CRAFTING THE PERFECT MEETING INVITATION [FREE TEMPLATE]

Present Beyond Measure Ep. 006

In this episode, we’re taking a step back from the fun data viz and presentation design world.

Instead, we’re going to examine an important, yet often overlooked component of the meeting process.

I’d like for you to consider the following statistics:

  • Every day, we engage in 11 million business meetings.
  • 37% of employee time is spent in meetings, which could translate to $37 billion in waste.
  • It is estimated that 25-50% of meeting time is wasted.
  • 39% of meeting participants admitted to dozing off during a meeting.

Yikes.

So, it’s pretty clear that meetings, as they’re run today, are slightly lacking in the motivation department.

What makes a productive meeting then? I believe a truly productive meeting is born with a simple activity:

The meeting invitation.

After years of experience sending and receiving meeting invites that failed to inspire, or even inform, I’ve conducted a lot of informal experiments on how to create meeting invitations that lead to productive meetings.

And I’ve learned a lot over the years.

With these tips, you’ll be setting the “stage” to create a gathering that fulfills the purpose of a meeting, which is a gathering to achieve a common goal or objective.

How many meetings have you attended really accomplished that?

Let’s take back our meetings and create opportunities for progress, not pits of boredom and valuable wasted time!

In This Episode, You’ll Learn:

  • A step-by-step rundown of the essential anatomy of a presentation meeting invitation
  • How to select the most advantageous day and time for your meeting
  • Tips for writing attention-getting meeting titles or “headlines”
  • Why you must leverage the description field to communicate your meeting objective and agenda
  • How to make the most of your location field to improve meeting start time
  • How to navigate the politics of whom to invite without pissing off your coworkers

People, Resources & Links Mentioned In This Episode:

#PODCAST: How to Create Meeting Invites That Create Productive #Meetings #pbm Click To Tweet

Upgrade Tip of the Day:

Do you frequently have to schedule meetings or send reporting to the same group of colleagues? The solution: contact groups! Create a custom contact group to eliminate having to type the same list of people over and over again. Here are tutorials for the major email clients:

Click the image below to download the free invitation template I mentioned:

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Transcript:

Click here to view the transcript for this episode.

Hey guys! Lea Pica here. Fast fact – I once played a human bird in a local production of an opera called The Magic Flute and I still have nightmares about the giant nest of birds in my hair.And this is The Present Beyond Measure™, Episode 006.

<Announcer> Welcome to the The Present Beyond Measure™ Show where you’ll learn the best tips, tools and techniques for creating and delivering data visualizations and presentations that inspire data driven decisions, change hearts and enlighten minds. If you’re ready to get your insights noticed, remembered and acted upon, you’re in the right place. Now your host….Lea Pica!

Hey, hey, hey! Welcome to Episode 6 of the The Present Beyond Measure™ Show – the only podcast at the corner of presentation, data visualization, and analytics all rolled into one big jellyroll. Yum.

Thank you so much for choosing to listen to me today. The Present Beyond Measure™ Show has its first reviews. They’re in! As a show of thanks I’ll be reading out some of my favorite reviews to show my appreciation to you for taking the time and today’s review comes from Big67Mike and he says “Perfect podcast for the BI professional. As a business intelligence analyst for a Fortune 200 tech company, I’ve studied many of the things Lea talks about in her podcasts. It’s full of useful and applicable information and even though it’s about data visualization, Lea does a wonderful job of explaining about what she’s doing by audio which is no easy feat. Keep up the great work Lea.”

Well Big67Mike, that’s exactly what I keep planning on doing and I appreciate so much for the time to leave me that very kind review. So if you‘d like to leave a review, and get a shout out, please visit the show in iTunes and click ratings and reviews. There’s also going to be a link on the show notes page so I really appreciate it.

