Complete Intro to Product Management

Meeting Preparation

Brian Holt

Brian Holt

SQLite Cloud
Complete Intro to Product Management

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The "Meeting Preparation" Lesson is part of the full, Complete Intro to Product Management course featured in this preview video. Here's what you'd learn in this lesson:

Brian explains that meeting preparation strategies will vary depending on the level of importance. No matter how in-depth the preparation, a meeting organizer should set intentions, provide an agenda, timebox agenda items, and come to the meeting with a decision already in place.


Transcript from the "Meeting Preparation" Lesson

>> So, like documents that we've been talking about. Some documents, don't need a lot of editing and can be sent relatively rough draft first try, right? And some documents are so important that need multiple editors and multiple weeks of revisions and multiple people to sign off. This is the same exact principles applied to meeting prep.

There are some meetings that you can just walk into where the last step before you enter the conference room or click your Zoom button. You can just think of, what do I want from this? What are we gonna talk about? Cool, right, and that 15 seconds of thinking you can just kind of set your intention and you can kind of give yourself a rough agenda in your brain.

And then you go into the meeting and that's great. One on ones recurring meetings where you're just kind of updating status and stuff like that or kind of meetings like that. There are other meetings, like the one I was telling you about before, where you should be thinking about it the month before you get into that meeting.

And you should have multiple people look at your slide deck. You should have multiple people look at your agenda and your timeboxing. You should have talked to every person that's gonna be in that meeting so that nothing surprises you. So that's the spectrum here, right, most meetings are gonna fall somewhat in the middle.

So, first thing is set your intention. This is your meeting. What do you want out of it? Sometimes that can just be context sharing. I'm gonna say if your intention is just context sharing, maybe go one step further. Just think of, okay, I am gonna share this context with someone because I want them to do this and wanting them to continue to do whatever they're doing is valid.

But just make sure that that is your intention when you enter that room. But typically it's gonna be something like, I'm sharing all these metrics about your service because I want you to improve your service or change what your service does, right? And just going in with that, intention will allow you to hone your message, what slides you show them, what metrics you show them, who you invite to the meeting.

All those things are gonna come first by setting your intention and also thinking about who is in the invite list. We have a habit of just inviting everyone to a meeting. One, you frequently are wasting their time, right? And frequently they don't have to be there. And having people that don't need to be there can often derail meetings, right?

So being intentional about your invite list can also be helpful. Okay, so set your intention. The agenda, I know a lot of us self included, don't like to think through things to thorough, well, I don't know how long things are gonna take. It's like software estimating but for time in meetings, right?

It's really hard to estimate how long is the topic gonna go? Cuz you don't know if you're gonna go on tangents. You don't know how long people are gonna ask questions for. Or, you don't know how long things are gonna go for. And so sometimes it's easier to think, well, I'm just not gonna plan for this because this seems silly and hard, right?

I'm still gonna say every meeting that you go to, even if it's just in your head, you should have some sort of agenda, right? We're gonna talk about this, we're gonna talk about this and when we're done with that, we're gonna either close the meeting or, go off into whatever tangents that we find.

But having some agenda in there just helps keep people on topic. If you don't have a written agenda, written agenda is always preferable, but if you don't, I always verbalize at the beginning of my meetings. I have planned to talk about X, Y, and Z today. Let's make sure we get through all of it, right?

And what's really, really useful about that one phrase at the beginning of the meeting? Is that if you get a third of the way through the meeting, and you have three topics to discuss, you have a very pre-shared bought off on, okay, we're at time for this. We gotta move on if we're gonna cover everything, because otherwise you're only ever gonna cover the first thing on your agenda, right?

So having that is a bit of a superpower for allowing you to move the conversation along. Helps keep everyone on task and helps keep yourself on task. So yeah, just make sure you have an agenda, somewhat. A really good place, at least just a personal tip from me.

If I don't have a written agenda in some sort of doc that I'm sending out, I'll just put it in the invite, right? Hey, this is this meeting. We're gonna talk about this this week, blah, right? And that, anything that you can pre-share with people that are coming to a meeting is helpful because if someone else is coming in with like an agenda topic.

It helps you get that information before you start the meeting, which is helpful. Okay, timeboxing. So, once you're on the upper side of this spectrum of how important this meeting is. Timeboxing goes from someone optional to becoming extremely important. If you're going into an important meeting and you have not thought about time boxes for your agenda, you are not doing yourself and everyone in that room is service, right?

