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How to Construct a Killer Meeting Agenda That is Simple and Effective

How to Construct a Killer Meeting Agenda That is Simple and Effective

Have you ever attended a meeting and you were left confused what the meeting was meant to achieve after it ended?

It’s a common occurrence; you attend your regular monthly organization meeting, a special task force meeting or a social group committee meeting promptly that went on and on and on. When it ended, you were left scratching your head wondering what to take away from the meeting.

You did your due diligence and carried a pen and paper, but nothing important was said that you could jot down. You might remember a few funny quips by someone who kept interrupting the speaker or the personal anecdotes of the chair who gave too many of her own opinions, but in the end you left feeling tired, dissatisfied and unsure what the purpose of the meeting was:

“What was this meeting supposed to accomplish? Was there any meeting agenda?”

If this is something you’ve experienced, it’s a sign of a poorly run meeting. Unfortunately, many meetings are a waste of time.

No wonder many of us dread meetings in general.

How to change your meetings from flat to awesome

The problem with ineffective meetings is that people don’t plan them properly, and yet they expect the meetings to be successful. Like most things in life, if you don’t plan important activities you plan to fail.

For a meeting to be successful, you should have a good plan for it. That entails setting a clear, actionable and distinctive agenda that will direct the course of the meeting so that it doesn’t go off on a tangent.

Think about what you want to achieve in the meeting ahead of time. That way you‘ll prepare a suitable message, attendees will have key points to take away from the meeting that directly address issues at hand, and everyone will walk away from the meeting feeling like their time was well spent.

But how do you construct a solid agenda for a meeting that is worth the time?

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Steps to design a solid agenda for any meeting

According to organizational psychologist, speaker, and leadership team consultant Roger Schwarz, an effective agenda sets clear expectations for what needs to occur before and during a meeting. Schwarz writes in a Harvard Business Review article:[1]

“It helps team members prepare, allocates time wisely, quickly gets everyone on the same topic, and identifies when the discussion is complete… If problems still occur during the meeting, a well-designed agenda increases the team’s ability to effectively and quickly address them.”

Of course, there’s no magic wand to make meeting agendas pop. But, the following tips will help you design a simple and effective agenda that make every meeting you run more effective and enjoyable for everyone:

1. Define the goal for the meeting

Come up with a clear and definitive goal for the meeting beforehand.

What is the purpose of holding the meeting? Is it to introduce new policy guidelines, generate new potential promotional offers, detail issues that need resolution, plan an activity like a donation drive for a local charity, or something else?

Determining the exact purpose for the meeting establishes a clear and focused goal, so your meetings don’t veer off and take an unfocused or aimless turn.

If you need to research and gather more information about the goal of the meeting, better do so before the meeting starts. That way you’ll arrive armed with all the information necessary to run the meeting smoothly.

2. Outline discussion topics

List the topics, themes or issues that will be discussed at the meeting.

Pick topics that affect the whole team as opposed to individuals, and that require the whole team’s input to solve adequately, such as “How do we best allocate shared resources?,” or “How can we improve employee-management relations?”

Keep the meeting discussions to less than 5 topics. Too many discussion topics lead to long agendas that seem daunting and might not be read.

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Beware outlining agenda topics that are not interdependent may cause members to disengage in discussions or not attend the meeting at all.

3. Identify who is expected to attend

Name the people who should be attending the meeting. Tapping members in this way helps to motivate these individuals and others to attend.

Contact the members ahead of time to quickly hash out the agenda and to assign roles to them. This will get them more invested in the meeting agenda, and can help to develop new leaders from within the team.

If someone other than you is presenting some part of the agenda or moderating the meeting, list those people too. Send out their names in the agenda at least a week ahead of time to keep everyone informed and on the same page.

4. Ask for input from the other members

Encourage everyone else attending the meeting to get involved in setting the agenda items, instead of dishing out goals and objectives set only by the leaders in a close-door meeting.

Ask the group or team members to submit their suggestions for agenda items, questions about issues to be discussed in the upcoming meeting, or other matters that need to be addressed in the team setting.