So today’s episode is just me. Where I’m offering my perspective on how to help you with one part of the presentationer data viz process and that part is the meeting invite and I call this episode “Anatomy of a meeting invite that doesn’t kill your boss’s life” and the inspiration for this episode came from my appearance on the Digital Analytics Power Hour that was Episode 17, that was with Tim Wilson, Jim Cain, and Michael Helbling and I’ll have a link to that on my show notes page as well at leapica.com/006. And while we did talk a little about data viz on the episode, one of the biggest takeaways for all of us was how ineffective meetings are in general, and that’s partly do to them not being set up in a way that’s designed for success.

In my career, I’ve thought a lot about the effectiveness of meetings. I’ve read a lot about them, and Lord knows I’ve endured many meetings that unfortunately I will never get my life back from. So part of my Present Beyond Measure mission, other than just creating snazzy charts and pretty slides, is to transform meetings into opportunities for growth and action instead of pits of boredom and confusion.

So I’m going to kick this off with the definition of a meeting. It is “a gathering of two or more people that has been convened for the purpose of achieving a common goal through verbal interaction such as sharing information or reaching agreement.” But, if you’re like me, you know firsthand that this isn’t exactly how we think of meetings that we participate in every single day.

Here’s a couple of very disturbing statistics about today’s meetings. Everyday we engage in 11 million business meetings worldwide. 37% of employee time is spent in meetings. 47% consider too many meetings the biggest waste of time. It’s estimated that 20-50% of meeting time is wasted and 39% of meeting participants admitted to dozing off during a meeting. And researchers found that the more meetings people attended, the more exhausted they felt and the higher they perceived their workload to be.

So it’s pretty clear that meetings as they’re run today are colossally wasteful and likely lacking in some motivation factor. So I believe a lot of that starts with the actual meeting invite. It’s the very first ingredient in the entire meeting recipe and it sets the entire stage for that gathering. So today I’m going to go through and break down each of the parts or components of the meeting invite, and offer my best tips for creating an invite that actually gets people excited about coming and it creates a much more efficient meeting for all of you.

Let’s get to it!

Ok, so, the very first component of that invite is the date and the time. And usually what we do is we’ll look out like a week ahead and we’ll just find the first little sliver of free time that everyone on our list has free. But I’m going to ask you to carefully consider the date. Obviously avoid holidays and Fridays that are connected to a holiday. Avoid times that are very frequently times for vacation and use your team calendar if you have it. Sometime there are teams calendars showing everyone’s vacation time and outages so that can be really helpful. And Friday at 4pm is a TERRIBLE time for a kickoff meeting for a new project and yet that seemed to be one of my prior coworkers MO’s so when you do that, you’re just asking for total meeting uselessness.

In terms of the time, my experience 9am and 1pm are the worst times. At 9am folks are still settling in, arriving, and with a meeting at that time you run the chance of people showing up late due to commuting issues and whatnot. With 1pm you’re battling against the inevitable food coma from the pasta carbonara that they served in the cafeteria that day. So I try to work around that time. You also have to take into consideration time zones. This is something I’m exceptionally bad at, but I’m always working on it. For me in Eastern time, I like 10 or 11am for same time zone meetings, and 2 or 3 pm when I’m trying to make multiple time zones work for everyone. Now remember this is in EST, so I suck at thinking about any other time zone than that.

Now let’s also talk about the length of the meeting. After noticing how unproductive meetings would get after extending the whole hour, or even sometimes like four-hour meetings, I mean come on! How much time is wasted with people setting things up in the beginning of the meeting after having just come from another three back to back meetings, I did a little experiment. I started changing the default meeting length time to 45 minutes, allowing the first fifteen minutes of the hour free. It got some of my team getting used to this – even me, but I noticed right away that I had more time to set up. People were less frazzled coming in because they had just a few minutes to sit at their desks, check their email and you know, kind of assess the rest of their day. And I find a shorter meeting time, even a half hour meeting time, creates a much deeper sense of focus. You have to achieve your objective in that shortened meeting time whereas if it gets up to an hour you start to lose focus, and stray onto other topics. And that can be a really serious waste of time as that adds up.

