Imagine Edmund Hillary sending out a meeting invitation to Tenzing Norgay that read like most of the invitations that get sent around the modern workplace. Imagine if Norgay saw the subject “Everest” and decided that the meeting wasn’t worth attending; after all, he knew the mountain better than any New Zealander ever would. But that’s what happens to all of us in today’s modern office.
We all get meeting requests all the time. At the time the invitation arrives, the full agenda might not be ready (if it ever will be) but whoever sent that invitation knows why they want the meeting. It’s rarely in the subject, and it’s likely that it’s not in the body of the invitation. If it’s not, don’t accept the invitation until it’s been clarified. Depending on your company culture either make use of the “tentative” reply and ask the requestor, or wander down the hallway and ask.
If the objective isn’t something that needs your input, or is something that you could delegate, then don’t go. Your time is too expensive to waste on a pointless meeting. (Yes, you can delegate meetings. Just make sure you delegate it properly.
Put the shoe on the other foot
If you’re the one running the meeting, make sure you state the objective in the body of the message in a way that’s clear and concise.
Subject: Widget Planning
Body: The objective of this meeting is to plan the next 12 months of development on the Widget. By the end of the meeting we will have four quarterly development milestones.
Subject: Weekly Sales Meeting
Body: The objective of this meeting is to hear key sales results from each of the sales team and to understand how they can be assisted in the next sales period. By the end of this meeting each attendee will have next step items for one of more sales opportunities.
In each example I state the objective by using the phrase “The objective of this meeting …”. This helps readers to understand that this is the objective. They don’t need to think about it. It’s not a rambling paragraph of waffle about the meeting.
The second thing I do is state the outcome of the meeting: “By the end of the meeting …”. This, again, tells people what to expect from the objective. It’s the outcome of the stated objective. The objective of the first is to plan the next 12 months. The outcome is quarterly milestones.
Now its way easier for invitees to decide if the meeting is something they should attend.