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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

How to Speed-Prep for a Meeting When You're Crunched for Time

Maybe you headed to a friend’s impromptu birthday dinner last night instead of brushing up on points for the morning meeting. You promised yourself, before hitting the pillow, that you’d wake up early and outline your talking points, but—spoiler alert—that didn’t happen.

Or maybe you really didn’t get that meeting invite until the last minute (we’ll blame Gmail).

In any case, here you are at your desk at 9 AM with a venti latte, a 30-minute countdown, and the angelic Tim Gunn sitting on your shoulder, whispering, “Make it work.” And, make it work, you must. Here’s how.

Forget Perfect

Throw that triple-checking, OCD, type-A mentality into the recycling bin (because you can use it later, just not right now). It’s time to use those finals-week cramming skills you got so good at in college.

Utilize the little time you have to do as much as possible, focusing on the main points of the meeting and nothing else. You’re not preparing for a championship episode of Jeopardy here—you’re just trying not to embarrass yourself by knowing the client or new project no better than the clueless couples on The Newlywed Game do. If we’re talking in terms of game-show goals, you want to know the gist of the most popular “Survey Says” answers on Family Feud.

Know Your “Ws” (and Outline the “H”)

Whip out your notebook and fill out the following like a worksheet: Who, What, When, Where and Why. Also, jot down the strongest three points you want to make in How you’re planning to accomplish the goal that is the reason for the meeting. (Three is proven to be an easy and effective number of points to remember—check out this Forbes article on the Rule of 3.) Drill yourself on said details.

Then, make a list of the questions you need answered from the key players in the meeting before everyone leaves. With your remaining time, educate yourself on the questions you believe those players will be asking, and a brief answer (even if that answer is “I’m researching that right now, and I’ll report on that at our next meeting”).

A Funny Thing Happened…

All right, this might seem a little counterintuitive, but take 60 seconds to skim the day’s interesting news headlines and come up with an anecdote, joke, or just a prompt to kick off the meeting. The casual chatter it will spark will warm the room, which will in turn help you think clearer about the points you only just reviewed a few minutes ago, improving your delivery. Plus, knowing that you have a conversation topic in your back pocket will calm your nerves and make you feel more confident when you walk through those conference room doors.

Repeat After Me

I’m not going to ask you to look at yourself in your compact mirror (or worse—the office bathroom) to repeat positive affirmations to yourself. But, I will request that you replay past situations in which you totally B.S.-ed your way to success—like that time your creative writing professor put you on the spot to share the thesis you didn’t prepare. You didn’t sweat, you just made up a plot on the spot, mirroring Ratatouille and inserting hipster language to camouflage the truth, saying things like “with a new wave feel.”

Remembering how well you’ve done with short-notice before will boost your confidence. You should also remind yourself that most meetings and presentations that make you nervous are actually phenomenal, well-deserved, and potentially career-changing opportunities to shine in front of influential people in your career. Once you see the meeting as something positive and exciting, those nerves will turn into adrenaline, amping you up to blow everyone away.

So go get ’em. Meeting and presentation prep doesn’t always have to call for a script and practice—just trust your experience and power to rise to the impromptu occasion. And just think: After you get through this corporate rendezvous, you’ll be home, snuggling in bed, where this will all be a dream.

Photo of woman running meeting courtesy of Shutterstock.