Have better meetings, by copying from doctors and pilots

15th November 2016

I had a minor operation this summer.

I saw 5-6 different doctors and nurses.

And every one had a checklist of questions for me.


Because they were incompetent and might forget?

No. Because they know it’s essential everything’s checked. They leave nothing to chance.

And then yesterday I flew on a plane. And I noticed that pilots have checklists. Again, not because they’re incompetent. But because they’re professional.

So, checklists aren’t a sign of weakness; they’re a sign of strength.

In fact, all my customers have checklists for their key communications. It reminds them what to do when it matters. Not because they’re incompetent. But because it’s essential they get it right.

One of the most popular ones is my meeting checklist. They use this every single meeting they prepare for. There are four steps – the initials spell PALM:

  • Purpose – what is the purpose of the meeting? In other words, what decision/action do you want to happen as a result of it? (If you can’t identify one, don’t have the meeting)
  • Agenda – given the Purpose, what’s the fewest number of agenda items, so we can achieve it?
  • Limit the time – given the P and the A, what’s the shortest possible time we need for this meeting? If we can do it in ten minutes, put it in the diary for ten minutes. Don’t just bang in an hour because that’s what Outlook is chunked up into
  • Minimal attendees – the more people who attend, the harder it is to reach consensus. So only invite the people who absolutely, definitely have to be there. There’ll be others who need to receive Actions Arising. And there are others who don’t even need those. Don’t invite people because you normally do

My customers use PALM to help them prepare for their meetings. It leads to better meetings, and quicker prep.

They also use PALM to write interesting Meeting Invites. They put the Purpose at the top, then a brief bullet-pointed Agenda, and so on (trust me: this is much more compelling than putting the one word “update” in the subject line …and then wondering why nobody ever shows up)

Yes, I understand that meetings aren’t as life or death as the stuff that doctors and pilots do.

But you’ll spend half your life in them. So they might as well be good.

Action point

Look at today’s diary. For all your meetings, are you clear on your PALM? If not, spend five minutes now PALMing each one. After all, unless you’re clear on its purpose, you won’t achieve it.

And for other people’s meetings in your diary? Contact the Owner in advance, asking what the Purpose is. If it’s something you can contribute to, attend and contribute. If it isn’t, say “I’m glad I checked. That isn’t something I can help with. So I’ll decline. But please send me the Actions Arising so I know what happened”

And for lots more checklists – including verbal ones – you can use for every important communication, click here

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