4 Ways to Make Sure Your Meeting Isn’t a Flop

The secret is in the agenda, and here's why.

Meeting agendas would appear on their surface to be fairly mundane, simple documents used out of habit and obligation. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an agenda as “a list of things to be considered or done.” So what is it about a good agenda that can actually make your meetings better? Here are four tips for creating a good agenda and why it’s worth it.

1. Be specific. Participants will be better prepared and engaged in the conversation if they have a solid understanding of what will be discussed and have some time to think about the topics ahead of time. This also suggests a best practice of sending meeting agenda out early. Make agenda items as specific as possible and utilize the “parking lot” concept -- documenting new and unrelated topics for future discussion -- to keep the meeting focused.

2. Assign timeframes to each agenda item/topic for discussion. Too often, entire meetings are spent discussing only one of several agenda items. By assigning timeframes to each agenda item, you keep the conversation on track and can identify topics that require further discussion without going over time or skipping items entirely. One technique to stay on track is to set a timer for each agenda item; when the timer goes off, wrap up that item and move on.

3. Include “Purpose” and “Outcomes” sections. Clearly define the point of the meeting and what you hope to achieve. Refer back to these sections during the meeting to stay focused. Does the conversation lend itself to the purpose of the meeting? Will it help achieve the stated outcomes? If not, put it in the “parking lot” and get the conversation moving in the right direction.

4. Include an “Action Items” section. Use this space to record actions that need to be taken, by whom, and by when. For example, if you commit to scheduling a follow-up meeting, record who is responsible for executing that task and a deadline by which they are to complete it. Be sure to make these action items available to all meeting participants after the meeting by email or file sharing, for example, to ensure that everyone knows who is responsible for what. Refer back to the action items at a later date or follow-on meeting to check that they have been completed or are in progress.

Implementing these tips can help alleviate the Groundhog Day effect -- seemingly having the same meeting over and over again with no tangible progress or results. Although there is a wide range of facilitation tactics that can be leveraged to improve your meetings, almost all meetings require agendas. These tips help ensure your participants are prepared, time is not wasted, the conversation is focused, and you are driving toward desired outcomes.

Be sure to check out “Running Better Meetings” on the Don’t Do That!TM video blog. In addition, agenda template resources are available on websites such as  www.mycommittee.com, www.meetingagenda.org and www.lessmeeting.com.

What tips or best practices do you use when creating meeting agendas or other documents?

Darcy Ziegler is a consultant with Corner Alliance Inc., which helps government leaders solve their most pressing problems. She has more than six years’ experience in strategic communications, program management, engagement and organizational development.

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