Effective Virtual Meeting Planning: A Key to Success is a Sharp Meeting Objective

Meeting ObjectiveEvery meeting blog and tip-sheet says you need an agenda to have an effective meeting.  That’s true for both in-person and virtual meetings.  But the agenda actually comes later in the planning process. In order to create an effective agenda, you first need to perform a few other steps, starting with identifying your meeting objective.   This is especially true when it comes to virtual meetings. 

What follows is an selection from our ebook “Effective Virtual Meeting Prep,” part of the “Successful Virtual Meeting Tool Kit”. The entire kit and ebook are available for download here.

Steps toward an effective virtual meeting:

  • Identify and sharpen the meeting objective
  • Choose whom you will invite
  • Design the meeting process
  • Choose a meeting medium
  • Create an agenda

A meeting objective is defined as a specific result that a group of people aims to achieve within an identified time frame with available resources.   The meeting objective is the basic tool that underlies all planning and strategic meeting activities.   So don’t gloss over this step. It is the most important.

Meeting objectives should be SMART, just like goals. They should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.  

It helps if you ask yourself a few questions while preparing your meeting objective.

            What do we want to accomplish?

            What are our desired results?

            Why do we want these results?

            How important are the results?

            When should it be accomplished by?

            How will we measure success?

            How might this be accomplished?

Ask yourself these questions and start to visualize a path toward the achieved objective.   It’s helpful to work backwards.  Start at the desired result.  Then think about all the steps, work, resources and people needed to accomplish your objective. Find a starting point and you’ve found the best foreseeable path to success.  

A Note on Overarching Meeting Objectives (Ad Hoc Meetings)

At this point you’ll probably find yourself ‘thinking big picture’.    You’re no longer just thinking about the meeting, but the results of the meeting and how those results will impact the business.   This is good because it helps to ensure the time spent in the meeting is time spent achieving business goals.  This is the very definition of effective meetings. 

On the other hand, this line of thinking can also lead to some pretty lofty meeting objectives – more akin to business goals then actual meeting objectives.   We’ll call these ‘overarching objectives’.  Overarching objectives are great – preferred even – as long as you break them down into smaller, sharp individual meeting objectives.

Ideal meeting objectives are simple, easily measured and achieved within the time frame of the meeting.  By the end of the meeting, everyone knows if the meeting was a success or a failure because you either achieved the objective or you didn’t.   

For example, the meeting objective would not be “to shorten the sales cycle” but “to decide how to shorten the sales cycle”.   If you come to the end of the meeting with a decision, you have achieved your objective.   If the plan doesn’t work, then your overarching objective failed, but your meeting objective was still achieved.  Now you can use lessons learned to make a better plan!

If you find yourself with an overarching meeting objective, you’ll need to break it down into actual meeting objectives – sometimes multiple meeting objectives.

Let’s look at an example:

“To shorten the sales cycle by collectively brainstorming several options, identifying the best and making a plan to implement by March 1st

The objective above, while SMART, isn’t really a perfect meeting objective.

This objective requires brainstorming, discussion, individual work and multiple points of decision.  It is very unlikely that this objective can be achieved in one meeting.   We have to break down the overarching objective into smaller meeting objectives. Each time a meeting objective is achieved, it will complete one step in the process of achieving the desired result.

Here’s what that might look like:

Meeting Objective 1:  Identify issues with current sales cycle, brainstorm ways to shorten the sales cycle and identify 4 possible solutions to research further.

Action Items: (Participants conduct research on their own)

Meeting Objective 2:  Discuss research on sales cycle solutions and identify the best.

Action Items: (Sales Manager puts together a plan to implement solution)

Meeting Objective 3 (to take place before March 1st): Review and tweak plan for new sales cycle implementation. 

As you can see, a plan for success is forming. This process helps the meeting planner visualize the path towards achievement and everyone has an idea of what success will look like. 

Make a basic outline of the meetings and their objectives based on your vision of achieved success.   The meeting objective for the first meeting should be sharp and well defined, while the later meeting objectives can be a little more vague.   Every time a meeting is completed, the upcoming meeting objectives are sharped based on the results of the former meeting. 

This process makes every meeting a specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bond step toward overall success.   

A Note about Recurring Meetings

It’s a common misconception that some meetings, especially recurring meetings, don’t really need a meeting objective.  

You know the ones.  They take place every week.  They have a standing agenda.  They’re pretty boring and about 47% of your co-workers think they are a huge waste of time.

“It’s our weekly team meeting, we go over everything.” 

“Going over everything” is not a good meeting objective. 

 If you’re just updating, maybe you shouldn’t meet at all.  Maybe you should just send e-mail or invest in a project management solution.  

 If you are meeting – if you’re pulling everyone from their tasks and taking up an hour of their time – you should have a real, defined reason – every time.

A vague objective coupled with a standing agenda is a surefire way to spiral your meetings into inefficiency.

Do you have meetings like this?   It might not be evident to you. So start by evaluating your current meetings. Ask your team to write down the objective or purpose of the weekly meeting on a slip of paper.  

Take a look… 

Are the answers pretty consistent?   Great! Your team is on the same page and you’re probably running pretty effective meetings.

What if they aren’t consistent? Sue thinks the purpose of the meeting is to update team members.  Joe thinks the purpose of the meeting is to plan next steps.  Dave thinks the purpose is “Team Meeting”.

(Don’t laugh.  Odds are at least one person will write, “Team Meeting” as the objective, despite it’s utter lack of specificity.)

If this is the case, your team has very different expectations for this meeting.    To make the meeting better, you’ll need to define the meeting objective so everyone has clear expectations.  

Should your objective be the same every week or should you define a new objective every week? 

Great question!  It really depends on your meeting and what you hope to accomplish with the meeting.  

The C Suite may have a weekly business meeting where they assess the progress of quarterly goals by going over company metrics and identifying, discussing and solving issues that might prevent them from meeting those goals.   The objective of this meeting is, “to ensure Q2 2015 goals are met by June 30th.”  That’s it’s objective every week, until July 1st when it changes to, “to ensure Q3 2015 goals are met by September 30th.”   This is a SMART Objective and it works well as a weekly meeting goal.

Your weekly ___insert department name here___ meeting, may require a new objective every week.  It may not.

The key is to make sure your weekly meeting has a well defined objective and that you use the objective to prepare for your meeting each and every week, whether it changes or not.

A good way to define a meeting objective for a recurring meeting is to find a way to further the objective from the last meeting.    

Weekly meetings should build off one another. Look back at the meeting before, review the action items, see what worked and what didn’t.  Plan out the next week so that it will be better then last week.  

Know that each time you meet, your team builds collective knowledge.  As time goes by, they’ll know what to do in more and more situations without accessing the collective.   Your meetings and their objectives should evolve with the team. 

If your team is very collaborative, maybe you could develop meeting objectives as a team. 

We’ll leave that up to you.

To sum up


A meeting objective is a tool you use to plan the success of a meeting.


A meeting objective is SMART.


Work backwards and visualize a path towards your meeting objective achieved.


Break down large unattainable ‘overarching objectives’ into smaller, achievable meeting objectives.


Don’t meet if you don’t have a specific meeting objective – even for weekly meetings.



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