation is also perfectly fine.[19] This consideration shows that you’re respectful of their time and happy to accept any modicum of help they’re willing to dole out.
  4. Do your homework. Once you’ve set up a meeting with your contact, research their background as best you can. This will help you figure out how to approach them, as well as what information they can give you. For example, find out what career path they’ve followed and what their main projects and roles are currently.[22]
    • Asking specific questions will also show your interest and enthusiasm. Over-the-top flattery should be avoided, but something like, “My old manager said she learned so much about turning your passion project into a viable company—how did you get started in the first place?” can grease the wheels and make your interviewee more likely to go the extra mile to help you out.
  5. Create a list of questions for your meeting. Once you’ve identified your goals, draft a plan for the meeting that will accomplish these goals. Write down the questions you want to ask and put them in a strategic order. Warm up with general questions that show your curiosity, such as, “How did you get started in this field?” and “What kind of projects are you working on at the moment?” From there, move on to more specific questions, such as, “What qualifications or skills should I highlight in my application?” or “How should I prepare for an upcoming interview I have scheduled?”[19]
    • You don’t have to read off of this agenda in the meeting if it makes you feel awkward, but you should bring it with you to check periodically and make sure that you don’t skip anything you’d wanted to ask.
  6. Compose a personal statement. Perhaps even more than seeking to glean information and advice from an informational meeting, you’re trying to make a positive impression on your interviewee. You want to give your contact a brief summary of who you are, what makes you unique, and what you’re interested in. This will make it more likely that they’ll remember you later on if a relevant vacancy at their firm opens up or they meet someone who could be useful to you.[23]
    • In order to do this effectively, jot down a paragraph or a list of points about yourself that you can mention at an appropriate time during the meeting. This will help make your impression more memorable, as well as prepare you with answers to any questions your interviewee poses to you.
  7. Bring a pen, notepad, and updated resume to your meeting. One of the most important things you should do at an informational meeting is express interest in the person’s advice and expertise. You can do this by coming prepared with pen and paper and taking notes during the meeting, as well as having an updated resume handy in case the person asks for it. These preparatory measures indicate that you’re serious about the meeting at hand, respectful of the other’s expertise, and professional about handling and processing new information.[24]
  8. Dress professionally. You probably don’t need to wear a business suit—unless you’re meeting the contact at their formal, corporate office—to an informational interview, but you should wear something smart and put-together in any case. A sleek day-dress or well-pressed button-up and trousers will signal to your interviewee that you’ve got your life together and that you care about making a good impression.[25]
    • Avoid jeans, t-shirts, and scuffed sneakers in particular, as these garments can make it seem like you didn’t even bother to interrupt your normal routine when getting ready to meet the contact.

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Sources and Citations

  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2