What to do Before Every Meeting

If you are a meeting leader, you will want to read this.

If you are a meeting attendee, you will want to read this.


Handshake before a meeting

5 ways you can be extraordinary at meetings. (Click to Tweet)

Whether you are leading a meeting or just attendee (“just” attending, as though that is unimportant), what you do before every meeting is important.

I’m not even talking about making an agenda, setting up the chairs right, or making sure your PowerPoint works well. You can read some great tips from Tom Dixon and from me here and here on meetings. Those cover the basics.

Your pre-meeting mission

What I want you to do before every meeting is stand out. Make yourself known. Show leadership whether you are the CEO leading the meeting or reside on the lowest rung of the totem pole.

Think about how most meetings at American businesses start. Half the people on time. Half frantically scrambling in late. Notepads ready. Meeting game faces on. Eyes on the clock. Mind on your project deadline. Total silence or banter about sports or pop culture.

They all start the same. And I want you to change that.

I want you to be extraordinary before meetings. Here’s how:

5 things to do before every meeting

  1. Be on time. Every time. 
  2. Shake people’s hands. Be bold. Shake everyone’s hand that you can. No one is too important or too low in the hierarchy to shake hands with. Afraid you’ll seem like a weirdo or butt-kisser? Don’t be. What you’ll be is someone that everyone will remember…and wish they had the courage to do what you did.
  3. Sit somewhere different. If you are leading the meeting, everyone expects you to sit at the head of the table. Unless it is absolutely company protocol, don’t. If you normally sit in one area, find another. Again, don’t defy protocol and not sit with your team or take the head seat if you aren’t the leader, but do mix it up.
  4. Strike up a meaningful conversation. Ask about someone’s family. If someone is new, sit next to that person and ask how their first week or two has been. Picture that you are a lowly CSR asking the new VP of Marketing how their first week has been…and tell me which CSR’s name he or she will remember. The same thing goes if the roles are reversed.

And a bonus #5 to do occasionally: Bring food. Remember the last time someone brought food to a meeting? Who was it? Odds are you probably remember. Maybe it’s just me but I always remember who brought the Chicken Minis or the fruit tray. You should probably Tweet this revolutionary thought: “Revolutionary insight from @MattMcWilliams2: People like when others bring food to meetings.” (Click to Tweet…I dare you)

Do any or all of those five things and you will set the stage for an extraordinary meeting.

What other tips do you have for the pre-meeting phase?

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  • Talk more with people you don’t know than people you already know. Also, try not to talk “shop” before the meeting starts…just be relaxed. Be determined to be the listener in the conversation.

    • Good point on the listening. In #3 and #4, talking to people you don’t normally talk to and listening are important.

      When you ask the new C-suite exec how his first week was, shut up and listen. It shows respect and genuine interest and not a desire to show off. The same goes when you ask the new janitor the same question. If you listen, it shows you care.

      Listening is one of those things that plays well up and down the organizational totem pole.

  • When I’m running a meeting with folks I haven’t seen face to face in some time (I have a remote team), I always start by asking them to share one awesome thing that has happened to them personally or professionally since we last met. It’s always amazing what’s going on in people’s lives. It sets a positive and optimistic tone.

    • That is a great idea Karin. I am going to steal that.

      I like it for two reasons:

      1. It gets every in on the act very quickly. Often, in a one hour meeting, it might be 30 or 45 minutes before someone has a reason to speak up. This gets every single person involved in the first 5-10 minutes.

      2. It starts things off positively as you say. There will be time to share obstacles and problems, but for 5-10 minutes, let’s focus on the good.

    • I like it.

    • We did something similar. We did an icebreaker, which was “if you won the huge lotto from last weekend, what would you do?” as well as “What is one thing you love about your job?” It was good. Those two questions say a lot about people!

  • Good stuff Matt. Should I use these at my first dept meeting at my new job this morning? I think yes!
    Very timely indeed (stop hacking my computer and looking at my calendar!!!)

    • Should I use these at my first dept meeting at my new job this morning?

      Only if you want to be awesome. Go do it!

      • and if I don’t wanna be awesome?? haha. sorry, there’s the contrarian in me coming out!
        It went well. I was one of the first in the room, said hello to those I didn’t know and contributed where possible.

    • Laura Johnson

      Shoot, I want to hear how it went!!

  • If I need an ally or think I think someone might have a problem with an agenda idea I’m bringing up I check in with them before the meeting.

  • When you strike up a conversation…listen more than you talk. For most people, hearing the sound of their own voice is the most beautiful thing in the world and they will leave that conversation feeling like they are the most important person in the world.

    • Great advice Travis. Just like Eric Dingler said:

      “Be determined to be the listener in the conversation.”

  • Great ideas, Matt.

    Another great idea is “To Have The Meeting Before The Meeting.” Maxwell talks about this and it’s been a strategy I’ve used for years. It’s making sure you’re in sync with people before the meeting ever takes place.

    Thanks for sharing. You have great content!

  • Great thoughts, Matt. I would add that it’s important to come prepared. Review the meeting request along with any notes from previous meetings. Make sure you have followed up on your action items. And I would suggest that it’s important to enter the room with a positive attitude.