“A real conversation always contains an invitation.”
Although poet David Whyte most likely had a more ethereal meaning in mind, there are some base truths presented by the statement.
To take this at its most literal, any truly collaborative discussion will in fact include a request for others to join, with clearly defined objectives.
In the business of collaboration, where the end goal is to open up productive, efficient and realistic dialogue, this only happens when both sides know what is expected of the meeting – mainly the what, who, when and where.
In the realm of remote meetings, this is the call invite.
Seems obvious enough. But when it comes down to it, the call invite is often the most overlooked/undervalued element of most meetings. Over the years, I’ve seen them come through in all sorts of states of undress, from too brief to absolutely misleading.
For instance, a call to present team budgets for the year, subject line: Marketing Discussion, and nothing more than dial-in details in the body. This can be extremely counter-productive. Do attendees have to prepare anything? If so, what? And, for whom?
To ensure you start every meeting off on its best foot, there are four key elements that your invites should always include: the who, what, where and when:
Subject lines should be direct and brief, including two things above all else – who and what. If you are meeting between two teams for a planning session, or speaking with an agency regarding a product launch, those details should be specified in the title. Keep it basic – no more than 7 words max – so there is no confusion on the purpose of the call.
- Subject: Marketing / Sales – 2016 Planning
- Subject: Agency X / Client: Event Coverage Results
- Subject: Acquisition Discussion – Executive Team
However complex the call itself might become, there should be one ultimate goal/objective for holding the discussion that can be distilled into a handful of words.That is your subject. Keep it clear and concise and then build on it in the description.
The call description is where you get all your meat in, but it needs to be done with purpose. This should build on the subject line with increased detail including a clear list of tasks or action items that will be covered during the call.
And along with the dial-in details, you should note the following, where relevant:
- Reiterate the Subject line
- Is anyone presenting? Who and what?
- Do attendees need to have anything prepared or read for the call?
- Is the call recurring?
- Links to any relevant prep materials or activity trackers
- This will also help you to track for action items at the close of the call.
Will there be a room booked for some of the group onsite? If so, include this in the location line of the invite.
If there is no physical location for the meeting, you can still make use of the “Location” field in your invite by placing either a link or dial-in number to join in this space. That will actually save callers a step from having to open the description to click the link or dial-in.
You can’t have a call without the appropriate access.
Whether it is a link to join, or international dial-in options, these should be placed in the call invite from the get-go. Some people will send out a call invite without these for speed. Overall, it’s better to take your time, set up the call and send out a complete calendar invite to alleviate confusion and multiple notes.
To further alleviate confusion where possible, limit yourself when you can to including only the necessary details. For instance, if everyone needs just a link to join, include only that information. No need to muddy the waters with 20 international dial-ins if you’re connecting with someone in the same city. On a similar note, even if you do need to provide some numbers for someone say from China to dial in, only include the necessary lines, not the full laundry list.
Outside of the invite itself, there are other best practices to keep in mind (mostly as courtesy) with the process itself. Prior to sending your invite, it’s always recommended to check with invitees on their available times. And when your receive an invite, you should always make sure to respond as soon as possible.