At work, there are always infinite tasks but limited time and hence everyone strives to be as productive as possible. This translates to ensuring that any meeting we attend, or drive, is efficient. The simplest way to level up your meeting and make it more productive for everyone involved is to always have a meeting agenda.

In this article, we share 5 tips to help you create a great meeting agenda so that everyone walks out of the meetings feeling accomplished and productive.

1. Define meeting objective and expected outcome

2. List agenda topics as questions

3. Estimate time to be spent on each topic

4. Prioritize discussion topics

5. Share agenda before the meeting and ask others to contribute

As always, let’s get into the details!

1.  Define meeting objective and expected outcome

This is the right time to outline the meeting objective and what are the expected take-aways or outcome of the meeting. Do you want to share an update with your team? Do you need your team’s feedback? Do you want to align on a strategy? By clearly outlining your meeting goals, you are more likely to get the desired outcome at the end of the meeting.

Additionally, outlining meeting objective and expected outcome helps in two additional ways – First, it is a forcing function for meeting owner to reflect on the meeting goals and plan for a more structured discussion. And second, it gives context to the meeting attendees and prepares them to participate in the discussion with the intention to arrive at the expected outcome and actions items at the end of the meeting.

2. List agenda topics as questions

The key to a productive meeting is to remove vagueness and articulate the discussion topics as clearly as possible. “Discuss project XYZ” is an extremely open-ended agenda topic – while attendees will understand that they are expected to discuss project XYZ, they have no clue what needs to be discussed - Is the meeting to kick-off project XYZ? Is it to scope project XYZ? Is it to identify blockers/next steps in project XYZ? And the list goes on... Instead, frame agenda topics as questions. For this example, it can be “What are the resources required to deliver on project XYZ?”

Listing agenda topics as questions is also a good way to keep the discussion on track during the meeting. If you hear an attendee commenting on the technical details of project XYZ and possible derailing the conversation, “That’s a great point but remind how it helps answer the question at hand?” will help bring the discussion back on track.

3. Estimate time to be spent on each topic

Along with planning the discussion topic for the meeting, it is a good idea to allot time to every topic. This small input works wonders to ensure that attendees stay focused on the agenda topic and forces them to wrap up every discussion on time. This is also good exercise for the meeting owner to review the length of the meeting (ahead of the meeting) so that they do not setup too long or too short meeting. During the meeting, you can always use this as a reference to get a sense of the time and reset if you fear that you might not be able to cover all agenda items.  

Remember to keep a 2-3 min buffer if it is a 30min meeting or (4-5min buffer for 60 min meeting) for unexpected interruptions (especially virtual meetings) or logistical/technical issues.  

4. Prioritize discussion topics

This comes handy when you are running out of time during the meeting. Prioritizing your discussion topics will ensure that even if you were not able to get through the entire agenda, you are still walking out of the meeting with your top priorities addressed. As a meeting owner, you own the prioritization, and you can choose to share or not share the priority with the larger meeting audience.

5. Share agenda before the meeting and ask others to contribute

Doesn’t it feel nice when you start a meeting and find all meeting attendees actively participating and owning the discussion? A great way to achieve that is by sharing the agenda ahead of the meeting and asking the attendees to contribute as needed. By doing this, you give attendees a chance to prepare for the discussion and be an active participant. Moreover, by contributing to the agenda, the meeting attendees co-own the agenda and are more driven to arrive at the expected outcome. Sharing the agenda ahead of the meeting also helps the note-taker to prepare their template for capturing the meeting minutes.