Why Investing in Preparation Matters (And Makes You a More Effective Communicator)
We’ve all been there. You look at the clock, and your big meeting is a short five minutes away. Only you haven’t prepared nearly as much as you’d have liked. Your palms start to sweat, and you wonder how you’re going to pull this off.
Of course, we can’t prepare for everything in life. But regarding the things we can prepare for, like presentations, meetings, and launches, it’s crucial to understand how to do so in the best-suited way for you. Whether at work or in our personal lives, we all want to put our best foot forward, and a significant part of that involves a healthy dose of preparation.
Investing in preparation is all about understanding your objective and mapping out a way to reach that objective. As my dad likes to say, “Proper planning prevents poor performance.”
Taking time to prepare for whatever is on your plate — whether in the office or in your personal life — has lasting benefits. Below, we dive into the benefits of preparation, how to improve your preparation process, and why investment in preparation makes you a better, more effective communicator.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.”
― Abraham Lincoln
3 reasons investing in preparation at work helps you (and facilitates good communication with your team, too)
1. Preparation establishes more confidence.
A report from Indeed found that a whopping 98% of employees perform better when they feel more confident. If you prepare beforehand, you can walk into any situation — like a one-on-one with your boss or a client meeting — and know you’re ready.
This isn’t just a best practice. It’s science. In fact, psychologists have studied the correlation between preparation and confidence for decades.
Self-efficacy, or the belief in one’s abilities to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance or outcome, plays a role in our confidence.
According to Bandura’s Self-Efficacy Theory, “self-efficacy is built on one’s beliefs in the likelihood of future success; those who believe they have the ability to influence the events of their lives have high self-efficacy, while those who feel they are not in control and have little to no impact on what will happen to them in the future have low self-efficacy.”
In other words, preparation helps establish confidence in our ability to influence the events in our own lives and others’ — whether in a work presentation or in interviewing for that dream job. Don't be afraid to call on some self-affirming exercises as a way to prepare. Research suggests that “power-posing" — focusing on your body language in situations like an interview by widening your stance and stretching your arms above your head in a V shape, for example — boosts confidence.
2. Preparation boosts your productivity.
What’s worse than attending a meeting that’s so disorganized no one knows what they’re supposed to do once the meeting concludes? Meetings like this happen far too often (roughly 31 hours per month are spent in unproductive meetings!), and more often than not, they leave the team feeling uninspired and exhausted.
What’s more, context switching, or changing between different tasks without finishing the last, can negatively impact productivity as well. If you’re in back-to-back meetings, it can feel nearly impossible to get into a groove of more focused, deep work like planning quarterly objectives, reviewing and sharing feedback on a cross-functional project, or brainstorming ideas for a campaign launch.
But when you prepare — whether for a meeting, a presentation, or an interview — there’s time to come up with a clear objective to reach an understanding of what success, and successful business outcomes, looks like. Once you have determined what you want to achieve, you can focus on what needs to be done to reach your goal(s) and how to best communicate them.
Think about what will be the most helpful for you and your team, and set yourself up for success from the get-go. For example, say you’re gearing up for a new project kickoff meeting. To make the most of your time, preparing for this meeting might involve posing a few initial questions or ideas to key stakeholders to spark inspiration and get everyone thinking and aligned. But rather than sending out a list of questions or ideas via email, you could leverage video messaging to add extra value and context to your main points.
Time spent in your own preparation is also a proactive investment in the time you and your team will spend working together, allowing you to communicate what’s top of mind for you in advance, enhance your contributions, and clarify expectations.
3. More time leads to better ideas.
If you’re not someone who can fire off A+ ideas on a whim, chances are you may have felt overwhelmed or self-conscious about sharing your thoughts immediately in the moment of a meeting or conversation.
Preparation gives you time to gather your thoughts and ideas to ensure you say what you want to say — and with confidence. This is especially true for high-stakes interviews or big meetings where knowing your stance on something or having a well thought out idea can make a huge difference.
Best-selling author and CEO Nancy Duarte, of design firm Duarte, Inc., wrote in an article for the Harvard Business Review that while clients come prepared to discuss what needs to happen and how, they often haven’t addressed why. Duarte shares: “Answering ‘why’ often leads to a human, who will benefit from the action you’re asking people to take. It suddenly matters.”
Preparation helps us discover our “why” — the purpose of a meeting or the central idea behind a big presentation, for example — through experimentation and evaluation of our ideas ahead of surfacing them with others.
There’s sound reason behind the advice of putting the proverbial pen to paper to get your thoughts out into the world before sharing: Preparation provides a testing ground, a sandbox to see what ideas stick to craft the best support for them so that others can better understand, give feedback, and hopefully buy in, too.
Giving yourself this time to allow your thoughts to develop and engage in critical thinking is how you set yourself up for success. The more time you dedicate to preparation, chances are the better your solutions or ideas will be.
Five ways to improve your preparation skills (and see instant results)
Preparation looks different for everyone, but these five practices will improve how you and your team prepare for anything that crosses your desks.
1. Reflect on your preparation and communication process and identify gaps.
The best way to ensure you’re making the most of your time is to determine what’s working and what’s not working with your preparation process.
Maybe your team struggles with understanding what to do after a meeting or doesn’t know how to prepare for major client presentations. Knowing where the problems lie on your team can help you resolve them faster.
A few ways you could prepare in this case include:
Sending questions and the agenda via video prior to the meeting.
