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17.12.2021 Organisation & processes

How to write an effective meeting agenda every time

How to write an effective meeting agenda every time

Once the technical aspects of your meeting, such as the meeting time and length, are sorted out, setting an agenda is the next step. We’ve found that an effective meeting agenda will mean that all participants are properly prepared for the meeting and can anticipate the flow of it.

Writing an agenda is about more than just dictating how your meeting will go, though. If you’ve never written an agenda before then there are a few rules and pointers you’ll want to know before wasting your time and losing your team’s interest before the meeting has even started.

What is a meeting agenda?

A meeting agenda is essentially a table of contents that summarises the topics that will be discussed in a meeting.

This could be as detailed or as loose as needed. It can include anything from a list of speakers and the topics they will touch on to a copy of the materials that will be presented in the meeting. The agenda can also contain a list of actions or decisions that will need to be made during the meeting.

As a general rule, the more detailed the meeting agenda is the more prepared your participants will be. However, how much detail you’ll want to include in the agenda depends on the meeting type. Knowing how to write an agenda for a meeting, regardless of its type, will help with future meeting planning.

Which meetings need an agenda?

In theory, all meetings will perform better with an agenda. Whether it’s a quick 30-minute decision-making meeting or an hour-long brainstorming session.

Super short meetings and recurring meetings, such as morning stand-ups, probably won’t need a fresh agenda every time. However, establishing a rough agenda of how the meeting should be correctly laid out and what information is expected to be shared will keep the stand-ups on track and on time.

For longer meetings, sending out a well-thought-out agenda will also mean that meeting preparation is a whole lot simpler. This is a huge bonus, as the average worker spends an hour and 9 minutes preparing for a meeting, which can certainly be cut down if they know exactly what it is they need to prepare.

What to prepare before setting an agenda

Before setting the agenda, it’s a good idea to consider whether you’re the right person for the job. If you know that someone else will be leading the meeting it might be worth considering whether to hand this task over to them as they will be more likely to know the content of the meeting. It’ll also simplify processes if some parts of the agenda need to be changed.

Even if you are the best person to be writing the meeting plan, it is good to get input from your colleagues who will be present in the meeting as this will better help you prepare. Discussing what topics they will be speaking about and asking for them to send over any supporting materials will ensure that you have a foolproof meeting agenda, with no surprises on the horizon.

Important note: while suggestions from your team are critical to a good agenda, not every idea will be relevant. Don’t feel pressured to include everything you receive as a discussion point, if it doesn’t fit the meeting then feed this back to the individual or save the item for a future agenda.

What is the ideal meeting agenda format?

Formatting your meeting agenda correctly can be a challenging task if you’ve never done it before. After all, 50% of meeting agendas are estimated to be recycled so coming up with one from scratch is pretty rare!

Something to note is that the human brain tends to give a disproportionate amount of weight to the first pieces of information it is given, regardless of whether this is the most important. Therefore, arranging your team meeting agenda so the most important items are first is a good idea.

Different meetings will benefit more from different formats, which we’ll explain below.

Decision-making meetings agenda format

The best format for a decision-making meeting agenda is to lay out the decisions in a way that is as specific as possible. 

The best way to do this is to format your various topics for discussion as questions. For example, if you need to decide which team to dedicate an extra portion of your budget to, you may want to answer some questions that could help you reach this decision.

It’s also a good idea to assign a time limit to each segment, to avoid the meeting running over or any segments receiving less attention than they need.

Sample decision-making meeting agenda format:

  • Which team has the most potential for growth in the next 3 to 4 months? (10 mins)
  • What team has seen the best performance over the past quarter? (10 mins)
  • If given the budget how would X team use it? (15 mins)
  • How would this use of budget benefit the company? (15 mins)

Laying out discussions as questions that can receive definitive answers such as this will help keep the conversation focused and break the decision down into more achievable parts. Once these questions are answered, they will form a part of the final decision-making process.

For meetings with various stakeholders having influence over separate parts, it might be worth noting who is involved with which point so they have time to prepare in advance.

Brainstorming meetings agenda format 

Brainstorming meetings are different from decision-making meetings in that they will be vaguer in their agenda. While decision-making meetings have set questions or actions that need to be taken, brainstorming meetings will have concepts and prompts that need to be formed into full ideas.

