How to create a perfect meeting agenda

planning productivity May 08, 2016


Have you ever attended meetings where there was no agenda or just a vague idea of one?

Basically you have no idea what to expect from the meeting and the likelihood that you opt out or get bored out of your tree is VERY large. Without a clear idea of what is going to happen how can you prepare anything? Simply put, you can't.

But did you ever dare to NOT attend a meeting your boss is inviting you to?

It’s not that long ago when I attended a meeting with two business partners where the main outline was: Let’s get together to talk about our future strategy. Nothing else.

I went and took my tree in case I needed something to be bored out of. Lovely meeting place (after all this summer was great), the coffee was superb…and we even got cake! An agenda was still nowhere in sight.

When everybody was there (one was late, so half an hour was already gone before actually starting – except eating cake of course) we actually spent another 20 minutes putting together a rough list of what the strategy meeting should entail. In actual fact, we found that there were some operational issues to be discussed too.

We had a great meeting in terms of socializing and mulling some ideas back and forth. We even achieved some tangible outcomes and action items. However, this was after meeting for 4 hours, where the first 50 minutes were less than productive. Probably something we could have done in max 45 minutes with a clear agenda.

“Meetings are obsolete…

…and a historic relic in times of e-Mail, slack, FB and all other sorts of messengers, CRM tools and skype” – so goes the opinion of some people.

According to a study by Atlassian, 31 hours per month are spent in unproductive meetings, and most employees are attending 62 meetings a month. You can do the maths: This results in approximately 3 meetings a day – does that sound about right?

And let’s put it bluntly, most of them are either useless or perceived as such.

And it becomes worse:

90% of people in the same study admitted to daydreaming during meetings.

73% did other work in meetings.

47% asserted meetings were the number one-time waster at work (I am really sorry dear Facebook).

It is not hard to understand that the sum of those (ineffective) meetings results in billions of dollars, Euros or whatever currency you are working in, being wasted.

…or not?

However, there is another side to it - meetings fulfil a deep human need - we are social beings.  And they are historic…in every community of every human culture, people have come together in groups of all sizes on a regular basis. The first amphitheater was not built to accommodate someone’s need for solitude.

In organizations without meetings, your attachment to the latter will be small. In case you have ever worked more or less exclusively virtually for any company you know exactly what I’m talking about.

5 tips for a great agenda

So meetings do have their place. For good ones, there are many factors to consider…let’s take a close look at the heart of the most important ones:

1.   Make the agenda concrete, not fluffy

Do not just put on “discuss marketing budget”, but discuss the budget for marketing budget Q2 for three areas: customer events, online activities and SEO.

That will also keep you away from putting too much on the agenda, as you will quickly realize that a few items already entail quite some detail and you will be able to come up with a better time estimate for each topic

2.   Make clear what you expect

What is your expectation for each of the topics?

Information: do you just want to inform about people about the facts? In that case rather send an e-mail and save yourself (and everybody else) the time for a meeting. If the information being presented has an impact on the people present, it is proper to present and discuss. This could be a report which has an influence on the future tactics or even the strategy.

Discussion: This could be discussing new strategies, new policies, product.......basically everything new… you get the point. What you really want here is the people contributing their bit based on their knowledge, experience and ideas.

Make that clear – basically tell them.

Decision: How shall we implement the new website…i.e. what can each participant contribute, which responsibility will each participant overtake? Decide during the meeting and together – this will create commitment when discussed in the group rather than individually.

3.   Put the most important agenda item at the beginning

Most meetings are longer than 20 minutes. Unfortunately, our attention span isn’t. According to scientific studies our attention begins to flake after between 15-20 minutes. Which means that you got the best chances at the getting the important points across in the beginning.... TED talks are limited to 18 minutes for a reason.

That does not mean that everything is lost after that – but try and get the most important thing out of the way right away. Maybe throw in a 5-minute break afterwards. Moving – if it’s to the bathroom or to get a cup of coffee, brings the brain up to speed again… now for the next topic.

 4.   Start and end with a topic that unites

Remember that some topics might unite and some others might divide the participants…rather start with the uniting part to set the atmosphere....however, try not to end with a dividing one either.

Let’s say you have a number of area sales managers and the current split by region needs to be adjusted – this could be a topic that divides the participants - fighting for their territory, defending their position – so rather not start with that, but maybe with an overview about all the regions and why this new structure will take place.

To further position the idea, maybe the upcoming event for all customers is something that could be discussed at the end…here all interests come together again and people see the common goal and benefit…it has the potential to unite rather than divide.

 5.   Put the finishing time on the agenda

Duh – I do that anyway. Congratulations, but not everybody does and some meetings drag on forever. The general rule: Keep it short and sweet. More than 1,5 hour meetings are hardly ever effective – as we mentioned above, try to plan in short 5 minute breaks perhaps after a topic has been finished.

If that is difficult in your organisation, start an hour before lunch (unless you have a lunch meeting anyway) or just before the end of the working day....that added incentive might speed up the process, eventually people get hungry or want to go home.

Very last, but not least: Don't send the agenda too early - some less organized people won't find it anymore or plainly lose it. 2-3 days in advance should suffice and is vital if you need people to prepare something for the meeting.

…and NEVER EVER put the topic "Any other business" on the agenda. This is an invitation to waste time. And who wants that?

Of course that does not exclude leaving some time for unstructured discussion after all other agenda a time controlled manner though.














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