Not every meeting needs in-depth preparation. It's not really practical to think that that is possible. However, you will get more from your meetings if you put a bit of forethought into what needs to get done in the span of time you have and what actions you hope to achieve afterward.

Set your intention

The first thing with any meeting is to set your intention. What do you want from it? What do others need from it? What is success? What would be a waste of people's time?

Having an intention allows you to plan around what you want to happen in the meeting. If you have an objective, it is easy to communicate, "Hey folks, we have 30 minutes to get this done. Let's stay on task." It allows you to set an agenda. It also allows you to say, "We have an objective in this time slot, and we are getting off-topic."

An objective can be: to get everyone on the same page without a delay. It can be: sign off on a new feature. It can be: to defend a new strategy or product feature. Just have some intentions of where you want to go so you are getting done what you want to get done.

The agenda

The more important the meeting, the tighter your agenda needs to be. If it is a weekly recurring 1:1 with a colleague, your agenda can be as loose as having a few concepts in mind to discuss. If it is a really important meeting where leadership is going to sign off on a new product strategy, you better write that down, have timeboxed timings to discuss things, and it should be sent out beforehand to keep everyone on task. Everything else can fall in the middle of that spectrum, depending on how much you need to keep control of the meeting.

Keep the topics tight to the discussion that you want to have. If you have a written agenda, share it either prior by email or by having a slide that shares your expectations. If not, at least verbalize, "I have planned to discuss X, Y, and Z with you today. Let's make sure we get through all of it."


For me personally, no matter what I plan, things go longer than I expect them to. A good question will surface, a well-intentioned person will derail the conversation, or the meeting will just take a weird turn, and it will take a while to wrestle it back. Therefore it is really important that you 1. plan for this and 2. make sure you front-load your meeting with the important stuff. I can't tell you how many times I have had to cut really important topics out of a meeting because the discussions ran too long.

Timeboxing helps a lot with that. When you start a topic of discussion or presentation, say, "We're talking about X, and I have planned for 15 minutes to talk about it." It helps everyone be aware of the pacing of the meeting and can help people not bring up topics that they know will derail whole conversations.

Come in with a decision made

I cannot remember where I heard this first, but it changed the way I approached meetings. Meetings where you make decisions by committee, where someone comes in, presents a bunch of info, and then asks, "What do you all think" suck. It always ends up with the loudest voices in the room dominating and frequently ends up with someone's opinion as the solution rather than the room's consensus. Don't do that.

Instead, make a decision yourself. It's your meeting, do all the research, and come in with an opinion in your presentation. This gives your opinion the best chance to be the decision and gives the whole meeting a jumping-off point. You may still land on a different option, but at that point, it will be because there was some momentum that made you switch from your option to another, which I think generally leads to better outcomes.

To slide deck or not to slide deck

This is going to be very contextual to the company you are at. At Microsoft, everything was a slide deck. At Stripe, nothing was a slide deck. At Snowflake, some things are a slide deck.

A slide deck is useful for three things.

  1. Keep discussions focused around a slide
  2. Showing visuals
  3. An artifact afterward of what was discussed in a meeting

Whether public speaking or in a meeting, keep slides brief and less wordy. The focus of a meeting should be on you and the discussion; it shouldn't be reading novellas put on slides.

I'll generally make a slide deck when I have images I want to show afterward. Or when I have large meetings where it is me basically doing public speaking to 20+ people. Otherwise, I prefer keeping the focus on people and not on slides. This will be pretty contextual to you, your style, and your company's norms.