Somebody once told me that assumptions are like armpits…everyone has ‘em & most of ‘em STINK!

When it comes to the area of meeting preparation, I have found that not only do most of the assumptions people make indeed turn out to STINK…but they are just plain WRONG!

In terms of assumptions about preparing for successful meetings, I have adopted Captain Jack Sparrow’s view on problems:

“The problem is not the problem…the problem is your attitude about the problem.”


I truly believe most problems are solved or made worse by how we look at them.  Below are three new perspectives on old assumptions/attitudes about meeting preparation.  I hope these perspectives inspire you to look at preparation in a new way and that they genuinely excite you about how you can use prep time to make your meetings more effective.

Old Assumption/Attitude #1: 

“They replied yes to the meeting invite, so they must know what it’s about & why they are involved.”

Um…no.  This is way less true than you may think!  Many people in today’s corporate culture are on a hamster wheel of recurring meetings and sometimes don’t even read the title before replying “yes.”

If you want to stand out as a facilitator…if you want YOUR meetings to be different (read—effective), consider doing two things:

  1. Draft a purpose statement for the session that includes (a) the overall objective & (b) the product you will have when you are done (e.g. a list, a timeline, consensus on a certain issue, buy-in to a particular idea, etc.).  By doing this, you are giving them a destination AND a way they can measure when they have arrived rather than just putting them in the car, watching them drive around in circles, wasting gas (resources), & getting nowhere fast.
  2. Check in with key participants 24-48 hours prior to the meeting ensuring they understand their specific roles in the meeting and why you need them there – ESPECIALLY if their participation is so critical that the meeting cannot happen without them.  If they fully understand WHY & HOW you need them to participate, you will have much better participants than if you leave them to their own devices.

New Perspective:  By providing participants with a clear purpose, a defined product, & making sure they fully understand why they specifically have been asked to participate, I am taking responsibility for creating the type of participation I want to see in my meeting!

Old Assumption/Attitude #2: 

“We never start on time…that’s just the culture, & there’s nothing I can do to change that.”

Wrong again.  This is perhaps the most insidious belief in every company I work with.   They blame traffic, location, other meetings, nationality, company culture, the economy, & each other for their inability to start on time.

The truth is that even one person doing things differently can change this.  I have watched Michael Wilkinson start a training session with no one in the room (other than me, his co-trainer for the day).  NO ONE!  But he begins on time because he knows that the choice to start or not start on time will have an impact.  Interestingly, on day 2 of the same class each of the 16 participants were there on time.  Every.  Single.  One.  Change can happen that fast.

In addition, NOT starting on time just lets people know you don’t value their time & actually trains the timely ones to start coming late too!  At LSI we like to say, “Don’t punish the punctual.”  Starting on time honors those who make the commitment to be there at the agreed upon hour instead of honoring those who come late.

So what are some of the secrets to preparation that will lead to you being that person who starts on time?

  1. First & foremost, decide you’re going to do it…and DO IT!  Start on time no matter who is or isn’t there.  Keep doing it long enough & eventually things will change.  But my guess is that you’ll be surprised how FAST they change when you are willing to take a stand.
  2. In a culture of back-to-back-to-back meetings, consider offering a gathering time 5 minutes before the start of the meeting & plan to end 5 minutes before the top of the hour so participants can be on time to their next meeting (i.e. “We’ll be gathering at 10:00am and starting with our agenda items promptly at 10:05.  We’ll be done at 10:55 & we want to make the most of our 50 minutes together…so please be on time!)
  3. Reward what you want more of—timeliness!!  Think of something fun for the people who DO show up at the gathering time.  A cool video to show, a brain teaser with a prize for the first to solve it, candy or donuts that get taken up at the official start time.  These are small investments (some are FREE!) that make a big impact on people wanting to show up for YOUR meetings on time, even if they continue to be late elsewhere.

New Perspective:  One person CAN make a difference…and FAST!!  I am going to be that person because I want to reward the punctual…not punish them!

Old Assumption/Attitude #3: 

“They should be motivated to come to this meeting because it’s their job!”

This attitude actually hurts my head.  Do you get excited to go to every meeting you’re invited to?  Probably not.  So why would you think that in the age of calendars over-stuffed with meetings & competing commitments, people coming to YOUR meeting would feel any different?  As you prepare for a meeting, give participants a reason to be excited…to WANT to be there.

You know how your dentist calls you to confirm your appointment a few days before it’s going to happen?  That’s because he takes his business and your appointment seriously…and he wants to know that you do too.  So he calls to (a) make sure you still plan to be there & (b) find out if there has been any changes to your status he might want to know about.

When preparing for a meeting, try these tips to increase the level of engagement in the actual session:

  1. Chat with the session sponsor or decision maker to make sure you are clear on the “5Ps” (Purpose, Product, Participants, Probable Issues & Process).  This will engage the sponsor at a deeper level AND ensure you are on the right track with your preparation.
  2. Talk to a few of the participants (try to include at least one from each department represented & various levels of management) to ask what would make the meeting a good use of their time in relation to the topic being discussed.  This will improve your understanding of what really needs to happen, as well as any obstacles that may need to be cleared before the topic can be fully addressed.   It will also allow you to include items in the agenda you may not have thought of on your own, which is much better to realize in advance than when/if they come up in the session.
  3. Think about how you can motivate your participants to WANT to achieve the purpose & product.  Reconnect them to the big picture, show them how this session supports that big picture, help them see why their specific roles are important, INSPIRE THEM!  Laying this groundwork before the meeting helps them show up ready & more excited to engage!

New Perspective:  Inspiration fades.  Kind of like bathing…that’s why I need to do it frequently!  If I remind people about how this meeting helps support an important project AND why they specifically matter in achieving our objectives, I create better participants.

More than anything, blocking off time on your calendar to do these things (just like you would block off time for the session itself), is critical to making sure you leave adequate time to prepare.

Preparation isn’t the sexy part…but it can actually be a lot of fun when you use it as an opportunity to connect with participants one-on-one to see how you can serve them as a facilitator.   Then when the meeting begins, you can feel confident you’ve done all you could to make it run as smoothly as possible.   There will still be hiccups…but you’ll probably see most of them coming!

Leslie Stein

About Leslie Stein

In addition to being an LSI trainer, Leslie Stein is a speaker, author, & life enthusiast!  Her book, Penny Perspectives: Let Go of Happily Ever After & Invest in Happily Ever NOW is chocked full of new perspectives on old attitudes. To learn more about Leslie, the “Penny Project” that inspired the book, or why she & her cat sometimes dress like Abraham Lincoln, you can visit her at