An example of this would be a content marketing meeting, where new content ideas need to be formed for a client. In this case, forming an agenda may be best done by having attendees form a certain number of ideas each which they can then pitch to the group. These pitches can then be questioned or expanded by other group members, with some time to bounce ideas off of each other.

Pencilling in some time to vote on ideas will also mean that you leave the meeting with the objective completed and no need for the session to run over.

Sample brainstorming meeting agenda format:

  • Discuss meeting objective (5 minutes)
  • What worked well for the client before? (5 minutes)
  • Team member 1: 2 x ideas (5 minutes)
  • Team member 2: 2 x ideas (5 minutes)
  • Team member 3: 2 x ideas (5 minutes)
  • Team member 4: 2 x ideas (5 minutes)
  • Group discussion (10 minutes)
  • Vote on ideas (5 minutes)

For brainstorming meetings where ideas can’t be prepared in advance, agendas can include more prompts for discussion and ideation. Here are some ideas:

  • Discuss meeting objective (5 minutes)
  • What worked well for the client before? (5 minutes)
  • Seasonal event ideas. What is happening in the client’s industry over the next few months? (10 minutes)
  • What is getting coverage right now? How can we relate it to our client? (10 minutes)
  • What angles have we not tried before? Can we try them? (10 minutes)
  • Group discussion (10 minutes)
  • Vote on ideas (5 minutes)

Remember, the vaguer your agenda, the harder it will be to steer the discussion towards actions so try to be as clear as possible.

wo employees taking part in a problem-solving meeting, discussing their notes.
Photo by Alena Darmel from Pexels

Problem-solving meeting agenda format

A problem-solving meeting is much more to the point than a brainstorming meeting in that there is a clear point of discussion and an action that needs to be taken.

This makes forming an agenda much simpler. Instead of questions, the meeting can be divided into discussing action points for each member present. As solving the problem will usually be a team effort, ensuring everyone is clear on their next steps is a huge help in solving the problem effectively and efficiently.

Sample problem-solving meeting agenda:

  • A brief overview of the problem. How was it discovered? What does it consist of? (5 minutes)
  • Team member 1 actions: Dependencies? Time estimate? (5 minutes)
  • Team member 2 actions: Dependencies? Time estimate? (5 minutes)
  • Team member 3 actions: Dependencies? Time estimate? (5 minutes)
  • Are there any potential blockers? (5 minutes)
  • Will these actions impact other workstreams? How do we navigate this? (5 minutes)

Following this meeting agenda will ensure that you leave the meeting with a clear understanding of how each team member will be attacking the problem, what everyone’s next steps are and how your previous workflow will be affected.

However, if the problem is more complicated it may be harder to assign clear actions like this straight away. In this case, the meeting agenda may follow a track more similar to a brainstorming meeting with questions that could help decipher the issue and find a fix.

Sample complex problem-solving meeting agenda:

  • A brief overview of the problem. How was it discovered? What does it consist of? (5 minutes)
  • Which colleagues are most knowledgeable on this issue? (5 minutes)
  • What changes were made in the days leading up to the problem? (5 minutes)
  • Can these changes be reversed? (5 minutes)
  • Which steps can be taken to minimise the damage? (5 minutes)
  • Will these actions impact other workstreams? How do we navigate this? (5 minutes)

Company update meeting agenda

This type of team meeting agenda can be kept short and sweet as, usually, it is an occasion only used to pass on an important piece of information. Keeping this meeting as brief as possible and knowing what time of day is best to hold it will help to lower disruption to the team’s productivity.

How to best make a meeting agenda for an update depends on how many speakers will be involved in the announcement and if there’s a chance for questions. 

Sample company update meeting agenda:

  • Team lead: Status update (5 minutes)
  • How will this affect workflow going forward? (5 minutes)
  • Questions from the team (5 minutes)

Keeping the questions section brief is important for productivity. But it is also important not to rush it as this will mean colleagues may not know how best to proceed after the meeting. The question section length may also need to be extended for especially big companies.

Communication is key

These are all sample meeting agendas that can help give you a great starting point for planning effective meetings. Of course, your team will have different needs to ours, so receiving input from your colleagues is essential.

Asking for feedback on your agenda both before and after the meeting will help streamline processes in the future.

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