Ask any number of people what frustrates them the most about meetings, and you’ll likely get different answers. One thing most can agree upon is that meeting time isn’t always used wisely.
According to a study by 3M Meeting Network, executives report between 25 and 50 percent of the time spent in meetings is wasted. Disorganization could be a contributing factor, as an Attentiv study reports that 63 percent of meetings occur without a preplanned agenda.
Directionless meetings are to nobody’s benefit. Rather than throw a bunch of information at your attendees at the start of the meeting, provide them with some context of what the meeting will be about so they can hit the ground running. Give them a pre-read.
A Head Start to Meetings
Imagine conducting a meeting where everyone in attendance comes prepared with high-level questions and action steps about the topic. That’s what the pre-read is: Instead of using the meeting to load up attendees with a bunch of information and risking confusion and distraction, attendees read material prior to the meeting to reduce the cognitive load taken on.
For example, if the objective of the meeting is to introduce your company’s revamped financial model, a pre-read would lay out all the basics your employees will need to know. That way, they can come in with a base knowledge of the material and more focused questions.
Give employees the chance to gather their thoughts before the meeting to create a smoother workflow and more engagement between attendees. They’ll have an improved ability to absorb information, be able to truly focus on what is being discussed, and still have time for further discussion.
The Pre-Read in Practice
The efficiency of the pre-read has garnered its share of fans in the business community. Oracle President Thomas Kurian says it enables his company to host effective meetings that focus on key issues. Reading through the material in as little as 20 minutes before the start of a meeting helps his teams leap into discussion much faster.
Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang swears by the pre-read and will reschedule meetings if his team doesn’t show up prepared. As extreme as that sounds, rescheduling makes more sense than wasting people’s time.
In 2012, Conor Neill outlined Amazon’s unique approach to meetings. Each employee spends the first 30 minutes of one reading a six-page breakdown of what’s to be discussed. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos likes that the approach de-emphasizes the presentation aspect of meetings and calls it “study hall at the beginning of our meetings.”
“If you have a traditional [PowerPoint] presentation, executives interrupt,” Bezos says. “If you read the whole six-page memo, on page 2, you have a question, but on…page 4, that question is answered.”
Much like Bezos, Hearsay CEO and co-founder Clara Shih finds the pre-read valuable, even if it means doing a little homework beforehand. “That requires more discipline because people have to prepare for the meeting both by creating content and consuming it ahead of time, but it pays off,” Shih explains.
When it comes down to it, presence is about doing less, not more. Having the discipline to perform simple processes, like pre-reading, ensures fewer distractions and the increased mental awareness needed to boost meeting productivity and keep meetings on track.