And this is something I feel pretty strongly about. I think organizations really need to take stock of meeting governance. They are expecting employees to do an insane amount of work while essentially being booked up all day in meetings. I was once asked by one of my previous bosses, why am I not able to get things done faster? And I mentioned to her that on average I was in meetings between 7 ½ – 9 hours a day and that if I’m going to participate and pay attention to this meeting, I can’t possibly be doing work. So it’s either being in a meeting, or it’s doing work. So what was going to be a better use of my time?

So if your organization is suffering from meeting glut, it might be time to raise that as an issue to the operations folks to force people to set some limits around meetings. Like asking for license to block certain sections of your calendar out on certain days so that you’re guaranteed to have one sliver of dedicated work time. Or that people limit meeting times to no more than an hour and a half and they split if into multiple chunks because studies have shown that after an hour and a half the productivity and the attention span of the mind is just not able to continue without a considerable break in between. And don’t forget to set the reminder function ideally 10-15 minutes before the meeting. I also make a habit of confirming the meeting first thing that morning because if you’ve done a good job of setting the meeting early enough, it’s very likely that your attendees have completely forgotten that it’s happening that day so confirming can be a great way to get them back on track.

The next component of the meeting invite is the title. This is the first encounter really that your attendees have with that meeting. And it’s the best way to not only communicate what the point of the meeting is, but maybe generate some interest in coming <laugh>. I like to think of the meeting title as a news headline. Now I personally prefer not to put titles like “Overview of XYZ campaign” or “Budget Discussion.” This phrasing is extremely vague and it doesn’t give a clear sense of what you actually want to accomplish during the meeting. So I actually try to hint at the purpose in the title like “Finalize Decision on Analytics Budget for 2016” or “Come see a first look at our website performance survey results.”

Michael Hyatt, who is a corporate productivity/all around awesomeness expert, always starts his meeting titles and objectives with an action verb, not a statement like “overview” or “discussion.” So give that a try. I know it seems a little unconventional, but personally I have found it goes a long way to ensuring that your attendees are on the same page when you step into the meeting.

Am I suggesting that you create a link bait title like “every time you don’t come to this meeting a kitten dies?” No, of course not, but you could use some creative license just to make the meetings sound a little more enticing. The bottom line is that one of the worst things that you can hear at the start of a meeting is, “What is this meeting about again?” and I hear that a lot and I’m pretty sure that a kitten does die every time someone says that.

OK so, the next component is the notes or description. This could be my most important tip for you and it was one of the hottest of topics on the Analytics Power Hour episode and that is having an agenda. Another quick stat for you – 73% consider having a prepared agenda as very important. And yet how often do we open a meeting and the description is completely blank? <Laugh>. This is probably the best way to disengage your invited audience from your meeting way before it evens happens. You know with how busy our companies have us, there’s nothing worse that reviewing our schedule for the day and just seeing a wall of red blocking off our calendar with vague non-descript meeting descriptions. So you can really break this chain by thoughtfully adding a breakdown of your agenda. I like to start every meeting description with the objective or the goal of the meeting. Hopefully there is one <laugh>. You know, “the purpose of this meeting is to review our recent campaign results and establish an optimization plan for moving forward,” just as an example. And as soon as you do that you have taken a step to get everyone on the same page as you and have people actually looking forward to participating in that dialogue.

The next thing I do is break down my presentation into the agenda components. All of my presentations have a specific structure and I really recommend you do the same. I usually break my presentations down into three or five main segments, or insights, so I include each of these segments, just a quick summary, in the agenda. And I also encourage people to ask me any questions about the meeting if they’re not exactly sure what their role is. And finally I include the login credentials at the end of the meeting so everyone has the technical details straightened out if there is a webinar component.

