Let me start by stating that I prepare for about 90 percent of the meetings I have. (The other 10 percent are times when someone is selling me or asking me for something and I even prepare for some of those.)
Going back to my childhood, I have always been a prepared kind of guy, but I really took preparation a lot more seriously during my four years at Arthur Andersen. It was there that I really learned how to be a professional. There’s one instance in particular that made a significant impression.
One day, I got a call from HR that said to go see a manager. This manager was someone I really wanted to work with. I got to her office without a notebook and she asked, “Aren’t you going to take notes?” I said, “Don’t worry. I got this.” Well after she told me the details about a research assignment, I got to my desk and got called away to another project. As you might imagine, 24 hours later, I didn’t remember a damn thing about the research assignment. I went back with my tail between my legs and begged the manager
to go over everything with me again. She kicked me out of her office and I only got back in because HR asked her to give me another chance. Fortunately she did and I ended up learning a lot from her over the next few years.
That was the last time I didn’t prepare for a meeting. And that was over 20 years ago. (Just about everyone who worked for me at NYER has heard that story and guess what? They were prepared for meetings.)
- Realize that meetings include calls and internal meetings; it’s not just about meeting with external people. I probably prepare more for an internal meeting than an external meeting, including sales meetings.
- I have an agenda for every meeting, and when possible, I ask the people that I am meeting with to share their agenda ahead of time.
- I try to figure out what the other people in the meeting might be concerned about and prepare possible responses.
- If it’s an external meeting and I am attending with a colleague, we discuss roles, including who will say what and a process for dealing with questions that the other side might have. (Check this out for more on the role of the CEO at meetings.)
- I take a notebook where my agenda and questions are written down. Occasionally, if I am not expecting many notes or am in a casual environment like a restaurant, I will take notes on my phone. I will usually ask if it’s ok if I take notes. Among other things, this conveys that I am “on it”—serious and attentive.
- I go into each meeting with an idea of what I want the next steps to be.
I have found that being prepared for meetings not only helps me get more out of a meeting, it makes me look like I have my shit together.