Tips and template for your agenda
A good meeting agenda is detailed but simple. The meeting facilitator is responsible for creating the agenda and making sure every meeting attendee has access to it. It should consist of the following:
1. Find a purpose
You know how breakfast is said to be the most important meal of the day? The same theory goes for setting a purpose for a meeting. Do this first, before any other planning – this first stage is crucial to having a successful meeting.
You have to make it clear to yourself what you want to achieve with the meeting. The headline might say “sales meeting,” but the purpose is to reflect on the results of the quarter or make a strategy for the upcoming quarter.
As you will see in the agenda template below, the purpose must be written in the agenda document. Doing so makes it easier for the meeting attendees (and yourself) to prepare, because they know what they’re in for.
When thinking about the purpose, it's also important to consider if the meeting really is necessary.
2. Make the type of meeting clear
Most of us have tried it: entering a meeting room without knowing what we're in for.
From the very beginning, it’s important that it’s clear for everybody what type of meeting you’re having. Actually, it’s a crucial factor in order to plan a good meeting, and therefore it should be at the very top of the meeting agenda.
There are many different types of meetings, but the most common and important ones are information meetings, decision making meetings, innovation meetings, and sales meetings.
Each of the meetings have different characteristics and thus different criteria to be successful - that's why it's important to state the type of meeting early. These criteria revolve around the attendees, the meeting facilitator and the time frame.
In short, the four types differ like this:
An information meeting is for sharing relevant knowledge and facts. The attendees should only be people who needs the same information. The agenda must be firm and direct, so everybody knows what they’re in for and thus can prepare. Make time for questions.
A decision making meeting should be focused on making good and clear decisions. It’s important that the attendees have enough information beforehand to make the decisions. It’s a good idea to get affirmation of the decision from everybody at the end of the meeting.
An innovation meeting encourages inspiration and creativity. The attendee list should include a variety of different creative thinkers and innovative minds. It’s important to make time to follow crazy ideas in order to find the best.
A sales meeting’s purpose is to create a strong enough bond with the potential customer to buy the service or goods you’re selling. The length of a sales meeting depends heavily on the potential customer, product, salesman and the situation in general.
You don't have to remember the specifics of every type of meeting, but make sure to always have the type of meeting in mind when preparing for it. When you're aware of it, it'll feel natural to adapt your agenda to the key elements from the type of meeting you're planning.
3. Choose the meeting attendees
The purpose and the type of meeting are both important steps in order for you to do the preparatory work up until the meeting.
Choosing the meeting attendees is likewise important, but for different reasons. The attendees deserve to be chosen. Not invited "just because" - that's not fair and it's a waste of everybody's time.
As part of you preparation, you must consider who can bring value to your meeting. If there's no good reason for an attendee to be there ("just to be safe" is not at good reason), there's a great risk of making them feel unimportant, because they’re not actually adding value to the meeting.
For audience, it’s important to focus on the type of meeting. Is it a large joint meeting or an internal status review meeting? Who should be invited? What’s important for this audience? This should all be reflected in the agenda.
If you're in doubt, ask them. There's no shame in letting people decide for themselves if they're important for the meeting. Back in 2014, David Grady gave an inspiring TED Talk on MAS - Mindless Acceptance Syndrome. He argues that we need to stop accepting going to everything we're invited to. To make it okay to say "I don't think it's relevant that I go to this meeting."
Give your colleagues, or whoever you're inviting to the meeting, a chance to say no thanks. It'll increase the efficiency at the meeting greatly - and save a lot of wasted time.
4. Find the right space
Do you always book the same room when you prepare department meetings? Why is that? Switch it up from time to time by selecting new rooms, spaces and surroundings.
If moving to a new space isn’t possible, have attendees sit in a new spot in the room. This decreases the risk of going into “doing-the-usual” mode, which won’t bring many exciting ideas, or any interesting sparks to your meeting.
By now, you know how important it is to know the type of meeting. Part of why it's so important, is because the meeting space should depend heavily on the type of meeting.
Information meetings should be in bright surroundings - big windows, good ceiling light or white furniture are good places to start.
Customer meetings ought to be in familiar surroundings to create trust, comfort and familiarity.
Innovation meetings have to be in inspiring meeting spaces - try removing the table or find some alternative meeting space outside the office.
Lastly, decision making meetings often require some kind of technical equipment like a whiteboard, a screen or speakers - and make sure they're working.
You can challenge your meeting space in many ways - do you know the benefits of holding a walk and talk meeting?
Remember to think about the space, next time you prepare for a meeting.
5. Find the right time of the day and weekday
Are you a morning or an evening person - A or B?
We're all different in our circadian rhythm, and also all different in when we're most motivated, effective, tired, silent, unproductive, talking, fast, impatient, easy-going, cozy, excited and so many other moods.
