Organizational Development Consultant and Leadership Coach

Creating Agendas for Meetings that Matter

November 6, 2013

Many experts would argue that the meeting agenda, if properly prepared, is the most important and powerful component of any meeting. It is, at the very least, your road map to success. The agenda is a fundamental and essential element of every meeting, serving as your preparation tool and script notes.
Once you have answered the premeeting planning questions (listed in my last blog), you can effectively build your agenda.

This process includes:
• Finalizing the order and flow of the agenda
• Reviewing the selected techniques, processes, and time frames for each agenda item
• Identifying alternative techniques in the event they are needed
• Obtaining final input/approval from key participants
• Sending out the agenda to all participants

You should have already collected all of the information required to complete your agenda, except perhaps the final order of agenda items, in your premeeting planning questions. When considering the most suitable order for your agenda, rely on logic and input from anyone else you have involved in the planning process. Keep in mind the primary goal(s) of the meeting and diversify the tasks and pace to keep things fresh. It is a good idea to create a master template on your computer that you can customize every time you plan a meeting.

To be consistently successful, you will want to prepare two different agendas for all your meetings. That’s right, two! You will prepare one for your meeting participants, which is the same one that you send out in advance and display during the meeting, and you will also want to prepare a more detailed agenda for yourself as a facilitator’s guide. Writing a facilitator’s guide is a useful process and articulates the specific details of the facilitation techniques you will utilize in your meeting. It acts as your recipe for success.

If you feel that this level of detail is overkill, question your paradigms. Ironically, the more detailed your facilitation planning becomes, the less bogged down in detail your meeting will actually be.
It may seem like a long and involved process, but if you follow the above procedures, all of your hard work will result in a professional meeting. Remember to gain approval for your completed agenda from the meeting owner (if it’s not you) and also from the key participants as appropriate.

More Inside Information:
Setting the Stage:
Plan to arrive at the meeting location early to make sure that everything is set up the way you expected. Prepare your flip charts and other visual aids in advance so you have time to take care of any last-minute details. Be ready to greet people as they arrive. You will find that this added preparation time will help you feel more relaxed, set a positive and productive tone for the meeting, and increase your overall effectiveness.

Expect Changes:
Even though you have planned your meeting down to the minute, rest assured that things will never go exactly as planned. Agenda items and their issues will sometimes take more time and sometimes less, an person who is crucial to your meeting’s success will not show up or will have to leave early, or something critical will happen in the organization that overrides your original agenda. You will see signs of boredom, frustration, and interpersonal conflict that you will not have planned for and will need to address.

Does this mean that planning is a waste of time? Quite the opposite. Your planning will give you an educated basis for making decisions about how best to move forward and will help you negotiate changes with the participants as necessary. The more techniques you know and the more experience you have, the better you will be able to remain flexible and effective in the real world of your meetings.

Be open to change, and don’t be afraid to make the uncomfortable statement or ask the difficult question. You will almost always find that coworkers will appreciate and respect your flexibility and courage. For example, you might observe, “It seems that Joan and Enrique have some strong disagreements about this topic. Is it best for us all to continue this debate, or would it be more appropriate for the two of you to continue your discussion after the meeting?” … “Some of you are looking confused. What can we do to make things clearer?” … “This conversation is taking longer than I anticipated. Should we continue and postpone another part of the agenda to another date, wrap this conversation up, or continue our meeting past its deadline?”

Continuous Improvement:
Take a few minutes after each meeting to review what went well and what you would do differently if you had it to do again. Jot down a few specific notes. This quick and simple process, combined with the formal feedback you receive from your meeting participants, will help you to continually improve your effectiveness as a meeting facilitator.

Changing Your Style:
If you have a history of dull, autocratic meetings and now suddenly decide to change your style, discuss the changes you propose with your meeting groups first. Ask for their input and ideas. If you change without proactively saying something, people are likely to be resistant and highly suspicious.

In Summary:
The quality of your meetings is relative to the quality of your planning. If you don’t clearly define the purpose and goals of your meeting, time will be wasted. If you don’t labor over the details of each proposed agenda item, the techniques you select might not work effectively, and your time lines may be unpredictable.

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