Meeting and Presentation Tips Part 1: Preparation
For my first Medium article I have decided to start with something a bit more dull yet undeniably important, especially in 2020: Meetings!
In recent years I have been regularly driving meetings of different kinds including planning, presentations, discussions and problem solving. There was a definite learning curve. I would like to share some points I continue to keep in mind — I don’t think there’s anything exceptional in here, but they help to build up a sense of stability in my mind which in turn maintains confidence.
Note: I am a known over-thinker and I like to front-load, so you’ll think I over-prepare here but there should still be a useful tip or two for you! Don’t go overboard; depending on the content or purpose of a meeting tailor your approach! If a meeting is for a casual check-in with colleagues you don’t necessarily need to put in the same kind of preparation as for something being presented to key stakeholders.
In this introduction I am deliberately staying clear of “tips on making a good presentation” because this is large topic deserving of its own article, I intend to cover it in the future. Let’s begin!
1) Do you really need a meeting?
This is a good question to ask yourself first of all, could the goal of your meeting be accomplished with a small group chat?
During 2020 we’re in an unusual situation where meetings are an increasingly important tool for keeping people in-sync, that may not be the case in 2021.
2) Send an informative invite
What is the goal of this meeting, if the meeting covers multiple sub-topics, decide on a meeting agenda. In a discussion-meeting this could be the points that will lead to your goal.
Invite the right people! Don’t go overboard and fill a meeting with people who don’t need to be there, you can check with them or make them optional so they’re still aware (and can read the materials if they wish). If you believe someone is important to the topic being discussed or presented, invite them.
Share your documents in the invite. This is especially important if you’ll be reviewing a document or idea together, good practice is to give attendees 24 hours to prepare. Here at Mighty Bear there is a shared expectation that people will read the materials ahead of time.
As an attendee read through the materials before the meeting and share any major concerns with the meeting owner sooner rather than later. Questions can be noted for the meeting itself but personally I don’t like the idea of springing “gotcha” questions during the meeting when they could have been solved beforehand.
Personally I don’t like to plan meetings for too late in the day if it can be avoided, especially on a Friday.
3) Have a plan!
Plan the meeting flow. This is especially useful in meetings relating to solving issues or discussing ideas since you could get sidetracked.
I will also note the points I would like to get additional feedback from in review meetings/discussions, or any concerns I have which are worth raising for more opinions.
This plan can just be as simple as a series of bullet-points or keywords you want to cover, striking them out as you go.
If you’re presenting an idea which has a variety of options, as is often the case in design, pick a favorite and justify your decision. In some cases you could apply a scoring method of Impact x Complexity. Sometimes I will gather some input during the meeting before sharing the conclusion I have arrived at, to avoid influencing the team’s feedback.
4) Check your work
This point should go without saying since presenting a presentation where content begins appearing out of order (or not at all) or a document with obvious mistakes would be embarrassing both professionally and personally and it is so-easily avoided. If you’re checking through a presentation, be sure to check it in presentation mode!
This is also a good time to imagine the presentation or document from the attendee’s point of view, would some points or slides work better if they are delivered in a different order? Have you become too familiar with ideas in your presentation which others will need to have build-up?
5) Get a second opinion
If the meeting involves working through a presentation or document, ask at least 1 person to quickly read-through ahead of time.
This is something I always do as a Designer within a Design Team, there will definitely be something you have overlooked so find it now rather than later.
Don’t be afraid of feedback; anything mentioned here is more than likely going to come up in the meeting itself, so why not consider it and prepare an answer/clarification/change now?
If you’re asked to check through someone else’s a presentation or document, give the kind of useful feedback you would appreciate (not necessarily the same as what you would like to receive).
6) Strategize and simulate!
Before presentations I will think ahead of time about potential questions and make some notes. The exercise of going through hypotheticals and thinking of out-there questions will help to strengthen my responses and maybe lead to some edits I can make. In a way this is a similar approach I recommend for interviews — learn from the questions you receive and use that knowledge next time.
For a time I was previously collaborating with team members speaking a different language, finding these questions and answers early allowed our translator to have time to think about any more complicated or nuanced terminology. This was quite a bit of extra work but the difference was noticed.
This point mostly applies to meetings where you will present something. Practice multiple times (on multiple days), you will find changes to make each time and find better ways to articulate your points.
Don’t be afraid to delete the unnecessary detail. Personally I make a rule of trimming whatever unnecessary content I can from anything I create, I find it easier to build up something big and then reduce it down.
If the meeting is especially important, present to a colleague first, get their feedback and make changes. Do this more than once.
If done right, by-time the real presentation takes place you’ll be a master of your content and possibly won’t even need the notes. Speaking of notes…
8) Have Notes!
Another tip for presentation-presenting: I like to make sure I have a rough script for each slide, as I become more familiar I will re-form the script to highlight certain points, if there’s time I will next remove all notes except for key-words, in a best case scenario I won’t even need notes anymore at the end. But they’re nice to have as a lifeline.
If you’re well-enough prepared your presentation should feel slightly different each time, while still hitting the key points.
Memory Palaces: Here’s a tip some people (not me, sadly) are able to use for memorization, it could be an interesting read if you’re curious: Memory Palaces.
I hope those tips were useful. In Part 2 I’ll talk more about tips for the meeting itself, but one insight I want to share before I sign off is that although your first few times running a meeting will be nerve-wracking, embrace the opportunity, you will stand out for having done it, and you will get better!