I recently worked with HR leaders at a major financial institution to improve "big meetings" that these leaders run. What's a "big meeting?" A large-group planned session, usually face-to-face, held to provide information and/or gain buy-in from participants on important issues.

The challenge with big meetings is that they're often a big snoozefest. Too much time is spent on compiling information and not enough attention is paid to the desired experience. The result? Participants are bored, not energized. They leave thinking, "There's an hour of my life I'll never get back."

The key to making big meetings successful is to start early and invest time in preparation. Here are seven steps to take before your next big meeting:

  1. Remember this core question: How can we make this a satisfying and meaningful experience for all participants?
  2. Analyze your audience. Think about what participants need and what they expect.
  3. Set clear objectives that define outcomes for what the meeting will accomplish. What do you need participants to learn during the session? What will participants believe as a result? Is there action participants are expected to take afterwards?
  4. Consider the venue. At many organizations, it's tough to bring people together in one place, so almost every big meeting includes a virtual component where some participants are joining via teleconference or web meeting. But be careful about sacrificing the benefits of the face-to-face experience for a few remote participants. Ask yourself: Should this meeting be completely virtual, so everyone is on a level playing field? Or should there be a separate meeting for those joining remotely?
  5. Schedule time for preparation. If the meeting is happening a month from now, there's no reason for a last-minute scramble to get ready. Instead, agree on dates for each milestone: content creation, approvals (if needed) and a rehearsal.
  6. Develop an agenda/meeting plan. Of course you need to decide what content will be covered. But you also need to create a plan for facilitating the experience. How will questions be encouraged? Are there other opportunities for interaction? How much time will you spend on each component?
  7. Don't just invite participants; set expectations for what the meeting will accomplish. It's okay to use your calendar program to manage the invitation process, but make sure to include enough information so participants understand what will occur.

Ready? Let your next big meeting begin!