Meetings are an essential part of any business, but if they’re not managed properly, they can become long, inefficient, and unproductive.
To ensure that your meetings are effective, it’s important to create an agenda that outlines the purpose, discussion items, and key decisions that need to be made.
The agenda for a meeting serves as a guide for your team and should inform them of what needs to be accomplished during the session. It should also provide an outline for how to best prepare for the meeting, explain the motive for the gathering, assign tasks to attendees, and set out a period of time for each topic.
A well-crafted agenda will help ensure the meeting is productive and keeps the team focused.
11 Tips for creating an effective meeting agenda
Studies have shown that there is not always a correlation between having an agenda and how the people in attendance rate the overall quality of the meeting. It is not the agenda itself that matters, but instead, the significance and relevance of the items included and how the person in charge of the meeting steers the discussion of these points.
When drawing up a meeting agenda, it is essential to ensure that it provides all the necessary information for the participants. This should include the purpose of the gathering, the topics to be discussed, and any decisions that have to be taken. Additionally, the agenda should supply sufficient background knowledge so that the team can become familiar with the subject before the meeting commences.
1. Identify the objective of the meeting
Prior to the business meeting, if you are asked the reason for the gathering, the objective should answer that question. In order for the meeting to be productive and successful, it is important for the meeting participants to be aware of the objectives and desired results beforehand, so as not to waste anyone's time. It is essential that the objectives and agenda are set before the meeting so that everyone doesn't end the meeting frustrated, thinking that the same result could have been achieved through an email instead.
The objective will provide attendees with insight into what will be expected, so they are not taken by surprise and can join the meeting prepared to discuss particular items.
Prior to establishing the objective, first, determine what kind of meeting is taking place. Is it to come up with a new strategy or address an issue?
The meeting could be to:
Solve a problem
Make a decision
Build morale or a team
Then refine the purpose further by asking yourself questions such as:
Is the aim of the meeting to come to an agreement or make a decision? If so, what is the final outcome needed?
Do you need to brainstorm ideas or objectives? If so, what is the subject?
Do you need to ask the team about their progress?
Is the team required to design a course of action regarding a particular issue the organisation is struggling with?
Are you formulating strategies or attempting to arrive at a solution with the team?
After answering these questions, you should be able to write the objective, or several objectives, for the meeting. To make sure you fully understand what it is, consider what you would like to have achieved once the meeting has concluded.
Include the objective at the start of the agenda and in the meeting invitation.
2. Link to any required or relevant pre-reading in the agenda
Give all invitees a copy of the meeting's agenda with enough lead time, so that everyone can go over any required material and come up with their initial thoughts ahead of time. This might include presentation decks, supplementary information, and prior decisions. This will ensure that there are no lengthy preambles and that the meeting can proceed efficiently.
3. Ask for input
As the agenda is being developed, it is important to request input from the participants for several reasons.
Firstly, since meetings are fundamentally a group activity, it is only suitable to include other people's opinions.
Second, when attendees are encouraged to express their thoughts they tend to have more buy-in, leading to more commitment and active participation in the meeting.
However, ultimately the decision is up to you about what will be on the agenda as the items align with the meeting objective.
4. Write agenda items for action
Instead of putting together an agenda that is just a long list of items to discuss, think about the agenda as a group of questions to be answered.
Rather than simply providing subjects as the basis for a meeting, populating the agenda with questions instead can bring about a shift in the way people think and approach things. This gives the meeting a more strategic nature, as the participants will consider what the agenda item truly means and the ultimate purpose of the meeting.
Additionally, this approach encourages the attendees to be more purposeful. By asking questions, it is easier to decide who should be invited, because those people are essential in reaching solutions. Furthermore, you know when the meeting should be ended, as it is when the questions have been addressed to everyone's satisfaction.
The topics of discussion should be thought-provoking, yet not so far-fetched that participants do not take them seriously and end up feeling discouraged.
5. Identify the purpose or role of attendees for each agenda item
It can be difficult for attendees to make meaningful contributions if they are unsure of their role in the discussion, such as if they should just be listening, giving their opinion, or being part of the decision-making. If individuals think they have a say in the decision when, in actuality, you just want their input, everyone is likely to be disappointed by the end of the meeting. To prevent this confusion, it is better to distribute this sort of information in the agenda beforehand.
