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How to Write an Effective Meeting Agenda (With Templates)

How to Write an Effective Meeting Agenda (With Templates)

All meetings have a purpose. Some meetings are brainstorming sessions. Other meetings are strategy sessions to achieve a particular goal. Some meetings are debriefs from still other meetings. Whether you are gathering to fill in your employees on the stunning third-quarter results or to practice a pitch for a new client, your meeting will run more smoothly, efficiently, and productively with a meticulously crafted meeting agenda.

In this article, you will learn how to create an effective meeting agenda and host productive meetings.

The Importance of a Meeting Agenda

A Meeting Without an Agenda Is like a Road Trip Without an Itinerary

As a busy professional, you lose patience when you feel your valuable time is being wasted. This happens more often than you may realize. For many executives, meetings take up two of the five days of the workweek.

All the more reason to make sure that every meeting is essential. Ask first if the topics can’t be covered another way — through email, perhaps, or via a phone call with the key players. If you determine that a face-to-face meeting is imperative, write a meeting agenda to outline the discussion points, and assign times for each speaker.

You know the frustration you feel when a meeting falls ten minutes behind schedule while everyone politely waits for Susan to finish gushing about her trip to Bermuda? Meeting agendas act as gentle reminders to everyone assembled that time is valuable and to please stay on point.

Well-Crafted Agendas Are Inclusive

Scheduling a staff meeting signals to coworkers that their input is needed, or that assignments need to be made. When you follow up the meeting invitation with a detailed agenda, participants know to prepare. Workers actually say they enjoy participating in meetings if there is a clear objective and pertinent information is shared.

Smart Meeting Agendas Are Goal-Oriented

Meeting agendas set all topics to be covered. Choose different speakers for each topic, and ideally, allot times for each speaker. If it’s a brainstorming session, consider an agenda that lists expected outcomes. For example: “Outline the plan for developing our mentoring program; set timelines; make staff assignments.”

Agendas serve as a guide for the meeting facilitator, keep everyone in sync, and provide a format for the person taking the meeting minutes to follow.

How to Write an Effective Meeting Agenda

So, how do you go about crafting this all-important meeting agenda? Apply these 8 useful tips:

1. Solicit Feedback Ahead of Time

Your bosses and colleagues will be more engaged if you ask for their input. Getting their buy-in will make it more likely that they will attend the meeting and champion its outcomes.

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A week before the meeting, make it a point to visit with some of the key players at your company and simply ask, “Would you like to include anything on the meeting agenda?”

2. Follow Proper Meeting Agenda Etiquette

After you’ve drafted the agenda, be sure to run it by your supervisor, your supervisor’s boss, and each person cited on the agenda. Never include a speaker on the agenda without first taking this precaution. Avoid listing workers who are out of town or attending other meetings.

If the key player on a particular piece of business is away, ask another staffer to fill in for her. As a courtesy, be sure to let them both know you have taken this step.

Once the meeting agenda is approved and the speakers are set, email the agenda to all meeting attendees in advance. Take care to get RSVPs to the meeting. You want to avoid any surprises.

3. Respect the Timeline

If you have reserved the office conference room for an hour, that is the longest your meeting should last.

At some companies, other groups will have reserved the conference room directly after your group leaves. So ideally, draft your meeting agenda so that your team will have left the room at least five minutes before the next meeting starts.

4. Find an Organizing Principle for the Meeting Agenda

Streamline your agenda so that the attendees will leave having a clear sense of the outcomes. You may want to prioritize, listing the most important projects that must be discussed first.

Sometimes, it makes sense to organize these projects by their deadlines. Other times, it makes sense to list these projects by their importance to the firm.

5. Consider the Number of People Who Should Report

Five minutes of uninterrupted time is often long enough for an update on a particular meeting. It’s the interruptions that add time!

If your senior V.P. of marketing tends to get flustered or veer off track when interrupted, consider a meeting agenda that leaves Q&A for the last ten minutes of the meeting. Then, be sure to enforce it. You can gently interrupt the interrupter and say, “As you know, Paul, we’ve left time at the end for questions. Right now, let’s let Rick finish his update.”

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6. Pay Attention to the Order of the Speakers

In some companies, senior management speaks first. In other companies, junior associates do. When figuring out the speaker order, be sure it aligns with your company’s culture.

That said, never include anyone on a meeting agenda who does not need to report. Doing so will just make the meeting run long. When listing speakers on the agenda, deciding whether to include their titles will again depend on your company’s culture.

In a more casual environment, you might just list first names. In a more formal environment, you might list first and last names and include titles.

