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How to finesse your meeting agenda with the essentials

By Zvonimir Rac

Much like anything in your day-to-day life, if you want it to be successful, you need to plan. And the same goes for meetings.

Which is why the meeting agenda is arguably the most important document to prepare as part of your meeting planning efforts.

The meeting agenda is your high-level view of the meeting’s order of events. It highlights:

  • what will be discussed,
  • how long each discussion will take during the meeting,
  • and what outcomes will be achieved at the end of the meeting.

When you have a well-written and effective meeting agenda, teams can problem solve seamlessly and efficiently without distractions. On the flip side, a bad meeting agenda will inevitably lead to:

  • poor planning,
  • wasted time,
  • off-track discussions,
  • poor timekeeping, and
  • a lack of focus.

Creating and utilizing your agenda is crucial for a successful meeting, which is why we’ve pulled together 7 of the most relevant tips to finesse your meeting agenda with the absolute essentials.

 

1. Identify objectives

Every single meeting you have must have a specific and actionable purpose – or else, what’s the point?!

Objectives are specific milestones that guide progress towards your company’s goal, by breaking down the goal into a series of manageable steps. The objectives outlined in your meeting agenda give your attendees a sense of focus for when they enter a meeting room.

To add an objective to your agenda, start by writing a broad statement/topic about what needs to be done, then include a small description under each topic that provides greater context about what specifically needs to be discussed. For example…

Topic: Quarterly budget

Objective: Finalize a budget for the marketing and business development teams.

Employees thrive when they check off tasks from their list, and when your meeting agenda checks everything you wanted to complete during the course of a meeting, your team will walk away feeling motivated to keep the productivity train rolling on their own work.

There are also tools that will help you better track your meeting task lists, so no meeting objectives get lost in the fray.

 

2. Set a timeframe

Each discussion point should be timed so the meeting stays on track.

Try to keep a realistic timeframe for each agenda item; not every discussion will need the same amount of time. Depending on the complexity of each discussion, some agenda items will require more time—especially if there is no unanimous consensus for a discussion item.

For example…

Objective: Negotiate a budget for the following teams: marketing and business development

Time: 20 minutes

If you feel like an agenda item does not allot a reasonable timeframe, you can negotiate more time to a specific discussion when the meeting agenda is reviewed at the start of the meeting (more on that below!).

 

3. Keep it clear

Rather than writing a vague description under your notes section, be more specific when you give more context to each agenda item.

For example…

Notes:

  • The marketing team requires a budget approval for the Fall fundraising event, which will include costs for the venue, swag, cost per plate, and additional banners/signs.
  • The biz dev team requires a budget for their travels to New York (Nov 13-16) and San Francisco (Nov 28-Dec 3) for their meetings with X stakeholders. Costs includes only travel and accommodation.

When you provide specific notes, there is already an expectation of what will be required. This eliminates the need to add context during the meeting which eats up precious meeting time.

 

4. How to prepare

Under the Notes section in your meeting agenda, provide a point or two (if necessary) to help attendees better prepare for the meeting titled “Preparation.”

Whether it’s reviewing older documents, updating spreadsheets, or building a presentation, the preparation section should highlight the required expectations leading up to the meeting. Any new prep documents should be attached and sent with the meeting agenda.

A prep section in your meeting agenda should be short and sweet:

Prep:

  • Marketing and biz dev: calculate desired budget and points to support your calculation

Keep in mind, not all topics require preparation – so keep the expectations realistic.

For convenience, whoever writes the meeting agenda should be the only person looking for relevant prep documents – or notes from previous meetings – and hyperlink them in this section to save time for each meeting attendee. Why have five people spend their time to look for the same document if one person can just do that instead?

If you need help sifting through notes from previous meetings, using an AI-powered meeting assistant can help you comb through your company’s meeting history at a much quicker pace.

 

5. Prioritize

The topics in your meeting agenda should be written in order of importance. The most crucial points should be listed at the top of your agenda, followed by the second most important point, and so on…

Low-priority agenda items should be left towards the end of the meeting in case the meeting time runs out. Lower priority items can either be discussed outside of a meeting, through email, or can be re-scheduled for the next recurring meeting.

It’s far easier to forego low-priority agenda items than to sacrifice the opportunity to discuss crucial, time-sensitive topics.

 

6. Make it scannable

If your meeting agenda is lengthy and hard to read, I can guarantee no one will read it. Writing a scannable meeting agenda saves everyone time, even the person writing it.

Scanning allows you to fully read a document with little eye movement and allows you to absorb the information at a much faster pace. So keep your artistic style of writing at bay, and try these tips to make your meeting agenda more scannable:

  • Use a typeface that’s easy to read
  • Avoid underlining; it convolutes the spacing between each line
  • Use bullet points for lists
  • Lower your word count and provide only the essential details - don’t write a novel
  • Write in active voice versus passive voice. Example:
    • Passive: “The budget will be negotiated...”
    • Active: “Negotiate the budget…”
  • Keep your writing succinct in your notes section. Use acronyms and shortened utterances, when necessary.

Example:

  • What not to do: “The marketing team require a budget approval for the Fall fundraising event, which will include costs for the venue, swag, cost per plate, and additional banners/signs.”
  • What to do: “Marketing requires a budget approval for the Fall fundraising event. Costs include: venue, swag, cost per plate, and additional banners/signs.”

 

Bonus: Review the agenda

At the start of your meeting, you will want to review the meeting agenda with your team.

Write: “meeting agenda overview” as the first item on the meeting agenda and schedule a few minutes to discuss whether or not the agenda requires any last-minute changes.
Example…

Topic: Meeting agenda overview

Objective: Agree on order of events

Time: 3 minutes

A last-minute change could mean an agenda item is not ready to be discussed during the meeting, a person who is spearheading the discussion could not make it to the meeting, or there are more important things that have emerged at the last minute which requires immediate attention.

Anything that isn’t immediately critical to discuss can be moved.

 

Practice makes perfect

The meeting agenda is only one aspect of preparing for a meeting, but it can make or break your meetings overall success. When you have an organized and scannable meeting agenda, and well-written notes, it will reflect how well your meeting will go.

When done well, meeting agendas can leave your team feeling energized and motivated to jump back to work. However, a bad meeting agenda will inevitably lead to decreased focus.

We’ve highlighted a few tips on how you should consistently structure your meeting agenda items, and this is what our meeting agenda looks like so far…

 

1. Topic: Meeting agenda overview

  • Objective: Agree on order of events
  • Time: 3 minutes

2. Topic: Quarterly budget

Objective: Negotiate a budget for the following teams: marketing and business development

Time: 20 minutes

Notes:

  • Marketing requires a budget approval for the Fall fundraising event. Costs include: venue, swag, cost per plate, and additional banners/signs.
  • The biz dev team requires a budget for their travels to New York (Nov 13-16) and San Francisco (Nov 28-Dec 3) for their meetings with X stakeholders. Costs will only include travel and accommodation.

Prep:

  • Marketing and biz dev: calculate desired budget and points to support your calculation

 

Once you write a few, the rest of them should feel like second nature. Don’t skimp out on the time to fully prepare your effective meeting agenda and keep these tips in mind when you are writing them. Your team will thank you for it.

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