Making an agenda for a meeting seems like a no-brainer – yet how many times have you shown up at a meeting and you’re not sure why you’re meeting? Failure to put the meeting details on paper is sometimes due to a clear lack of organizational skills. But most of the time, it’s simply lack of forethought.
It doesn’t take much additional time to write an agenda than it does to plan a meeting. Some planning has to take place on the part of the person who will run the meeting. What the agenda does is communicate those plans to the meeting participants. It tells them, “I want you to know what’s going on so you can do your job well.”
Why agendas are important
When employees are expected to attend a meeting, they expect there to be organization and flow. They want to be on the same page so discussion can lead to action. Without an agenda, key information about the meeting topics and goals eludes them. They might have a vague sense of what the meeting is about. However, they don’t have the full story of what will happen at the meeting.
Lack of an agenda can make a meeting less productive, as participants do not receive information prior to the meeting that would have helped them prepare. Participants may not fully engage in the discussion because they feel lost or are not informed about the topic. Clearing up questions during the meeting tacks on time and makes meetings go longer, another common pitfall. People have limited time in an increasingly busy work world. Meeting attendees have a right to know what they are spending their time on, and what they need to contribute to the meeting. Without this information, the meeting might, for them, seem like a waste of time. And it can be a waste of time for you and your company if the meeting fails to meet the goals set because people were not informed.
What should be included in the agenda
On the most basic level, agendas need to include 1) when and where the meeting is taking place; 2) what will be discussed; 3) the meeting goals; and 4) who will attend the meeting.
1) When and where the meeting is taking place: It will serve as a reminder of the time and location in a clear and logical place.
2) What will be discussed: This information can be as brief or as detailed as you think it needs to be. You can always elaborate on this in an e-mail, but everything that you plan to bring up at the meeting should be on the agenda.
3) The meeting goals: Briefly state what the desired outcome of the meeting will be. This answers the question, “Why are we having a meeting?”
4) Who will attend the meeting: Think carefully about this one. Only people who really need to be at the meeting should be on this list. Sometimes, people are invited to meetings as a kneejerk reaction, but they don’t have a purpose. There’s not need to waste their time!
Best practices for creating an agenda
At the top of the page, include the date and time of the meeting, as well as a summary of the main topic(s) to be discussed and the goals to be met. If the meeting is for a specific committee or group, you can also put that at the top of the page.
In the main body of the agenda, write out a meeting schedule containing each agenda item, approximately how much time will be spent on that item, and who the item pertains to/who is presenting the information. For example, one line of your meeting schedule might look like this:
|Discuss the plot of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleyberry Finn (15 min.)||Samuel Clemens||11:00 – 11:15 a.m.|
Below the meeting schedule, you can also include details about what participants will need to read or do before the meeting, or things that they will want to bring when they attend.
|Preparation (documents to bring, reading material, etc.)|
|Discussion questions||Samuel Clemens|
At the very bottom of the agenda, it can be helpful to include a section about meeting follow-up. This is space where during or after the meeting, participants can write down the action items that they need to take based on what was discussed in the meeting.
|Actions to Take|
|Read Chapter 2 of Huckleberry Finn||All book club members||By June 30, 2014|
To allow meeting attendees adequate time to prepare, it’s best to send the agenda out at least 48 hours in advance. Getting it out early also gives them time to ask questions and to make sure that their schedule is clear to attend the meeting. It’s a good idea to have the agenda displayed in the meeting so everyone has the same details in front of them.
Agendas – where the party’s at
Think of an agenda as an object of common courtesy and goodwill toward your meeting participants. Ideally, an agenda gives meeting participants what they need to make the most of a necessary but perhaps not so stimulating get-together. The best agendas make meetings tolerable, if not enjoyable. Moreover, spending 20 minutes on creating an agenda can save hours in lost productivity and employee frustration. Employees can feel good about the meeting and be more likely to consider their time well spent.