Encouraging members’ participation in setting the agenda helps them become more invested in the meeting and motivated to achieve the goals. Schwarz advises:

“If you ultimately decide not to include an item, be accountable — explain your reasoning to the team member who suggested it.”

5. Allocate time for each discussion item

Decide on the appropriate amount of time to allocate to each agenda item, and inform members exactly how much time will be spent on each discussions topic.

Be careful not to over-schedule time to agenda items. Let the weight and priority of the topic dictate the appropriate amount of time allocated to it. This way members will not spend too much time on less important issues at the expense of weightier issues, and the meeting will not overrun.

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The agenda is your road map. It should indicate all of the stops on the way to reaching your goal, without allowing too many unnecessary stops and side trips.

6. Indicate how members should prepare for the meeting

Meetings often suck because people are unprepared.

Instruct team members to give thought to the reasons the meeting is happening and the desired outcome ahead of time. This means you need to send out the agenda with sufficient time before the meeting.

Ask members to research and read background material on the agenda items. Tell them to come prepared with their initial thoughts about each topic.

Also, list the material or tools they need to bring with them for the meeting, if any, such as a voice recorder, pen and paper.

7. Add a Q&A section for live discussions

This should be added at the end of your meeting agenda, where you let participants ask questions.

According to a study published in the journal Management Research Review,[2] employees find meetings the most productive when they gain from it resources that help them perform better in their roles.

To this we say: allocate time for members to ask pertinent questions or even raise off-topic matters towards the end of the meeting.

Live Q&As provide immediate gratification for participants. Those who are able to voice their questions feel like they are being heard and it helps them get the feedback they seek to excel.

Besides, you can gather valuable insights on the feelings, frustrations or information gap that exists in specific areas from participants’ questions, which can help inform the agenda for the next meeting.

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8. Set a date, start and end time, and location

Make sure you stick to the meeting start and end time, even if there are only three people in the room. Word will get round that you are always punctual and people will come on time, or not come at all.

If people keep showing up late, or do not show up at all, this may be your cue to change the meeting venue, time or agenda items.

9. Make provision for a meeting review

If your team or group meets regularly, two questions can inform a simple and effective review of the meeting in the end: “What did we do well?” and “What do we want to do differently for the next meeting?”

Investing five or 10 minutes to answer these two simple questions will cultivate a sense of making progress in meetings, enhance team performance, and ultimately remove participants’ meeting remorse.

10. Leave room to celebrate accomplishments

After you have run a successful and engaging meeting, make a point of highlighting and celebrating the achievements you made in the meeting.

Did you achieve the goals you had set for the meeting? Celebrate that and any other successes in the meeting as a way to foster team spirit and morale.

Consider also individual member milestones. Maybe one of the shy members made a significant contribution for the first time in the meeting. Celebrate that too, as a way to give recognition to participants. Studies show that 83% of employees find more fulfillment in recognition than in rewards and gifts.[3]

Bottom line

People dread meetings when the meeting lacks structure and organization. You’ll be able to overcome this challenge by being proactive in designing a clear and focused meeting agenda.

Take the advice in this article and apply the suggestions before you’re hosting your next meeting.

Featured photo credit: Štefan Štefančík via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

David K. William

David is a publisher and entrepreneur who tries to help professionals grow their business and careers, and gives advice for entrepreneurs.

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Last Updated on October 16, 2019

Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

Do you like making mistakes?

I certainly don’t.

Making mistakes is inevitable. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be at ease with them?

Perhaps there is a way to think of them differently and see their benefits.

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Why Mistakes Feel Dangerous

Mistakes often feel dangerous. Throughout human history, our errors have often been treated as dangerous for a variety of reasons:

  • Our vulnerability. We have limited and fragile support systems. When those systems fail, people often lose their lives.
  • Real dangers. Nature can be dangerous, and making mistakes can put us at the mercy of nature and its animal residents seeking a meal.
  • Ignorance. Many cultures scapegoats someone whenever there is a failure of some kind. Scapegoating can be serious and deadly.
  • Order. Many societies punish those who do not conform to the prevailing orthodoxy and treat difference and non-conformity as a mistake. Even our brains flash an error message whenever we go against prevailing social norms.

