By Hannon Brett, Founder MeetingSense Software Corporation
Having well-formed and properly thought-out meeting agenda is critical to starting (and finishing) your virtual or in-person meetings successfully. A well-constructed meeting agenda will also empower every attendee to positively impact the outcome of your meetings. Below, I outline how to setup and structure your business meeting agendas to ensure maximum return.
Research has shown that well-crafted meeting agendas help drive efficient meetings, keep things on track, and encourage more productive and successful meeting outcomes for everyone involved.
First, let’s cover the basics. Strong meeting agendas help meeting attendees:
- Show up to meetings completely prepared
- Understand the full scope of your meetings
- Digest the context of each topic in its relation to the overall meeting (seeing the forest for the trees)
- Properly manage the allotted time available wisely
- Stay on topic as you progress through the meeting timeline
- Ensure the meeting’s outcome ultimately drives the success of the team/project/business
My top 5 agenda-boosting tips to instantly improve your meeting efficiency and outcomes are…
1) Share Agendas with Participants as Early as Possible
To tease the most value and productivity out of your meeting (and your agenda), timing is everything. Sending a meeting agenda minutes before the meeting starts or handing out printed versions as the meeting kicks off is going to have the opposite effect intended, and will most likely lead to chaos, disorganization, and frustration for everyone.
The true reason for an agenda is to have everyone on the same page about what’s going to be covered, who is going to take the lead for each topic, and how long each topic should take to fully cover… before the meeting begins. Giving every attendee necessary time to think about how he or she can best contribute to each agenda item covered.
So, what’s the ideal time to send your meeting agendas? We’ve found that it’s best to share agendas at very least, 24 hours before the meeting is scheduled to begin. This helps your attendees fully read, digest, and, if necessary, provide feedback/input about the agenda itself. This will also give you time to integrate that important feedback and team additions into your agenda to make it as strong a final version as possible.
2) Use A Strong Agenda Template Title
If you use ‘meeting agenda templates’, that is, if you name agendas in order to reuse them for specific types of meetings, a good descriptive agenda title will help users understand the overall scope of the meeting’s focus.
Bad: Marketing Meeting
Good: Tuesday Marketing Campaigns Meetings
As an example, you may use a specific list of agenda items for all of your cross-functional meetings, another set for review meetings, and yet another for group work meetings. Each agenda type or template needs to fit its intended use, and should be labeled as descriptively as possible.
Possible Meeting Agenda Type examples:
- Cross-Functional Meetings
- Development Scrum Meetings
- 1:1 Information or Employee Review Meetings
- Multi-Person Presentations
3) Choose Clear, Focused Agenda Items
Agenda items lay out individual focuses to be covered throughout your meetings topic-by-topic. You can have as few or as many agenda items as necessary, as long as they successfully guide you and your attendees through each topic, leading to actionable decisions and the intended delivery/consumption of the right information.
A good way to think about an agenda is a very basic outline of your meeting that highlights the important main points
Agenda items should always be descriptive and understandable in order to convey exactly what needs to be covered. You can also include who will lead the discussion of each item, as well as how much time is allotted for each item.
Having these three elements present in each Agenda item will help to ensure the most productive guidance towards successful meeting outcomes.
An example of the perfect meeting agenda is below:
4) When Possible, Assign Each Person an Agenda Item
Some of the most effective agendas assign ‘owners’ to each specific item – especially for cross-functional or group participation meetings. Items that are owned and driven by the person responsible for that topic will drive the most value from that item when discussed with the team.
This person is usually responsible for speaking to that point or area, whether it’s his/her area of expertise or just the best person to ensure the topic is fully and completely covered.
Not all meetings require assigned agendas, but they do help when many varied topics are being covered by different attendees – a weekly cross-functional launch meeting would be a perfect example. Assigning agenda items is also a great way to ensure better use of precious meeting time regardless of the meeting type or topic.
5) Give Each Agenda Item a Time Limit (…and stick to it!)
The last critically important element of a great agenda is a time designation or time allotment for each item. This ensures that the meeting stays on track, and gives attendees a step-by-step time management guide throughout the meeting.
Pragmatically, agenda times better enforce meeting progression to ensure all topics are covered properly as intended.
Of course, these times can be altered while in the meeting to account for overrun or underrun, but providing attendees with some expected timelines for the agenda will ensure a much smoother transition from item to item, and will do wonders for keeping meetings moving productively through each topic.
Note: We’ve found that this element alone can greatly increase your meeting effectiveness and attendee efficiency, while eliminating tons of wasted time and/or unnecessary follow up meetings.
Improve the Efficiency of Your Meetings – In Summary:
Using the simple guidelines above when creating your corporate meeting agendas will help you better focus your meetings and attendees, and will ensure more successful meeting outcomes. When you schedule your next meeting, try the following and see if your meeting is more productive:
- Put extra thought into wording each agenda clearly and descriptively
- Socialize your agenda at least 24 hours prior to the meeting
- Integrate team suggestions or additions into the final agenda
- Assign each item to the best person to lead that topic
- Allot each topic the right amount of time to be fully, but concisely covered
- Enjoy much more efficient and productive meetings with more successful outcomes