For example, did you know that even if Tuesday appears to be a dull day, it's actually found to be one of the most productive days of the week?
Or that meetings close to lunch usually ends on time, because... well... it's almost lunch, and not many people will risk being late for lunch?
Whenever you prepare for a meeting, keep that in mind. Consider when you colleagues are in a good flow, are talkative, or when you're usually grumpy yourself.
All these little considerations are great to implement as part of your routine in preparing your meeting.
6. What to include in the agenda
There's certain information you have to include in your agenda. Much of it is unfolded here in this post. In the meeting agenda template at the bottom of this post, you'll find a template of everything that needs to be in your meeting agenda.
It's important that you don't add a lot of information "just because" or "just to be sure."
The agenda must contain the necessary information, and nothing else. It should include:
- Title of the meeting
- Type of meeting
- Purpose of the meeting
- Date and time
- Who needs to prepare what
- Does anyone need to bring something - and what?
- Agenda items - what are you going to talk about. Remember to be specific.
- Time for each agenda item - how much time are you expecting the item to take?
- If there's some important information that doesn't fit these categories, put it at the bottom of the agenda. Make sure it is necessary information.
When you're preparing the meeting agenda, consider every agenda item in relation to whether or not they impact everyone attending the meeting. If not; cut it out. If you keep having the same one or two persons not fitting to the agenda items, think again if you need to take up their time by inviting them to the meeting - they definitely have other work to do.
Try articulating the agenda items as open questions. This will make the attendees wonder and think about it before the meeting and inspire dialogue.
7. Mark time for each agenda item
The meeting agenda is the guideline for the meeting. The better it is, the better the meeting will flow. So, take it seriously when preparing for your meeting.
The most important thing in order to make a good agenda is to be specific. An agenda item such as “intranet” won’t get you very far. Instead, “increasing engagement on the intranet” brings more heat. Better yet, use an open-ended question such as “how can we increase engagement on the intranet?” Open-ended questions will stimulate ideas and responses from your participants.
Important! Ensure that each item relates specifically to the purpose of the meeting. If it can't fit under the purpose of the meeting simply leave it out and bring it up another time.
Another way to get specific is by time-stamping everything. Mark how much time you expect each item to take. It's motivating for the participants to have an understanding of the time and they'll know what to expect. Also, it helps the facilitator to stay on track and finish on time.
When you're already at it in your preparation, make sure to include breaks. As humans, we can't concentrate for more than 20-25 minutes in a row. In the end, it'll make the meeting more efficient if you include breaks. Make the structure of the meeting: information - pause - information - pause.
It doesn't have to be a long coffee break. Two minutes standing will do it.
8. Send it out early, so the participants can prepare
Agendas should be sent out as early as possible, preferably with the meeting request. Prepared participants make for better meetings. Simple as that.
It varies how much each attendee should prepare. The need for preparation usually depends on the type of meeting and the attendee's position in the meeting.
It's only fair to give your fellow meeting attendees a chance to prepare - just as it's only fair to tell them what to prepare for. Again, you have to be specific and write down in the agenda who has to do what.
9. Prepare yourself
Step 8 was a raised finger about sending the agenda early, so the participants have a chance to prepare for the meeting.
If you expect the other attendees to be well prepared, you can most certainly count on getting such expectations back.
As facilitator, it's actually even more important to prepare. If not, the meeting will probably feel like an unstructured mess.
By taking your role as meeting facilitator seriously, you will, by time, build up a reputation of being serious, competent, skilled, charismatic and a good leader.
You have to prepare what you want to say, in what order you want to say it, material you're going to present, the equipment you might need, if you want to make a presentation etc.
You also have to think about how you'll try to impact the atmosphere in the room; serious relaxed, formal or enthusiastic, and so on and so on.
A very important part of preparing yourself is step 6 in this guide. By articulating and spending time creating a good agenda, you'll be much better prepared for the meeting.
10. Action items (what to do after the meeting)
A good meeting inevitably leads to everyone leaving the meeting knowing what they need to do. It's a good idea to follow up with a summary of the meeting, where you note all the agreements and who has taken responsibility for what actions.
Different types of meetings ask for different summaries and follow-ups. A decision making meeting, for example, requires a clear sum up on what decisions you made, whereas an innovation meeting doesn't need such a firm, direct "who's doing what" and "what's the next step".
Focus on getting the meeting minutes done as quickly as possible after the meeting. We have many great tips for you on how you can make better meeting minutes.
All these tips won't get you far if you don't execute them with your fellow meeting attendees. That's why we've created a free and simple template for you meeting agenda. If you fill out the template every time you're holding a meeting, you've come a long way.
This template will help you have better meetings and by doing every step in the agenda, you'll automatically be much better prepared = have much better meetings.
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