We have a history of handling mistakes and failure in an unpleasant way. Since each of us carries our human history with us, it can be a challenge to overcome the fear of making mistakes.

If we can embrace the reality of mistakes, we can free ourselves to be more creative in our lives and dig up some interesting insights.

Why We Can’t Avoid Making Mistakes

Many people operate under the notion that making mistakes is an aberration, a mistake if you will. You can call it perfectionism but it is a more substantial problem. It is really a demand for order and continuity.

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When we think we can eliminate mistakes, we are often working from a perspective that sees the world as a fixed place. The world, however, is not so obliging. Like it or not, the world, and everything in it, is constantly changing.

Change is more constant and pervasive than we can see with our own eyes which is why we often miss it. Our bodies are constantly changing. The natural conditions of the earth change constantly as well. Everything, including economic and cultural systems have life cycles. Everything is in a constant state of flux.

We cannot see all of the changes going on around us since rates of change vary. Unfortunately, when we try to create a feeling of certainty and solidity in our lives or operate from the illusion of stability and order, we are fighting reality and our natural evolution which is built on adapting to change.

It is better to continually bend into this reality rather than fight every change we experience. Fighting it can cause us to make more mistakes. Finding the benefits in change can be useful and help us minimize unnecessary mistakes.

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Lessons Learned from Making Mistakes

Life has so many uncertainties and variables that mistakes are inevitable. Fortunately, there are many things you can learn from making mistakes.

Here is a list of ways to harness the mistakes you make for your benefit.

  1. Point us to something we did not know.
  2. Reveal a nuance we missed.
  3. Deepen our knowledge.
  4. Tell us something about our skill levels.
  5. Help us see what matters and what does not.
  6. Inform us more about our values.
  7. Teach us more about others.
  8. Let us recognize changing circumstances.
  9. Show us when someone else has changed.
  10. Keep us connected to what works and what doesn’t work.
  11. Remind us of our humanity.
  12. Spur us to want to better work which helps us all.
  13. Promote compassion for ourselves and others.
  14. Teach us to value forgiveness.
  15. Help us to pace ourselves better.
  16. Invite us to better choices.
  17. Can teach us how to experiment.
  18. Can reveal a new insight.
  19. Can suggest new options we had not considered.
  20. Can serve as a warning.
  21. Show us hidden fault lines in our lives which can lead us to more productive arrangements.
  22. Point out structural problems in our lives.
  23. Prompt us to learn more about ourselves.
  24. Remind us how we are like others.
  25. Make us more humble.
  26. Help us rectify injustices in our lives.
  27. Show us where to create more balance in our lives.
  28. Tell us when the time to move on has occurred.
  29. Reveal where our passion is and where it is not.
  30. Expose our true feelings.
  31. Bring out problems in a relationship.
  32. Can be a red flag for our misjudgments.
  33. Point us in a more creative direction.
  34. Show us when we are not listening.
  35. Wake us up to our authentic selves.
  36. Can create distance with someone else.
  37. Slow us down when we need to.
  38. Can hasten change.
  39. Reveal our blind spots.
  40. Are the invisible made visible.

Reframe Reality to Handle Mistakes More Easily

The secret to handling mistakes is to:

  • Expect them as part of the process of growth and development.
  • Have an experimental mindset.
  • Think in evolutional rather than fixed terms.

When we accept change as the natural structure of the world, our vulnerability and humanness lets us work with the ebb and flow of life.

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When we recognize the inevitability of mistakes as part of the ongoing experiment which life is, then we can relax more. In doing so we may make fewer of them.

It also helps to keep in mind that trial and error is an organic natural way of living. It is how we have evolved over time. It is better to be with our natural evolution than to fight it and make life harder.

When we adopt an evolutional mindset and see ourselves as part of the ongoing human experiment, we can appreciate that all that has been built up over time which includes the many mistakes our ancestors have made over thousands of years. Each one of us today is a part of that human tradition of learning and experimenting,

Mistakes are part of the trial and error, experimental nature of life. The more you adopt the experimental, evolutional frame, the easier it becomes to handle mistakes.

Handling mistakes well can help you relax and enjoy all aspects of life more.

More About Success and Failures

Featured photo credit: Sarah Kilian via unsplash.com

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