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Try Pre-Writes Instead of Pre-Reads
Sep 24, 2020

Raise your hand if this has happened to you: you schedule a meeting and dutifully send out a pre-read plenty of time in advance. The day of the meeting arrives, and 30 seconds into the conversation it becomes clear that no one—no one–has read the pre-read.

Amazon famously solves for this by allocating the first chunk of the meeting for everyone to read the pre-read. This is an elegant and excellent solution for shorter reads—5 pages or less. Sometimes, though, you want people to review something longer, or something that’s going to require time to digest. Or maybe the “spend 10 minutes reading together” thing is a tough sell culturally (it is where I work). In that case, consider a pre-write.

A pre-write means asking attendees of a meeting to read a pre-read and respond privately to you with a short digest their initial thoughts about it. It can be a paragraph or two, that’s fine, but it becomes the price of admission to the meeting, and forces both reading and digestion of the pre-read. No pre-write? You don’t attend.

You can send out the pre-writes at some deadline before the meeting, or take the first few minutes of the meeting to read them—potentially even aloud, if they’re short enough. The good pre-writes tend to spark conversation pretty well.

While there’s probably a hard cap on meeting size where this is effective—40 pre-writes is going to become unwieldly—my team has had success with the pre-write for meetings of 3-8 people, and I suspect it’s a valuable tool to have in the professional belt.

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