Last week I wrote about how to intervene to save a meeting that's going horribly awry.

Several readers correctly pointed out that the best time to save a meeting is before it starts.

So I'd like to go back--way, way back, in fact, to the moment that you first decide to hold a meeting. In future columns, I'll share tips on practice and other preparation but, as Julie Andrews sang, let's start at the very beginning (a very good place to start).

It's at this point you should ask yourself the pivotal question that will be the difference between your meeting being a spectacular success or a crushing failure.

The question is this: "What is the one thing I need this meeting to accomplish?"

This, of course, is another way of determining outcomes or objectives. Here's another way of stating it: "What does success look like?"

Only by articulating a desired end-state can you build the elements of success. In fact, every decision you make--from where to hold the meeting to whom to invite to how to facilitate--should be based on how you answer this question.

Notice the question is about one thing, not seven. Too many ragtag pieces just create clutter. As my Tennessee grandmother used to say, "It's like trying to stuff 10 pounds of potatoes in a 5-pound sack." The result is a lumpy mess.

Stick to one beautiful objective. And once you have it, design your meeting by focusing on these elements. Ask yourself, What's the one thing that …

  • will make this meeting successful for the other people participating? (How will you meet participants' needs?)
  • people will remember? (How will you make an impression?)
  • you can do to make the experience memorable? (How can you create a compelling, engaging experience?)
  • to avoid? (What dynamic do you want to guard against? What are the risks you need to manage?)
  • that needs to happen afterward? (What are the action steps?)

Ready to start? All you need is one simple question.