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To lead an effective meeting, you must be crystal clear about what you want to achieve. No one will understand your objectives unless you do. You have to demand ruthless clarity. The person with whom you have to be ruthless is yourself.

Write down the purpose of the meeting. Look at what you have written. Is that what you want to accomplish?

Then ask yourself, how will you know that you did that? These are your intended results.

Sometimes the intended result is inherent in the purpose. For instance, if the purpose of your meeting is to:

  • Review the proposals submitted by three caterers and select a caterer for the reception

then your intended result is implicit. If at the end of your meeting you have selected a caterer, you have achieved the purpose of your meeting.

If, however, the purpose of your meeting is to:

  • Plan the New Students Reception

Watch out. What exactly do you want to achieve in the meeting? Brainstorming a potential location and themes? Or do you want to select a location and theme? Do you want to leave the meeting with ideas for a menu? Or do you want to select a menu? Do you want to simply hear ideas, or do you want action?

If your preference is action, you might couple your meeting purpose of “Plan the New Students Reception” with some or all of these Intended Results:

  • Identify a venue
  • Select a theme
  • Select the menu
  • Pick a caterer
  • Establish how we will invite people and when

Clarity and specificity are key here. We may think we know what we want, but when asked to state what we want, we may find we can’t readily do that. Alternatively, we may have a clear idea of what we want to achieve, but no one else will unless we state our objectives succinctly and specifically. Here, written repetition helps a lot.

Draft your initial statement of the purpose of your meeting. Put aside what you have written, go off and do something unrelated, come back in a few hours or the next day and reread what you have written. When I do this, I am often surprised, because what I thought was very clear actually isn’t when I reread it. You will likely see ways to sharpen or clarify what you actually intend when you focus on what you want to achieve. Multiple iterations are not only likely; they are desirable.

Don’t be in a rush to articulate your purpose. Slow down now so that you can speed up later. The meeting purpose is like the trajectory of a rocket. If you want a rocket to land on the moon, it is best to be precise about calibrating its direction. It is not a good idea to aim the rocket for outer space and hope for the best. The same holds true for your meeting purpose. Arguably the best way to make sure a meeting fails is to have a vague meeting purpose or worse, no meeting purpose.

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