Believe it or not, a well written agenda can enhance your meeting and help you achieve your business goals.
If done correctly, a meeting agenda can greatly enhance your meeting by:
- Setting expectation of meeting attendees
- Keeping the meeting on track in regard to discussed topics and subject matter
- Helping manage the time spent on each topic
- Allowing people to mentally prepare for the topics being discussed
- Helping you keep away from topics you don’t want to discuss in the meeting (because it’s not on the agenda)
- Acting as a check list to assure that all needed topics are raised during the meeting
As additional food for thought, the simple act of distributing your meeting agenda a few days prior to the meeting taking place, via the email-based invitation or other automated or manual means, has the following advantages:
- Allows meeting participants to properly prepare for the topics being discussed
- Saves people who are not interested in the topics being discussed from attending the meeting
- Helps assure that people who have a vested interest in the topics being discussed will attend your meeting
- Provides general status information to those who can attend the meeting as to what you are working on
With the advantages of using a meeting agenda now defined, the question is “How should an agenda be written to maximize its effectiveness?”
The first and most obvious requirement is that an agenda must clearly outline the topics that will be included in the meeting and order in which they will be discussed. This may seem like a single and straightforward task, but give careful thought as to the order that items are discussed. For example:
- If there is a topic you don’t want to discuss, but are being forced to put it on the agenda, put it last, with the goal that there will not be time to discuss it before the meeting’s end.
- If there is a major issue or problem facing the group, put it first. The reason is that if the issue is on everyone’s mind, discussing it first clears the air, thus allowing everyone to then concentrate on the other meeting topics.
- If you want to gain agreement on a controversial topic, place it near the end of the agenda, directly after three or four non-controversial items that will win easy agreement. This technique allows the group to build a momentum of agreement, thus maximizing the possibility of a settlement on the controversial topic. This approach is commonly used as a negotiation tactic.
In addition to a list of carefully ordered topics, each topic should include a start time and purpose as illustrated in the mini-agenda below:
- Meeting begins 2:00 pm
- Topic #1 2:00 pm For Your Information (FYI)
- Topic #2 2:10 pm Looking for your input
- Topic #3 2:25 pm Decision to be made
- Topic #4 2:45 pm Update of project status
- Meeting adjourns 3:00 pm
Including the time in the agenda helps you keep the meeting on track. For example, if there is a person at the meeting who will not stop talking about Topic #2, at 2:25 you can politely ask them to stop so you can keep the meeting on schedule. Other advantages of including topic timing on the agenda are:
- Setting participant expectations as to how long a specific topic will be discussed
- Allowing a participant who can’t attend your whole meeting enter and exit the gathering precisely when their topic is being debated
- Showing the importance of each topic based on its length of time in the agenda
The topic’s purpose informs invited participants why a specific item is on the agenda. This purpose has the dual effect of setting participant expectations and helping you control the meeting. From an expectation perspective, if you state that the purpose of Topic #3 is to make a decision, then people with a vested interest in Topic #3 will be more likely to attend your meeting. Regarding keeping control of your meeting, saying Topic #1 is simply an FYI, participants will not be expecting to debate the topic, thus you can move past it quickly.
Until next time, lead well, always communicate, and think business first and technology second.