Preparing for Meetings Using the Mind and the Heart

The Unseen Meeting

Years ago I used to prepare for important meetings by taking a few moments to write down the key points I wanted to convey. I’d try to anticipate what people’s responses would be and prepare for those as well. In a sense, I was trying to do as much as I could to ‘script’ the conversation. I did this whether I was planning for a ‘one on one’ or team meeting that I felt was particularly important, or potentially emotional. Preparing like this made me feel clearer and reduced the prospect of me being surprised. Being unprepared made me feel vulnerable.

The problem was that often the conversation or meeting would take an unusual turn. When that happened I was so locked into my agenda, that I was not effective at handling things extemporaneously. I was clumsy and stiff.

There was nothing wrong with preparing my agendas, or with being clear about what I wanted to achieve at meetings; but I completely ignored the deeper, more important part of the meeting; the part of the meeting that was not cognitive; but affective.

You see there are things going on at meetings…silent, under the radar things, that effect us whether we are conscious of them or not. Think back to a meeting that did not go well. What was it that made you feel that way?

The leader…

  • let the meeting drift and we off-topic too much
  • was so concerned with sticking to the agenda that he cut off some important discussion without resolution.
  • had an agenda and was clearly pushing it at us
  • wasn’t really listening to us
  • doesn’t follow through, so no one puts too much ‘skin’ into these meetings
  • seemed to be frustrated with us when he spoke
  • although stating that she wanted a dialogue and conversation on the topic, did most of the talking
  • is condescending
  • is unorganized.

The list is truly endless.

Whether we are conscious of these assessments, or not; they are there. We feel them even if we don’t verbalize them.

Today, I’ve learned to prepare for both parts of the meeting; but with much more emphasis on the silent dynamics.

When I list the outcomes that I would like to achieve at the meeting, I include things like:

  • I want the person or team to develop trust in me and/or the team itself.
  • I want to be open to what others have to say and not allow my personal agenda to
  • close off possibilities.
  • I want to be a good listener.
  • I don’t want to be judgmental.

Beyond listing my desired outcomes, I spend a few moments preparing myself.

For example, if I have negative judgments about the person with whom I am going to meet, let’s say I feel they are lazy, self-centered, unappreciative, or incompetent; then I have to rid myself of the negativity, frustration, and anger that accompany that judgment. If I don’t, no matter how much I try to disguise my negativity, the other party, or the team, feels it… either consciously or unconsciously.

There are many wonderful practices to help clear oneself of the emotions tied to negative judgments.

If I want to engender trust or be open to others, I prepare by spending a few moments letting go of all my thoughts and plans, and do a practice to open my heart. I reconnect with my life’s purpose, my beliefs, my values, and my commitments. I feel the goodness in my own core and in so doing feel the goodness of others.

Preparing for a meeting by creating an agenda using my mind to identify the content that needs to be explored; AND preparing an affective agenda by using my heart to see beyond the words…

…has made me a more effective leader.


10 thoughts on “Preparing for Meetings Using the Mind and the Heart

  1. There is so much here which resonates with me: developing trust, being open and non judgmental, avoiding negative body language, opening one’s heart to reconnect with life’s purpose.

    Thanks for the affirmation of what good leaders strive for but often find challenging.

  2. Thanks, Pete! My entry wouldn’t exist without your’s here, not to mention your modelling of storytelling as the leader’s path.

    With appreciation for your inspiration,


  3. Hi Pete,
    I love your thoughts on this – and how you prepare!

    I’ve struggled for a while with presentations and meetings – always feeling like the meeting wasn’t going how I’d imagined or planned. People wouldn’t react or respond the way I thought they would or “should” – and it was so disappointing, because I knew how I wanted to engage people, it just wasn’t happening that way!!

    Recently, as president of my District’s parent group, I’ve finally figured out that I need to prepare and plan less – because I was trying to control outcomes. Instead, I’ve been asking more questions and concentrating more on being completely authentic, sharing what I’m passionate about, and letting the group work through to get answers.

    I’ve learned to look at a meeting as an opportunity to plant seeds of ideas – not to prove what I know or what answers I could provide!

    The result has been amazing! The meetings are energetic and exciting. The group is engaged and coming up with ideas that are so amazing! People are responding, talking, and sharing the ideas that come up. The culture of our parent community is changing…

    Attendance at our monthly meetings is increasing, the media is calling and asking if they can attend, and I’m getting feedback from a variety of partner groups (administrators, District staff, teachers AND parents) to encourage and support me in my efforts to build collaboration.

    Thank you for your blog and your guidance – I couldn’t be doing what I’m doing now without you!

    And what I’m doing is making a difference for students in our district – and therefore, for MY KIDS too!

    Thank you for sharing your gifts with all of us!

  4. Hi Pete,

    It was great to hear how your meeting preparation has evolved from from “what to say” to “how to listen.” I thank you for reinforcing thoughts that have been rattling around in my mind. The techniques you describe are a much better way to conduct a meeting and do many other things as well. I have found that the same principles apply to video interviewing techniques and to my teaching at film school. Finding out what my students feel and what they want to say is so much more valuable in the pedagogical relationship than teaching them “what I know.”

    good stuff,

    Frank V.

  5. It was probably Benjamin Franklin who said, (because it seems that most great quotes are either attributable to him or to Mark Twain) “by failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.” Don’t just show up for an interview and wing it. Some people may succeed with that approach but for most of us, we need to prepare.

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