Alright, the next component is file attachments. If the meeting objective is around reviewing a new website layout or approve a new marketing plan and it’s important that people come prepared with prior knowledge of these materials, please attach them to the meeting invite. Doing so, will allow people to get in the right frame of mind to approach the meeting and then they’ll be able to ask informed questions.

The only time I don’t like to send meeting materials in advance though, is when I’m presenting performance results. I find that if I send my slides in advance and their reviewed without me, it creates a lot of confusion and some preconceived bias before people step into the room and they’re already ready with a battery of questions before you’ve had a chance to say your name. I like to have people’s full attention as the subject matter expert and walk them through the results and the story myself. So that’s the only exception.

Now the fifth component of your meeting invite is the location. If your team is mostly onsite you’re going to want to make sure you double check the capacity of the room and if you’re planning to present from your computer that the room has presentation capabilities like a screen projector and computer hookup. I know I sound like Captain Obvious right now, but I am still amazed to find how many meetings are set up in rooms without capabilities to support how the person was planning to present. It’s a very easy mistake to make.

Now I’ve also come to understand that meeting space is constantly at a premium in our companies so the earlier you can lock down one of these rooms the better, or have your group admin find a room to ensure that the space will accommodate all of the attendees and have the capabilities you need. Remember – the earlier the better and don’t forget to confirm the meeting on the day of.

Now for live meetings in particular, I like to leave some time buffer in the beginning to set up, especially if everyone’s coming from another meeting. It’s very often that we’re kicking each other out of conference rooms because our meetings have run over and in general we just don’t seem to know how to wrap things up in a concise way. So if you are evicting a group from your room, that extra time you’ve built in advance is crucial. If your meeting is a remote webinar you have a little more leeway with the time but there’s definitely a few more steps you have to take to ensure a smooth start, so when you create a meeting make sure to include all of the webinar details including a link on how to test your computer to make sure it can stream the meeting.

Also know that sometimes outside agencies will use streaming software that internal companies won’t let their employees download to their computers, so checking this in advance is really important. Also make sure to include a conference phone number and if that is the main way to listen to the meeting definitely specify that. I have encountered issues where people dialed into the audio portion of the meeting on their computer and some other people dialed in on the phone, completely separating the attendees, so make sure to include the webinar phone conference line and include both the host and the guest passwords.

Another little tip is that with how many people are usually remote on a meeting, they’re sometimes dialing in from their mobile phone. I very often find that the remote conference information is not included in the meeting location field and that forces me to open the entire invite just to track down the phone number. So what I like to do is I have a room, and remote attendees. I put the room first, followed by the phone conference line, followed by the webex or whatever webinar link. I put all that in location field and as you know, every mobile phone allows you to dial a phone number with one tap but every conference line I’ve ever used has had a special code at the end and it’s really tough to switch between the meeting invite and the dialer to enter that code while the automated lady on the line is going, “Please enter your code followed by pound. That was incorrect. Please enter your code. It seems like you’re having issues.” You get the idea. So if your attendees mostly have iPhones, you can enter the phone conference line in a certain way that will tell your iPhone to pause or wait letting the automated lady start badgering you and then automatically dialing the code to log you in. I prefer the wait method, so that people are prompted to tap to enter the code for the meeting so that they’re not caught off guard when your phone starts dialing without you and you can do that by entering the conference line number in the location field followed by a semicolon and then the code usually followed by the hash or pound sign. And I found that adding little perks like this have just allowed meetings to go much more smoothly for people and generally increased the efficiency.

