We have all been to meetings where the participants are not prepared to contribute, the discussion has gone off-track, and the topics discussed are a waste of the group’s time. This often happens due to lack of structure to the meeting and can be prevented by having an agenda for the meeting. A study conducted by ReadyTalk highlighted that employees, on average, spend a third of their time in meetings. Of that, 63% of the meetings did not have a pre-planned agenda.


This article will introduce you to meeting agenda and will share the key elements that should be included when you design the agenda for your meeting. Jump to a topic ahead:


What is meeting agenda?

Why is meeting agenda important?

How to write meeting agenda?

When and how to share meeting agenda?

What is meeting agenda?

Meeting agenda is a list of activities, tasks, goals that the meeting owner or participants wish to discuss and accomplish during the meeting. Having an agenda for your meeting defines meeting objectives, removes distractions, encourages participation and often results in next steps or outcomes. Depending on the meeting, the agenda can be very detailed and meticulously planned (like all-hands meeting, business review meetings, leadership meetings) or it can be bulleted and informal (like in 1:1 meetings or team meetings)


Why is meeting agenda important?

Having an agenda for the meeting is a first step towards ensuring a productive discussion during the meeting. Creating and sharing meeting agenda is important for the following reasons:


1. Enforces meeting owner to think clearly

Designing a meeting agenda encourages the meeting owner to outline the meeting discussion, think through the topics that need to be discussed and finalize the expected outcome of the meeting. It is also a great mechanism for meeting owner to time box the discussion on various agenda items and ensure that the discussion does not drift off.

 

2. Motivates attendees to prepare for discussion

Nothing kills meeting efficiency faster than the following question by a meeting attendee - “So, what are we discussing?” Effective discussion among meeting attendees is the key to a productive meeting. Our guide shares more details on promoting an engaging discussion. Sharing the agenda ahead of the meeting gives participants an opportunity to review the contents of the meeting and provide any inputs or suggestions if needed. It also familiarizes attendees with the meeting discussion so that they come prepared to contribute and actively participate in the discussion.


3. Aligns attendees on expected outcomes

Every meeting owner should have clarity on "the desirable meeting outcome" and should work towards achieving that during the meeting. Sharing the expected outcome with meeting attendees ensures that attendees are aware of what is expected out of them during the meeting. It promotes a shared responsibility of arriving at the desired outcome by the end of the meeting.


4. Aligns with meeting minutes

In our guide on meeting minutes, we provide an overview of the importance of meeting minutes and how it drives projects forward. Familiarizing with the meeting agenda is a great first step towards ensuring that meeting notes are relevant and exhaustive. The note-taker can use meeting agenda as a starting point and capture discussion, key decisions, action items and next steps against every agenda item as the discussion progresses.


How to write meeting agenda?

Now that we understand the importance of having an agenda for the meeting, let’s talk about creating one. While there are many guides that share meeting agenda templates, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to designing an agenda for your meeting. At a high level, the agenda should capture the following core elements:

  • Discussion topics
  • Time allotted for each topic
  • Meeting goal
  • Supplementing resources or reading material


Let’s go over each of these elements in more detail.


Discussion topics

This is the core element of the meeting agenda and also the easiest to achieve. Listing down the discussion topics encourages both, the meeting owner and meeting attendees, to be prepared for an active discussion and removes any element of surprise from the meeting. This also gives the meeting attendees an opportunity to review the contents and suggest modifications to the attendee list, if needed, to better drive the meeting objective.


Time allotted for each topic

This element, though often skipped, sets the tone and vigor of the meeting.  This should be leveraged to time box discussions for each agenda topic and can be used to ensure enough time is allocated to discuss all topics. When the discussion becomes stagnant - “Looks like we are out of the time allotted for this discussion, let’s get back to it if we have time at the end of the meeting” is a good way to ensure that the meeting is not ‘just stuck’.  Highlighting the importance, Roger Schwarz shares - 

“The estimated time enables team members to either adapt their comments to fit within the allotted timeframe or to suggest that more time may be needed. The purpose of listing the time is not to stop discussion when the time has elapsed”


Meeting Goal

Every purposeful meeting should start with a goal or a desired outcome. The agenda should be carefully crafted such that it drive towards the expected outcome. Example goals: gather feedback from attendees, help needed from the leadership, reprioritization of tasks, assigning action items, etc. This should be communicated to the attendees before the meeting to set the expectations and ensure that the meeting owner has the right audience to drive towards this goal. 

  

Supplementing resources or reading material

If the meeting owner intends to review a document during the meeting or if the attendees are required to build certain context to participate in the discussion, circulating reading material before the meeting is a must. In fact, when possible, attendees can be requested to review the material before the meeting so that the group can jump into the discussion without spending too much time in building context.  Moreover, this also gives attendees an opportunity to review the material and absorb its content at their own pace, offline.   


When and how to share meeting agenda?

The objective of meeting agenda is for attendees to be familiar with the meeting discussion and works best if the agenda is shared ahead of the meeting. Sharing the agenda with the invite when setting up the meeting is ideal. However, there are countless scenarios where the meeting owner has not finalized the agenda when sending the meeting invite. Hence, it is a good practice to let the group know that a meeting agenda is being finalized and then share the said agenda 1-2 days before the meeting. This gives attendees an opportunity to review the agenda, suggest modifications and for the meeting owner to review any suggestions and take action accordingly.