So you're gonna come in is I have X, Y and Z. We're talking about this for 10 minutes, we're talking about this for 40 minutes and we're talking about this for 10 minutes, right? Just do it. It's okay that you don't hit the time box. It's okay for you to throw the time boxes out the window.

If you're on some tangent and it's, actually this is really more important than topic Z at the end, let's cut it. We'll make a new meeting, let's pull on the thread here. That's totally fine. This is an instrument that if it actually is important that you talk about Z, and Y is going too long.

It's, hey everyone, we're at time for this topic. We gotta keep going. The other thing is I'll say is frontload your meetings with what you wanna talk about. Don't worry about some narrative structure, worry about what's important. So I'll put my topic at the beginning even if it's five minutes and timebox there but make sure your points get across first.

And then other people's points go, as you can tell I'm very selfish when it comes to my agenda, right? Which is fine, because I'm the most important person here. So, I mean, whatever I just care about getting my stuff done and then I'll also be helpful to other people, I guess.

Don't be afraid to interrupt people, if they are going over and dominating the topics. I've interrupted CEOs before, I've interrupted people from other companies before, hey, we're at time here, wrap up your thought, we gotta move on, right? And I've got in trouble for it and I don't care, right, cuz that's just someone running an agenda well.

99 actually, I'm gonna say 999 times out of 1000, everyone's been, okay, yeah, cool let's move on, right? Because they're all in the same boat. Everyone hates meetings the same way, right? And I've seen junior PMs interrupt. I've seen a junior PM interrupt Satya Nadella in the middle of a meeting and Satya respect the hell out of it, so, right?

If that junior PM can get up there and do that, so can you. All right, pet peeve here, I hate decision by committee meetings. They're one of my least favorite things where someone comes in is, here's a bunch of context. All right, everyone, let's argue about what the best solution is, because usually it's one person.

Usually the person actually does have a secret decision that they've already made, and they're gonna try and guide you to it. That's annoying. And then usually there's another person in the room that has their own opinion about it and they just dominate the conversation. And usually you go end up with one of those two things.

So here is my invitation to, is come in with a decision made, is here's context. I wanna do this fight me, right? That is a way better meeting because then everyone talks about, okay, here's why we think your stuff is good or or you'll end up with, actually we think this other solution is really good.

And you'll get a bunch of good reasons of why yours is insufficient and or why the other one is a better solution. But come in with the decisions made and then discuss it from there. Because otherwise you end up with these weird solutions sometimes that you agreed upon just because someone's gonna dominate the conversation.

And you just lose control the meeting, right? So, come in with a decision made that's my invitation to you. I've seen a lot of success from that. I don't remember where actually I heard I think it came from some company. I wanna say it was from the Shopify blog or something like that.

It's, hey, we do all of our meetings this way, my gosh, it's so much better. So I wholesale adopted that.
>> What if the decision that you made was wrong. How do you eventually kind of resolve that?
>> I mean, I have a mantra that I tell myself all the time.

It's, I am an idiot and I'm learning things all the time, right? So if you come in with better things about it, I have no attachment to any of my solutions. So if you come in and you present a bunch of stuff to me and you convince me, I am very prepared, it's like, my gosh, that's so much better.

Let's run with that, right? So I guess it's just having the humility and the adaptability and the recognition that every one is an idiot, right? That helps you get over that really quickly. Am I answering your question?
>> I was like, what if the decision that you made in this meeting, everybody agrees that your option's the best.

A month, two months down the line, it becomes apparent that maybe this wasn't the best decision.
>> Yeah, that's just sorry, go ahead
>> No, I was gonna say, do reach back out to the group and say, perhaps I jumped the gun and was wrong or do you just forget about it?

What would you do?
>> Yeah, just bury everything and do the wrong thing. That's what I would say.
>> [LAUGH]
>> No, I'm just kidding. No, having a culture of experimentation is critical, right? Because it means that you're gonna try a lot of things and a lot of stuff is not gonna work.

And having that fail fast mentality is awesome. And that culture of learning, the growth mindset, right? Of we're not attached to egos here. We're attached to finding the best thing. So in those kind of situations, I have no problem. Generally, I just don't point fingers at all, I don't really care who came up with the solution.

We all went with it, so it's all of our fault, right, whether it came from me or from someone else, you agreed to it. Who's the bigger idiot the leader or the follower I would say they're both idiots it doesn't matter, right? So I would just send an email is, hey we went with this we found this is better let's have a chat if that's necessary or we're just gonna go with the thing that we actually found is much better.

Does that answer your question?
>> Yeah.
>> Cool.
>> I just was wondering personal philosophy.
>> Yeah, no, just doesn't matter to me, I just like doing the best thing, right? I like looking for the best thing.
>> I think some organizations are more open to failures than others.

