Great meetings start with great agendas. These tips will help you write agendas that keep meetings on track. (This month's Better Writing at Work includes the full article with more examples.)
1. Start the agenda with the name of the meeting. For a regularly scheduled meeting, the name may be as simple as "Quarterly Business Meeting." For an ad hoc meeting (that is, one created for a specific purpose), work the purpose into the meeting name, for example, "Retreat Planning Meeting."
2. Include the location, start time, and end time of the meeting at the top of the agenda.
3. Give the name of the meeting leader and his or her contact information, unless the name and information are obvious. Invitees may have questions or concerns about the meeting.
4. Include the list of invitees by name or by category unless the list is obvious. (For instance, everyone on the team would be invited to the team meeting.) The list of invitees helps people understand the focus of the meeting and the reason they are invited.
5. List each agenda item, using language that describes what you want to happen. For example:
--Approval of meeting agenda.
--Presentation of security policy updates.
--Announcement and Q&A on new sales goals.
If the list above were simply "meeting agenda," "security policy updates," and "new sales goals," the respective approval, presentation, and announcement could be derailed by unwanted, lengthy discussion. Only if you want discussion should you include that word.
6. State a time allotted for each agenda item unless you have only one main item such as "Discuss and vote on the draft budget." Without time allotments, one agenda item can dominate a meeting, leaving you with little authority to end the discussion.
7. Include the names of individuals who will present or facilitate each agenda item, and get written agreement or confirmation from them. At too many meetings, someone announces, "I didn't know I was supposed to present this topic," then fumbles ahead.
8. Include the expected outcome for each agenda item, unless it is already included in the name of the item. For example, if the agenda item is "Vote on new officers," the outcome, of course, is the vote. Think of the outcome as the result or goal for the discussion, presentation, etc. Examples:
--Item: Discuss and decide on potential panelists.
--Outcome: List of 3 to 5 potential panelists to invite.
--Item: Discussion of audit milestones and their timing.
--Outcome: Agreement on milestone schedule.
Outcomes lead to a feeling of accomplishment: When attendees have reached the outcome, they can happily move on to the next agenda item. And outcomes help keep meetings on track.
9. For each agenda item, highlight any preparation that is required or requested. For example, if an item is "Choose a retreat facilitator," meeting attendees should bring information about any facilitators they want to recommend.
10. If attendees must read any reports in advance, be sure to emphasize and attach or link to the reports. Give at least 48 hours to read them. Do not expect people to read reports just hours--or minutes!--before a meeting.
If you are not the meeting leader or planner, insist on an agenda if your role allows you to do so. Write something like this: "Before I commit to the meeting, may I please see the agenda? I need to determine whether I have something to contribute." Some smart companies have this rule: No agenda, no meeting.
If you would like to produce better meeting notes and minutes, take our class Meeting Notes Made Easy on September 12.
Do you have tips on creating better meeting agendas? Please share them.