Recording some initial thoughts or ideas with the intent to discuss them further in the meeting.
Asking your team to send short videos of their ideas and compile them into a playlist for an asynchronous brainstorming session ahead of a synchronous meeting.
A video communication tool makes it easy to record yourself walking through a meeting agenda, a document, or whatever you need to discuss with your team. These videos are purposefully short (think 1-2 minutes long) and enable teams to add more context to their messages and identify opportunities and information gaps, which can prevent poor communication and duplicate work. Over-communicating for the win!
2. Emphasize process as part of your daily workflows and business communication.
Processes are the foundation of any successful team, keeping your team accountable and in sync, no matter what you’re doing. Without processes, it’s easy for tasks and deliverables to slip through the cracks or for miscommunication between co-workers to occur.
Let’s say your team struggles with delivering and receiving feedback on projects. Instead of trying to decipher vague comments or blocks of text in emails, you could require team members to complete a follow-up checklist to help managers provide the best possible feedback before submitting an assignment. This would not only streamline how managers provide feedback, but this process sets your entire team up for success by communicating expectations from the start.
Another way to build a strong process into your daily workflows is to add context to your work. A simple way to do this is to use video messaging to explain, share, and elaborate on projects without skimping on clarity.
Your team can also use video messages to carry out tasks like requesting feedback on a project or to explain where they’re at in their process.
Making supplemental video context part of how departments across your company communicate and share work reduces ambiguity and keeps everyone on the same page. This is an instrumental step in any process you build and project you break down, especially for distributed teams working in different time zones.
3. Invest in tools that will improve your workplace communication (and make you a great communicator).
With many people working remotely these days, it’s essential to use the right tools and software to help your team work more efficiently together. However, if your team isn’t aligned from a workplace communication standpoint, it will be difficult to see a real impact on how your team works.
More often than not, it’s easier to talk things through, but it’s not always feasible to hop on a call to discuss something due to varying schedules and time zones.
Video is a great way to mimic a phone conversation but with added value:
Watch on your own schedule to minimize context switching.
Rewind, pause, and take notes.
Explain problems, ask questions, or discuss complicated ideas.
Build team relationships and foster employee culture.
Provide additional context by showing and telling what you mean rather than just speaking.
Include richer detail to eliminate communication bottlenecks.
Brandwatch’s VP of Global Community & Belonging, Abadesi Osunsade created a 15-minute introduction video in which she shared about herself and her experience. The video serves not only as a way for her remote team to get to know her but also to create an open dialogue moving forward — a proactive investment in communication to foster the relationships she’s building as a member of senior management.
4. Protect your time and boundaries.
Guarding your time is one of the best things you can do for yourself (and your team) when it comes to investing in preparation. In fact, employees spend an average of two hours per day trying to recover from distractions and interruptions at work. That’s a ton of wasted time.
However, team members need to communicate. Luckily, there are myriad ways to build in boundaries and practice excellent workplace communication without being disruptive or creating a hold-up, such as:
Use video messaging to run through documents, mockups, files, etc., and to provide feedback without having to hold a meeting.
Record weekly stand-ups, status meetings, or other vital communications that typically take up synchronous time.
Send a weekly summary of what your team is working on via email or instant message.
These effective communication strategies are actionable ways to keep things moving while respecting each others’ time and energy.
5. Emphasize effective workplace communication practices.
The days of walking over to your coworker’s desk to ask a question or remind them of a meeting feel like a lifetime ago, don’t they? As the world settles into a more permanent remote work structure, effective communication skills are crucial to a successful workplace.
There are several ways your team can improve its communication means:
Get clear on what is considered a priority and what can wait.
Establish a transparent process for communicating certain items (e.g., getting feedback, brainstorming, scheduling meetings, etc.).
Over-communicate to mitigate confusion.
Highlight the importance of trust within your team.
Asynchronous communication, or the communication that occurs when there’s a delay between when the sender transmits information and when the recipient absorbs the information, is nothing new. The tricky part is finding the best way to communicate asynchronously across time zones, apps, and more while remaining as productive as possible.
Instead of bombarding your team with text-heavy emails or instant messages, use video messaging as a channel for asynchronous communication so everyone can communicate on their own time with their most prepared thoughts.
Preparation is an investment in yourself and in your team
Some people are blessed with the ability to think on the fly; no matter the situation, they’re able to come up with the right thing to say or do without having to think about things ahead of time.
We were curious what our community thought about preparedness and how they go about preparing (or not!), so we asked on Twitter which they prefer — preparation or spontaneity — and the answers shed light on the pros and cons of each.
Some people like to play it both ways and exercise a healthy dose of preparation and improvisation. For the individuals below, preparation is important as long as it doesn’t stifle creativity or fresh perspectives. In this case, preparation serves as a gateway for organic (or free-flowing) conversation, not as a strict itinerary.
However, “winging it” does have its perks when used appropriately, such as:
Allowing for more fluid thoughts.
Resulting in spontaneous ideas.
Giving your team a chance to work through ideas in real time.
In this case, spontaneity isn’t synonymous with not caring, but rather letting the creativity flow and flourish. The best outcome of preparation is the opportunity to see what creative magic can transpire when your people get together and think.
Why is preparation important for your team’s communication? What are your preparation best practices? We’d love to hear from you on Twitter.
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Written by Kat Ambrose
Kat is a freelance writer for B2B SaaS companies and eCommerce platforms. Say hi and follow her on Twitter.