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Want Better Meetings? Create Better Agendas!

Great meetings start with great agendas. These tips will help you write agendas that keep meetings on track.

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 online self-study course Meeting Notes Made Easy

Do you have tips on creating better meeting agendas? Please share them.

Syntax Training

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

One comment on “Want Better Meetings? Create Better Agendas!”

  • Instrumentation Department will be having alternative week weekly meeting, Starting on 14th January 2020 (Alternative Tuesday’s).

    I want to send the above mentioned email to the employees. Kindly check the sentence is correct and if it is wrong please correct it and send me back.

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