Designing the Ideal Meeting Agenda

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Going into an important meeting without an agenda is a little bit like baking a cake without the recipe. It could turn out well—but more likely it’ll be a complete disaster.

Agendas keep meetings on track and set frameworks so that attendees know what to expect. They provide a plan to follow. An agenda should outline the main purpose, topics to be covered, discussion leaders, allotted time for each topic, and follow-up steps.

The previous section should help define the purpose. Are you in this conference room to make a decision? To assign tasks? To brainstorm? Make sure your purpose isn’t something that could be more efficiently accomplished through an email or a phone call.

List every topic that needs to be covered during the meeting, breaking down large subjects when necessary. To keep your meeting dynamic, try phrasing each topic as an action. Instead of listing “IT Solution,” write “Demonstrate new IT software.” This lets attendees know that they should gear up for a demonstration, not a discussion.

If someone other than the main meeting organizer is leading that software demonstration, this should be noted in the agenda. This lets people know when they are up.

Meeting organizers frequently schedule a meeting time without first considering the content. According to Michael Hansen, CEO of Cengage, people tend to schedule meetings for exactly one hour—when very few meetings need this long. He limits his meetings to 30-45 minutes (Fast Company).

In order to more accurately estimate how much time is needed, look at each topic on the agenda. If the IT demonstration should take no more than five minutes, note this so that presenters know how much time they have. Time limits also help prevent excessive digressions.

According to SHRM, the top reason for miscommunication during team meetings is conflicting interpretations of messages and goals. Ensure that everyone is on the same page by restating the outcome: go over any important decision made, and share follow-up tasks (along with who is responsible for each task and when it is due). Once the agenda is complete, there are two important steps to take: share it and stick to it.

Want to learn more about maximizing your meeting time? Get your free copy of our eBook, Meetings with Meaningful Dialogue, on our website.