The Invitation of a Lifetime

Unlocking Unreasonable Hospitality through Better Calendar Communication

 

by Travis Atkinson, MS Human Services

Have you ever received a letter or invitation written in beautiful handwriting? Perhaps you marveled at the artistry, the creativity, or the sheer amount of time it took to write.

Recently, my wife learned calligraphy. Through sweeping strokes and delicate attention to the thickness of letters’ edges, she created 65 unique, handcrafted envelopes that carried our holiday greeting cards to our friends and family.

When you take the extra time to invest in your communication, people notice and appreciate it. But how often do we extend this level of thoughtfulness to our colleagues and customers? Probably not enough.

It has been said that time is our most valuable asset and our most precious resource, but we must remember another person’s time is also their precious resource too. In the true spirit of empathy and respect, how do we reach the intersection of thoughtful and effective professional calendar communication?

Calendar Basics

A workplace calendar is an essential guide to workplace production, telling us where to be, at what time, and for what purpose. What we might not realize is that calendars can be so much more: the way we communicate through our calendar invites can be an act of unreasonable hospitality. I use the word unreasonable because the bar for calendar communication has been set very low. In many organizations, people attend whatever meetings they are invited to, even if they’re unsure of their purpose or place in the meeting.

Reforming the Calendar Status Quo

The good news is that creating thoughtful and effective calendar invites is easier than learning calligraphy. In just a few extra seconds, you can greatly improve how people understand and relate to meetings in your organization.

Here are four tips for better calendar invitations:

1. Create a title that is congruent with the meeting purpose.

A meeting title informs attendees of the nature of the meeting. Select a title that concisely describes the type or topic of the meeting. It can be helpful to add terms that clarify the frequency of the meeting or the project it pertains to. If the meeting is targeted around a specific action or decision, use action words to describe the charge of the meeting.

If you are meeting with someone external to your organization, consider adding both of your names in parentheses at the end of the title, with your name first, so the invite is oriented to them.

Examples of effective meeting titles include:

  •  Company-wide Monthly Staff Meeting
  •  Marketing Team Huddle
  •  Widgets Weekly Project Meeting
  • Determine Location for Annual Holiday Party
  • Troubleshoot Alex’s Remote Office Connectivity Issues

2. Construct a one-sentence purpose statement

Occasionally, a meeting title is too brief to capture the purpose of a particular meeting or meeting series. Craft a clear and focused one-sentence purpose statement to inform attendees of the meeting’s goal and to assure participants that the meeting is needed. A purpose statement also helps recipients determine if they should seek more clarity from the meeting owner before accepting the meeting.

Examples of effective purpose statements include:

  • The purpose of the Weekly Widgets Scrum is to review project resources and status.
  •  The purpose of the IT Team Huddle is to connect as a group and discuss topics to
    advance our technical skills.
  • The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the project background, scope, deliverables,
    and timeline.
  • The purpose of this meeting is to create the agenda for the monthly board of directors
    meeting.

3. Type out the attendee’s names, role, and organization.

A list of attendees, their roles, and organization informs participants who will be in a meeting and provides insight into how they can contribute to the meeting’s  purpose. This list can serve as a useful reference for attendees as they prepare for or participate in the meeting.

If the list of attendees’ names is considerably long, simply list the facilitator or key players. Always orient the list of names to the customer or the attendees rather than drafting a list for yourself. Type all names, roles, and organizations thoroughly, including those of you and your co-workers.

4. Attach the agenda as a PDF and paste it into the body of the calendar invitation.

An agenda is a list of topics for a meeting and can help guide discussion among participants. Agenda items are accompanied by what time each topic will be discussed, who will lead the discussion and the decisions to be made related to the topic. Attaching the agenda as a PDF and pasting the agenda into the body of the invite will increase the likelihood that attendees will review the agenda ahead of the meeting.

Conclusion

It might not seem significant in one invite, but if you and your colleagues begin approaching calendar invites this way, within a few weeks your calendar would be filled with rich information about meeting purpose, making you a more relevant and helpful participant. In addition, if your busy schedule causes you to bounce from meeting to meeting with few breaks in between, a well-prepared calendar invite will quickly orient you to why you’re there and what you’re doing.

Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Perhaps that change could start with the simple act of a thoughtful invitation.

Thanks to fellow TBDS employee Mallory Bouwman for her contributions to the content of this article.