We're depending on the importance or I don't know-
>> Yeah. I think my personal philosophy just wouldn't last very long in those solutions. If I was, this is my project and Brian's name is strongly attached to it. And if I came back to him and I was, hey, my solution is actually a really bad idea and we found that out.

And they're, okay, I guess you're fired. I'd be, cool. Where's the severance, right?
>> [LAUGH]
>> That's that, I'll see you all later, right? I just wouldn't last very long. I'm not gonna be a good fit in that kind of culture. And I'm gonna argue it I think.

First of all, I know a lot of cultures are like that and secondly, I just wouldn't last very long in it. I'm not the best person to talk about how to play Game of Thrones or game of rolling chairs as I like to call it kinda politics. I'm great at working around people, but I'm not great at the corporate intrigue of how do I get credit for bad things kind of thing?

And I was gonna, it is a bad thing and there are people that are really good at it I don't wanna play it and I don't have to play it, right, I can just find somewhere else to work. To slide deck or to not slide deck, that's a really cultural thing.

At Microsoft, everything was a slide deck and at Stripe nothing was a slide deck, and at Snowflake, sometimes things are slide decks. So it's gonna be kind of based on where you are and how much there is an expectation of it. At Stripe I still had slide decks from time to time and I would keep them, it does help to keep discussions focused around a thing, right?

Because there's something they can literally just point at it's, all right, people, it's on the screen, pay attention to it. If you have visuals, that's great. And it is an artifact afterwards that you get to share with people, right? It's like the doc that you can send around after the meeting, before the meeting, that people can kind of read through it and get prepared for the meeting.

I mean, Iwas talking about that monthly meeting that I had at Microsoft. My favorite thing about it is I would usually send that slide deck out like three or four days beforehand to that vice president, the vice president that was gonna read it. And most of those meetings actually, I would come in and it's, all right, Scott, you read the deck, what do you wanna talk about, right?

And I wouldn't actually even go through the slide deck. He's, all right, can we skip to this topic and we would just jump straight to the one. And the kind of implicit agreement is, if we didn't talk about it, he signed off on it, right? So, I really appreciated him for doing that, and it's something that you can build an expectation of.

And a really easy way to do that, you can build a culture that at least around your meetings is you'd walk in the deck and it's, all right, who read the slide deck, right? And kind of put a little accountability on it, and if they know that they're gonna get asked that every week.

And some people are gonna say yes and some people are gonna say no, eventually everyone's gonna start reading or they're gonna stop showing up. Both those are okay by me, right? But then you can come in as, all right, what questions do you have? What do you wanna talk about, particularly when you have a long slide deck and a short meeting, it becomes really essential.

But sending things out beforehand actually becomes a big lever of kind of controlling your conversations. Cool, just some very basic things about slide decks, I've done a lot of public speaking as I'm presently doing. But I've spoken at probably a hundred conferences at this point and 30 or so countries around the world.

It was literally my job for Microsoft for a while to speak at conferences. So I have a lot of experience of making a lot of slide decks, keep the novellas off the slides. No one wants to read whole entire paragraphs around it. If you really want to put something right that put it in the notes and let people read it afterwards.

But you wanna keep the focus off the sides and usually on you. So use visuals that tell stories or help keep people on target. And then just sentences and short phrases, that kind of spur discussions. That's really it. I like to throw some humor in there that's just kind of my speaking style.

Some would call it unprofessional but who cares, right? It's gonna be up to you it can be up to the culture who you're presenting to, right? I was presenting at The bank of Iceland or one of the banks in Iceland. It was a long Icelandic name that I definitely would not be able to pronounce or reproduce.

It was a large bank in Iceland. And I went in there with a bunch of jokes in my slides and someone came in after me. Was, no one ever talks like that here. I was, do I need to change my slides? No, we'd love it. [LAUGH] So keep it contextual.

I'm usually not the best at that. When there's 20 plus people in the meeting, that's where I'll be, I probably need a slide deck to keep this kind of thing reined in. It's also nice too, you can put your time boxing. Hey, we have 15 minutes on this item then we gotta move on.

It's just a good visual cue for that, but in general I want my focus on people and not on slides, so that's kind of my thoughts on that. But lean into whatever your style is. Some people are awesome at slide decks and need a slide deck to keep everything going.

If that's you, do it, I have no problem with it. Some people just wanna get up there and stand up comedy for a half hour, I can use a beer too if you're gonna do that though.

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