We are competing for people’s attention. On their way to work they have already checked messages and had conversations over communication tools and social media. They have read news posts and been entertained by videos, games and podcasts. They have filtered out the uninteresting and unnecessary.

At some point they have scanned through messages from work and decided how to spend their time. Your meeting invite is just an unread message with a subject. If you want someone to attend your meeting , you’re going to need to hook their attention in the first few seconds. The meeting invite needs to answer some questions.

  • Why should I attend your meeting and give you my time?
  • What’s in it for me if I attend?
  • What value can I add to the meeting?

Three essentials for meeting invites

When you write your meeting invite, the important information should be able to be read ‘at a glance’. Then the reader can make their decision about why they should attend.

Write a clear and concise subject line – This is the first thing that will be read. What is the most important thing you want to communicate about the purpose of the meeting? Mention the topic and the activity in the subject. But don’t write a long subject. Some email clients will only display the first 150 characters or less.

Explain the purpose of the meeting in the first few short sentences – Why are you meeting? What is the main intended outcome for the meeting? After a clear and concise subject, the first three sentences of the meeting invite are your opportunity to convince people to attend.

List the agenda items and brief intended outcomes – Bullet-point the topics that will be covered and the activities conducted in the meeting. Lists communicate order and the reader can scan and see what’s in it for them and where they can add value.

Other considerations

Format the meeting invite to be easily read and highlight important information – Use block paragraphs, bullet points / numbered lists. Bold topic names. Use indents. Formatting is another key to helping the reader focus on the reasons for attending the meeting.

People reading meeting invites from their mobile – Invites will usually display in plain text. They wont display any fancy formatting. Keep your meeting invite concise. Mobile readers wont scroll through long lists of details.

Communicate the detail in reference documents or a shared document for the agenda – If you must communicate more detail about the meeting, attach or link to a reference document.

Every meeting invite can benefit from having these things

List approximate run times beside agenda items – Readers can see how long the meeting plans to address each item. It communicates the importance given to the topic. Run times are another measure that helps readers decide what value they can give or gain from the meeting.

Allow those invited to add to the agenda – Publish the agenda in a document or notebook, stored in a place where it can be co-authored. For example, use a OneNote notebook that is shared with the people invited to the meeting. They can add talking points to the agenda before the meeting. During the meeting, the OneNote notebook can be used as a whiteboard and attendees can take notes collaboratively.

Attach or link to any documents and resources needed to prepare for the meeting – If you need attendees to review resources or complete tasks, include these in the invite. If you link to documents, make sure the link is shared appropriately so readers can access them.
Again, think of people reviewing your meeting invite from a mobile. Make it easier for them to prepare for a meeting from their mobile. It’s common for attendees to travel between meetings and need to review content shortly before the meeting from their mobiles. Attach documents to review only if absolutely necessary and when it doesn’t matter that readers might be reviewing a copy that’s out of date.

Keep to your agenda. Stay on topic. – Recipients have read your invite and made a decision to attend based on the agenda. If the meeting doesn’t keep to the agenda, it can be disrespectful of people’s time. Think of the last time you attended a conference and chose to attend a session based on the abstract, the description of the session. When a session doesn’t match the description it is disappointing. Not only has the session failed to deliver what was promised, you’ve also missed the opportunity to attend a session that did present was was described in the abstract.

Summary

Follow these tips to set the expectations for your meeting. Add the three essentials:

  • Write a clear and concise subject line
  • Write 3 short sentences about the purpose of the meeting
  • Always add a bullet point list of agenda items

Get your meeting off to a good start with people ready to contribute because they know why they are meeting.

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