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Why You Need to Send a Meeting Pre-read

See how pre-reads can empower attendees to collaborate, take action, and be productive before, during, and after meetings.

By Brier Cook  •   August 28, 2023  •   7 min read

Picture this: You and your teammates receive a meeting invitation from your manager. The email specifies a meeting time, date, and location but provides no other information. When the time for the meeting comes, you head to your office’s boardroom feeling confused and unprepared. During the meeting, your manager gets frustrated when employees can’t answer questions on the spot and becomes angry at how long it takes for the group to make important decisions. The team leaves the meeting without clear next steps or objectives. 

We all know how aggravating it is to attend a meeting without a defined purpose. That’s why it’s so important for leaders to provide the necessary information and resources so staff can prepare for meetings. 

Read on to learn about pre-reads, see their advantages and disadvantages, and discover how you can use Fellow to send pre-reads that empower everyone to prepare for meetings. 

What is a pre-read?

A meeting pre-read, otherwise known as a pre-read deck, is a document sent to all attendees in advance of a meeting. It contains important details about what will be discussed during the meeting and supporting documents for review so that everyone can feel ready for the discussion. The goal of a pre-read is to encourage attendees to spend time thinking about the meeting topics so they can offer insights, recommendations, and feedback and make great decisions when the meeting time comes. 

The purpose of pre-reads 

Meetings that lack a defined purpose can become chaotic. A pre-read allows attendees to review a clear outline of what should happen in the meeting so the session runs smoothly and everyone feels ready to participate. Pre-reads can also brief external stakeholders who need to better understand certain topics before they vote on or make important decisions that affect the company. 

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Benefits of sending a pre-read

Fosters preparedness 

Sending a pre-read at least 24 hours in advance of a meeting ensures everyone has enough time to think about the topic and make notes. When you send a pre-read, ask that attendees assemble their recommendations based on the content provided in advance, contribute to the meeting agenda, and come to the meeting with questions. 

Did you know that Fellow can take your pre-reads one step further by encouraging everyone to prepare for meetings? Use our collaborative meeting agendas to transform your meetings into productive work sessions employees want to attend. 

Shortens meetings

Chances are that most of your meetings are too long. Meetings are a time to brainstorm ideas, delegate work, make decisions, and take action. They’re not the time to discuss weekend plans or to provide lengthy updates that can be sent by email. Luckily, pre-reads give each meeting a clear objective so you and your colleagues can save time and maximize efficiency. Pre-reads should encourage everyone to direct their attention to important matters before each session so you can run meetings quickly, efficiently, and on time. 

Boosts meeting productivity 

A productive meeting is one that begins promptly, conveys information effectively, and involves as few attendees as possible. The more productive your meetings are, the more value your team and company will derive from them. Pre-reads encourage employees to spend the time before meetings preparing so they can spend time during meetings having impactful conversations, working through roadblocks, and determining the next steps. 

Pre-reads can turn your mundane meetings into effective work sessions that everyone will look forward to! Use Fellow’s array of ready-to-use meeting templates and suggested topics to power your conversations. 

Enhances the quality of the discussion

Sending a pre-read in advance of a meeting will encourage participation and can make your discussions more meaningful overall. Pre-reads can also keep you and your team on track during meetings by giving you an overview of summarized topics before the meeting starts. With the additional context from pre-reads, employees will enter each meeting discussion ready to understand a topic more deeply and make important decisions. 

Disadvantages of sending a pre-read 

Doesn’t show who has read it

One of the main disadvantages of using a meeting pre-read is that the meeting host won’t be able to tell who read it. Unless the document is editable and everyone contributes, leaders and meeting hosts can’t know who will attend the meeting prepared and ready to contribute. Even with a pre-read, the meeting host can’t assume that everyone has prerequisite knowledge and advance the meeting conversation too quickly. Those who don’t look at the pre-read in advance may feel lost and in turn, the conversation may lose some value. 

Takes time to create

While it’s important to be well prepared before each meeting, pre-reads can be time consuming to create and add lengthy steps to your preparation process. Additionally, when there’s a pre-read, meeting attendees must take time out of their day to read the document, review attachments, and create their own notes. 

Sometimes replaces the need for a meeting 

Unfortunately, pre-reads can replace important face-to-face time with teammates when used too frequently. In-person and virtual meetings can lead to better collaboration, improve team morale, and provide a unique opportunity for employees to connect. Additionally, when leaders are expected to create pre-reads before each meeting, they can become another unnecessary deadline to hit rather than an opportunity to help colleagues.

If you find that you and your teammates use pre-reads to supplement meeting time, asynchronous meetings may be a good alternative. Asynchronous meetings are sessions that don’t happen in real time and are used to disseminate information and knowledge sharing on topics that don’t need to be discussed immediately. 

Using Fellow, you can host recurring asynchronous meetings with automations. Create your own template or choose from Fellow’s library of expert-approved templates, send pre- and post-meeting reminders, and add automations to maximize your efficiency. 

Tips for creating an effective pre-read

1Be mindful of your audience

Think carefully about who will be attending the meeting before you start preparing your pre-read. Then, cater the content of the pre-read to your attendees and their needs. For example, if you have newer staff who aren’t familiar with specific terms or acronyms, include a glossary or footnotes so they can more easily understand. Determine what your audience needs to know, the best way to present the information, which words and phrases they resonate with, and their values before creating your pre-read. 

2Send it at least 24 hours before the meeting

The purpose of a pre-read is to help attendees prepare for a meeting and they can only do so if given enough notice. One day is generally enough time for employees to review content and make notes to bring to the meeting. If possible, you can aim to give attendees even more time to think about how they want to contribute. 

Did you know that you can automatically share meeting notes in Fellow with attendees before and after your meetings? Use our tool to create and collaborate on agendas and seamlessly track your team’s action items. 

3Limit the number of pages

Your pre-read shouldn’t be so long that it discourages meeting attendees from reading it. The longest a pre-read deck should be is around 15 pages with an appendix to support details as required. However, you should aim to limit the number of pages in your pre-read as much as possible. Employees should be able to make it through your document and prepare adequately for the meeting in about an hour or less. Cut out information that doesn’t serve the meeting’s purpose before sending it off to attendees. 

4Include an executive summary

An executive summary is a short section of a larger document that is used to summarize the report. If a meeting pre-read is long, include an executive summary to outline each section, introduce your project ideas, and give attendees a teaser for the meeting. Your executive summary should always include an introduction, the most important information in your pre-read, objectives for the meeting, and a list of attached documents and resources. It should be written like an elevator pitch and present your pre-read in a condensed but efficient manner that makes attendees want to look closely at the entire document. 

Parting advice 

Imagine this: You receive a meeting invitation 24 hours in advance of an important project kickoff meeting. You aren’t familiar with the topic, but that’s okay! The meeting host identified that attendees like you would need additional context and sent a concise pre-read with all of the content you need to familiarize yourself with the topic and prepare for the session. You head to the meeting the next day feeling ready to contribute your thoughts and feedback. Success!

We’ve all attended meetings without a defined purpose and know how frustrating they can be. The next time you host a meeting that requires employees to have a lot of context, use a meeting pre-read to empower everyone to bring their best ideas to the table.

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