If the goal of an agenda item is to reach a decision, make sure to state how and by who the decision will be made in the agenda.
6. Strategically prioritise items
Studies of meetings have revealed that whatever items are first on the agenda gets the most energy, even if it is not the most important issue. This suggests that the most crucial matters should go at the start of the meeting. Not only does this ensure the main problems are addressed, but it also gets the participants engaged and underscores the purpose of the meeting. While it is okay to kick off the meeting with a few minutes of updates, afterwards, focus on the toughest, most pertinent, and troublesome matters.
Here are some suggestions for the order of agenda items:
Begin with a topic that is:
Easy to deal with
You expect participants to receive positively
Put items requiring discussion and active input first because once people have sat quietly in listening mode it’s hard to make the switch to contributing mode
Put the most important item second and use the first item to warm participants up
Schedule items of great interest to everyone for the lull in the meeting that seems to come 15–20 minutes after its start
Put routine matters and items you want to deal with briefly towards the end
Make the final topic one that gives members a sense of unity or achieves a positive outcome
7. Assign a time for each item
Having an estimate of the time needed for agenda items serves two functions. Firstly, it encourages you to estimate the amount of time it will take to go through the steps of bringing up the subject, answering questions, dealing with different points of view, developing potential solutions, and making a plan of action after the discussion and decision are made. Be aware that the time taken is often underestimated.
Secondly, the estimated time can help attendees to either adjust their comments to fit the timeframe or suggest that extra time may be necessary. The purpose of setting the time is not to end the conversation once the time has passed; which causes bad decisions but to keep the meeting moving along efficiently and stay on track.
8. Assign a facilitator for each item
For each agenda item, there may be a different individual who is in charge of leading the dialogue. This person could be giving more information regarding the subject, clarifying data, or may have relevant expertise. Knowing who is in charge of each agenda item ahead of time makes sure that anyone who is responsible for guiding an item of the agenda is aware of it and can prepare accordingly.
9. Assign a process for each item
The process identifies the steps through which the participants will move together to complete the discussion or make a decision. Agreeing on a process significantly increases meeting effectiveness. Establishing a process can make discussions or decision-making substantially more productive. Without a process in place, participants will get involved in the discussion according to their own tactics. This can lead to confusion, with some trying to identify the issue, others questioning why it's even on the agenda, and some others already proposing solutions. Therefore, the method for managing an agenda item should be specified in the agenda.
10. Make the first agenda item to check and modify the agenda
Even though you and your colleagues have already decided on the agenda for the meeting ahead of time, take a moment to determine if any modifications need to be made in light of recent occurrences since then.
By checking at the beginning of the meeting, you increase the chance that the team will use its meeting time most effectively in light of any relevant developments.
11. Make the last agenda item continuous improvement of your meeting
If this is a regular meeting a straightforward continuous improvement can be achieved by asking two questions of the meeting: What accomplishments were made? What do we hope to change for the next gathering? Investing a few minutes will help the meeting to become more efficient, enhance collaboration, and improve attendee satisfaction.
Ask these questions of the participants:
Did the agenda get distributed early enough for everybody to prepare?
Did the participants prepare for the meeting adequately?
Was enough time allotted for each agenda item?
How well was time allocated for decision-making and discussion?
Did the meeting stay on track?
How good was the process for each agenda item?
Example agenda item format
Here is an example of an effective agenda from the Harvard Business Review
Why is the meeting agenda so important?
Writing the agenda for a meeting is a good way to tell whether or not it is really necessary. If you decide that all the topics on the agenda can be discussed without everyone being present, you can skip the meeting and get your message across in an email that saves time. Furthermore, sharing the agenda and objective of the meeting with attendees ensures everyone understands why they are attending, and provides a shared sense of purpose.
Additional reasons to have an agenda include:
It allows everyone to prepare
It shows you are mindful of the importance of everyone's time
It sets clear expectations of what will and won't be discussed
It keeps the meeting on track
An agenda provides a clear purpose and gives the meeting structure
You can use the agenda to capture related information and action items arising from the meeting
Writing effective meeting agendas is a great way to ensure that participants are productive and engaged in every meeting. It is important to set clear goals, create an agenda that is easy to follow, and assign tasks to the right people to ensure that everyone is on the same page. By following these tips, you can ensure that your meetings are well-structured, productive, and effective.
Read more about having effective virtual meetings here.