And last but certainly not least, the component of the attendees of the meeting. The attendees are the entire reason you’re creating this meeting in the first place. Sometimes I find we have this tendency to invite everyone and their mother, and their mother’s dog to a meeting to make sure everyone is aware this meeting is happening. Now, I recommend inviting the bare minimum of the team that is required to help achieve the objective of the meeting. Remember that people’s time is very valuable and while it’s flattering to get invited to fifteen meetings in one day, I find that participation can really vary amongst your teammates and you really want to have the people that are going to move you forward present. If there are political issues around having to invite entire teams to meetings where everyone needs to know, add some folks to the optional or even the FYI field and if they have a problem with that they can certainly address it with you. And you can always say, “I know your time is very valuable. I wasn’t sure if you wanted to be front and center at this meeting, but I wanted to make sure you are aware it was happening. Remember you can always send ancillary folks a handout of the materials after the meeting so they can be informed without having inappropriately used their time and I think they’ll appreciate that in the long run.

And that’s it! Let’s take a moment to do a quick recap of the six key components of a meeting invite that won’t kill your boss’s life. The first is the date and time. Thoughtfully choose a date where people are most likely to be free and a time that won’t be during a food coma. Second is your title. Don’t just make a statement about what the meeting is about. Create an action statement about what you want to accomplish. Third is the description. Please include an agenda. Break down the various components of your meeting so people know what they are going for, and clearly state the objective of the meeting. What are you actually hoping to accomplish? Next, meeting attachments, materials, any context your attendees need before they walk in that door must get sent to them in advance. Next is the location. Make sure you’ve picked a room that has the presentation capabilities that you need and the available space and for remote make sure you have all your technical details worked out and placed conveniently in the location field. And lastly, carefully select your attendees. Make sure you’re bringing the bare minimum number of people that is needed to achieve your meeting objective.

So I’m offering a free download to accompany this episode. It’s just a little Google Doc, with the meeting invite format that I talked about today. It has an idea for a good title, framework for your description, with an agenda and an objective. It’s just a little something to get you started and you can keep this handy and access it anytime you need to use it so that you don’t have to retype everything over and over. Because as someone who is technologically lazy like myself, I absolutely hate rework so that is my gift to you today.

And my last thought on this is another quick statistic and that is, 92% of meeting attendees value meetings as an opportunity to contribute to the organization. That tells me that we can all really turn this meeting inefficiency around and start creating opportunities, not time sucks.

<Music>

So we’ve now reached the upgrade segment. A Power tip for excel, Tableau or any other software to help do our presentation and data viz job better. So in the spirit of saving time and creating great meetings, did you know that you create contact groups in your email client? If you didn’t, this is a great way to save time when you have to create meetings or send reporting results to the same group of people over and over again. Then you can usually just type the name of the group and it will instantly call up the full list of people. I find this to be a huge time saver when it comes to doing routine admin tasks like this. And every email client definitely has some sort of group functionality.

Do you have an upgrade? If you do, please share it in the comments on the show notes page leapica.com/006.

And that’s our show for today! If you like what you’ve heard please hop on over to iTunes to subscribe, leave a rating and review. Ratings and reviews are so appreciated because they affect the rankings of the show and as before I’ll be reading out my favorite ones on future shows.

Again, all of the tips and resources I mentioned today are located in the show notes page at leapica.com/006, as well as that free download to help you write awesome meeting invites. Please leave me a comment if you have more to add to the conversation too. And if you want to make sure you never miss an episode, just sign up for my free newsletter at the bottom of each show notes page.

And I’ll leave you with today’s bit of presentation inspiration and that comes from Natalie Massenet and that is “always go into meetings or negotiations with a positive attitude. Tell yourself you’re going to make this the best deal for all parties.”

Thank you so much for listening today. I hope you found this really valuable, and I can’t wait to continue the conversation at leapica.com. Stay in the spotlight! Namaste –

What’s your best tip for creating productive meeting invites? Comment below!

 

Lea is a digital analyst and marketer turned Data Storytelling Evangelist. She trains thousands of digital practitioners and consultants in the art and science of impactful data presentation through her blog and podcast, The Present Beyond Measure Show. Lea is also the creator of The PICA Protocol™, her practical prescription for healthy, actionable data stories that inform decisions, spark ideas, inspire action, and make YOU indispensable.