7. Format Meeting Agendas in the Same Way

A meeting agenda should be made on the organization’s letterhead — or at a minimum, include the company logo. Place the title for the meeting and the date at the top of the agenda, along with the meeting’s projected start and end time.

A meeting agenda should be in outline format in a readable type size. Find a clean design for the agenda, and use it each time for consistency. The font should be easy to read, such as Times New Roman or Geneva or Arial. If a template already exists for meeting agendas, simply use that. If one does not exist, create one. (See the next section)

8. Include a List of Documents Needed for the Meeting

Oftentimes in a meeting, the group will be asked to react to a report or proposal, and it is helpful to list these documents at the bottom of the agenda.

Additionally, it will save time if you send the documents together in advance of the meeting so everyone attending will have time to review them.

If laptops are required, be sure to let attendees know in advance.

Meeting Agenda Templates

As long as there have been meetings, there have been meeting agendas. So chances are, someone in your company knows of a clean, easy-to-read meeting agenda template that you can use. But in not, consider one of these:

Agenda Template #1 – Planning

Mentor Program Planning Meeting Agenda

Location: First-floor Conference Room

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Date: November 18, 2019

Time: 1-2:30 p.m. ET

Agenda

  1. Background on Purpose of a Mentor Program, Cheryl Smith, Director, Human Resources (1-1:15 p.m.)
    • a. Evidence regarding employee engagement
    • b. Need to groom rising stars
  2. Recruitment of Mentors/Mentees, Max Marcus, Associate Director, HR (1:15-1:35 p.m.)
    • a. Other corporate models
    • b. Brainstorm criteria
  3. Mentor Program Requirements, Seth Walsh, HR Intern (1:35-1:55 p.m.)
    • a. Pros and cons of structured mentor meetings
    • b. Brainstorm requirements
  4. Implementation, Cheryl Smith (1:55-2:20 p.m.)
    • a. Timeframe for department heads to identify participants
    • b. Pilot program rollout
      • i. 1st participant training session
      • ii. pilot program rollout
      • iii. quarterly debriefs
    • c. Program evaluation
  5. Next Steps, Max Marcus (2:20-2:25 p.m.)

Agenda Template #2 – Information

WXYZ Meeting Agenda

Objective: To create a viable list of businesses to cold call

Meeting Lead: Mary Starsky

Date: November 20, 2019

Location: 16th Floor Conference Room B

Time: 4 p.m.-5 p.m. ET

Call-in Number/Code

Agenda Items

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Introductions 4 p.m.-4:05 p.m.

  1. John Smith—Presenter 4:05 p.m.-4:20 p.m. Companies contacted
  2. Marianne Legit—Presenter 4:20 p.m.-4:35 p.m. Potential leads
  3. Sylvia Stretch—Presenter 4:35 p.m.-4:55 p.m. New canvassing techniques
  4. Q&A [Only if time]

Preparation for Meeting

  • Please read: [List and attach documents]
  • Please bring: [i.e. Laptop, suggestions, supplies]

Agenda Template #3 – Presentation

ZZZ Company Agenda

Date/Start and End Time: Nov. 21, 2019; 9 a.m. ET-10 a.m. ET

Location: Cafeteria, 12th Floor

Meeting called by: Steve Parks

  1. Welcome/Introduction – [Steve Parks, 9 a.m.-9:10 a.m.]
  2. New Product Line Overview – [Paul Aria, 9:10 a.m.-9:20 a.m.]
  3. Demonstrations – [Claire Ringis, 9:30 a.m.-9:40 a.m.]
    • a. Whitening toothpaste
    • b. Toothpaste that strengthens gums
    • c. Toothpaste that fights plaque
  4. Product Marketing – [Steve Parks, 9:40 a.m.-9:50 a.m.]
  5. Discussion and Q & A [9:50 a.m.-9:55 a.m.]
  6. Next Steps – [To be distributed after the meeting]

Bottom Line

When you write the meeting agenda, you control the meeting

Your aim should be to run a tight meeting. An intelligent agenda will help you do this. Leave enough time for discussion, but not too much time. Also, be sure to start your meetings on time.

When you take charge of crafting the meeting agenda, you are directing what course of action needs to be taken. Your ability to draft an effective meeting agenda will increase both meeting and follow-up productivity. These are two extraordinary feats.

Run the tightest meetings at your company, and your team’s performance will soar.

More Tips for Hosting Productive Meetings

Featured photo credit: Štefan Štefančík via unsplash.com

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Vicky Oliver

Author of 6 best-selling books on job-hunting and job interview questions, business etiquette, frugalista style, advertising, and office politics.

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

More on the Importance of Taking a Break

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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