How many times have you walked into a meeting without really having any idea what the meeting was about, what you were supposed to prepare, or what would be expected of you in the meeting?
Yep, same here.
A meeting agenda is one of the most critical components of a meeting, and often one of the most overlooked. I’ve seen (and sent!) far too many meeting invites that have nothing in the body of the meeting invite and often have rather cryptic subject lines.
Clearly identifying the meeting agenda before a meeting starts can make or break the success of a meeting.
A meeting agenda should be planned and articulated before a meeting is scheduled and included in the invitation to a meeting.
If there are valid reasons that you need to schedule time for a meeting before you have an agenda finalized, one easy solution is to include in the body of the meeting invite, “Meeting placeholder. Agenda to follow.” Then follow up with the agenda as soon as possible.
What goes into a meeting agenda? Let’s look at the questions a meeting agenda answers.
Seven questions a great meeting agenda answers:
1. Who really needs to attend this meeting?
In a company with a meeting-heavy culture, it’s common to be invited to meetings that overlap, and to be invited to so many meetings that there is no time left to get actual work done.
For volunteer groups, the line can be even blurrier as meeting invites can be a shotgun approach to attract anyone interested in a topic.
As a meeting owner, a well thought out agenda helps determine who should be included on a meeting invite in the first place. While it is important to ensure the right people are in the room, don’t fall into the trap of over-inviting anyone who may happen to come to mind.
There are likely potential attendees who need to know the information coming out of the meeting but don’t need to be present at the meeting. They are perfect candidates to get a written meeting recap.
As an attendee, a well thought out meeting agenda can help you take ownership of your time and attendance by giving you critical information about the importance of the meeting to you at this time.
2. How long should the meeting last?
An agenda should spell out what needs to take place in the meeting and how long each segment of the meeting should take.
Yes, meetings are scheduled for set blocks of time, but it’s common for meeting schedulers to be unrealistic with the time they have allotted. Has someone scheduled an hour for a conversation that should take 20 minutes? Or scheduled 30 minutes for a topic known to take 2 hours?
As a meeting owner, think through how long a meeting should actually take first, then look at available times to meet. Do you have a meeting participant known to be long-winded? Is it a complex topic? Is it a simple topic? (If it’s super simple, does it even need to be a meeting, or can the outcome be accomplished via email or other technology?)
As a meeting attendee, trust that the meeting owner has adequately allotted time for the topics that need to be covered in the meeting. If you don’t, consider suggesting an adjustment to the meeting owner prior to the start of the meeting.
3. Will the meeting start on time? Early? Late?
The company culture may dictate whether all meetings start exactly on time, or it may be common for meetings to start 5-10 minutes late. If external partners are attending a meeting, they may arrive 10-15 minutes early and the meeting scheduler should account for that when planning schedules. There’s also always that person who you know will be late.
Particularly when you’re running from meetings scheduled back to back, that 5-10 minute swing to start early or late can have a big impact on the flow of your day.
Meeting owners, review your schedule and ensure that you have adequate prep and setup time before a meeting starts. Depending on the format and formality of the meeting, you may want to consider scheduling yourself 5-15 minutes before a meeting specifically to set up.
Meeting attendees, find regular time to review your schedule and ensure you are planning enough time to get too and from each meeting that you need to attend. Proactively make a plan for tight transitions.
4. What is the type and format of the meeting?
There are several distinct meeting types that include topics like brainstorming, information sharing, alignment and decision-making, formal reviews, training, team building and more.
Meeting owners, are you clear what type of meeting you’re conducting? If not, getting clarity on this can help shape the agenda.
Meeting attendees, the type of meeting likely won’t be explicitly stated, but should be implied and give you clarity on your role in the meeting.
5. How formal will the meeting be?
The number of attendees and who those attendees are can change the tone of a meeting dramatically. A meeting with 2-3 peers to brainstorm is a completely different thing than a formal review 15 people in the room including senior leadership or external partners.
Meeting owners, understand how the meeting attendees will impact the formality of a meeting. If you want a meeting to be more or less formal than naturally indicated by attendees, proactively address this and set expectations accordingly.
Meeting attendees, pay attention to who else will be in the room and act accordingly.
6. Where and how will the meeting be conducted?
Will the meeting be in person? A teleconference? A video call? A text-based chat using a technology solution? A mix of multiple types?
Meeting owners, have you booked the conference room or reserved and set up the call line or video technology? Do you know how to operate a presentation screen or any other tool needed to run the meeting? Do you have a backup plan in case your technology glitches?
Meeting attendees, do you know where you’re going and how you’re connecting to a meeting? If there’s technology involved, do you know how to use it?
7. What does each attendee need to be prepared for and bring to the meeting?
Is this a meeting where you need to “bring your brain” or prepare a presentation? If you need to prepare a presentation, is it casual or formal? Does information need to be submitted ahead of the meeting to be compiled for discussion? These clues may be hidden in a meeting agenda, or they may be explicitly stated.
Meeting owners, be upfront and identify what attendees should prepare and bring to a meeting. If you expect materials to be submitted ahead of time, clearly identify how and when materials should be submitted.
Meeting attendees, are you clear what you need to prepare and bring? If not, ask!
Meetings and meeting agendas range from super simple to super complex. No matter the size of the meeting, the importance of the agenda should not be overlooked. Spending time crafting or reviewing a meeting agenda before the meeting starts ensures that all attendees are aligned and prepared for a successful meeting outcome.