The secret to happier meetings3

The secret to happier meetings

Have you ever been stuck in painful meetings? The ones that drag on for hours with no agenda? Where the conversation meandered so you needed to schedule a follow-up?

According to Atlassian, people spend on average 31 hours a month in unproductive meetings.

There’s a way out. After implementing this technique, I have received compliments after every day or week-long session that I’ve run.

The secret is…. to create a meeting guide. (Also bringing chocolate doesn’t hurt).

A meeting guide is an outline of how your meeting will be structured, how you’ll prepare, who will attend, what activities you’ll do and which artifacts you’ll create. If that sounds boring, think of it as party planning for your business. By creating a checklist and pre-planning everything, you’ll have more time to enjoy the event itself.


Benefits of a meeting guide

You can use a meeting guide to,

  • Improve your meetings. A meeting guide helps you design your meetings and keep them consistent over time. You can also note down what worked well or not so well so you can make adjustments for the next round.
  • Free up your brain power. You’ve got a lot of things to think about. A meeting guide helps by having some key decisions written down so you can focus on other things besides the agenda.
  • Save time. If you have a meeting that only occurs monthly or quarterly, you’ll probably forget exactly what you did last time or how you prepared. Keeping it all written down in a meeting guide will help reduce the time you spend planning the logistics of meetings.
  • Scale your impact. If you want other people to start leading meetings you normally run, then handing them a meeting guide is a good way to quickly share information so they can jump right in.


Elements of a meeting guide

You could make your meeting guide as simple or elaborate as you want. I recommend starting with at least the purpose and outcomes but the more you fill out, the better your meetings will be.

  • Purpose: Why are you holding the meeting?
  • Outcomes: What will everyone get out of the meeting? New knowledge? Will a decision be made? Are you trying to come to consensus?
  • Duration: How much time will you need to achieve the outcomes? I recommend planning out blocks that are maximum 2 hours long. You can always string together multiple blocks of time to create a day-long session, but people tend to lose focus around the 1.5 hour or 2-hour mark.
  • Process phase: If your work involves multiple steps, which stage does the meeting align to? For example, would the meeting be part of a planning phase, product development, or deployment?
  • Lead facilitator: Who is in charge of setting up the logistics and keeping the conversation flowing?
  • Other roles (such as notetakers, photographers, etc): Will you need anyone else to help facilitate?
  • Participants: Who should attend? Who is required vs. optional? Is anyone expected to be a decision maker? Will there be anyone in a passive listener role?
  • Preparation: Do you need to prepare anything ahead of time? Does any research need to be done?
  • Activities: What will the group be doing during the meeting? Listening to a presentation? Drawing out a process model? Going through a Gamestorming exercise?
  • Input artifacts: What documents, presentations, excel files, charts, posters, are needed for the meeting? Will the participants need to do any “homework” to prepare?
  • Output artifacts: What artifacts will be created during the meeting? Will you be creating meeting notes in real time or sending them out afterwards? Creating artifacts in real time is a great way to keep everyone engaged.
  • Materials needed: Do you need paper, post-its, markers, stickers, etc for the meeting?
  • Equipment needed: Do you need a projector, telephone, a room of certain size, etc.?
  • Meeting invite notes: This is the content that you’ll paste in your meeting invite.
    • Invite subject line: Creating standard meeting subject lines for reoccurring meetings can help your meeting series look more polished. It’s like the pretty envelope for the party invitation.
    • Purpose
    • Outcomes
    • Agenda
    • Teleconference #
    • Screen sharing link



Let’s say that I wanted to create a meeting guide for monthly meetings to determine the business value of backlog items.

  • Purpose: To share information and to determine the business value of enhancements in the backlog.
  • Outcomes: Business value rankings for each backlog request.
  • Duration: 1.5 hours
  • Process phase: Prioritization
  • Lead facilitator: Myself
  • Other roles (such as notetakers, photographers, etc): Notetaker
  • Participants: Product management and subject matter experts
  • Preparation: Group backlog items into themes. Create a summary of the impact of each item, including a description of what is is, whom it impacts, the problem it solves, and any relevant metrics. Send out to participants to review ahead of time.
  • Activities: Assign business value using a business value framework.
  • Input artifacts: Summaries of each backlog item.
  • Output artifacts: Completed value framework excel workbook.
  • Materials needed: None, all done virtually.
  • Equipment needed: Computer, projector, internet connection, and a room large enough for 10 people.
  • Meeting invite info:
    • Invite subject line: Business Value Framework Exercise (Session #1)
    • Purpose: To share information about backlog items and to determine the business value of enhancements in the backlog.
    • Outcomes: Business value rankings for each backlog request.
    • Agenda:
      • 10:00-10:10 am: Introductions and overview
      • 10:10-11:50: Business value prioritization exercise
      • 11:50-12:00 pm: Wrap-up and action items
    • Teleconference #: # and access code
    • Screen sharing link: URL


How to use the meeting guide

Where to store it

A google drive, dropbox, or team wiki space are good places for storing and sharing the meeting guide.

How to use it to prepare for a meeting

  1. Sit down with a monthly calendar and your meeting guide and plot out which meetings are needed over the next month. You could string a few meetings back-to-back to craft the agenda for a day or week-long session. By having small meeting increments, you can easily work around schedule conflicts and holidays.
  2. Once the days are chosen you can create a more detailed agenda with the time blocks and breaks factored in.
  3. Whenever I’m leading a session that is more than 2 hours long, I like to run a preview of the agenda with key participants. Since people will be spending a lot of time in the meeting, I want to make sure that they are benefiting from the exercises. Setting their expectations ahead of time and answering any questions they have helps everyone focus on the day of the meeting. A preview could also be helpful if you’re covering a controversial topic and you anticipate that people might deviate from the agenda.


Free download

Here’s a free excel template for you to get started creating your own meeting guide.

meeting template mockup


Any other tips for better meetings? Anything else that you’d add to the meeting guide?


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