Have you ever been to a meeting that quickly descends into chaos? You sit there, wondering why you bothered showing up and whether any decisions are ever going to be made. Sound all-to-familiar? Meetings are the worst. But they do not have to be! If the above scenario has happened to you, I’m guessing there was no previously written agenda.
If you, or whomever is holding the meeting, skips the important step of crafting an agenda, you can expect things to go awry. I don’t mean to sound so dramatic about something as trivial as a piece of paper but, well, clearly I’ve been to too many poorly handled meetings in my life and want to see this issue remedied! And with 11 million meetings being held in the U.S. every day, it seems like a big issue. There’s no reason for meetings not to be successful and productive.
Quite a bit of material has been written on the best practices for making meetings more effective. Despite this, I am constantly hearing about how “meetings suck” and “are pointless wastes of everybody’s day.” Meetings certainly don’t have to be any of those things. In fact, I find meetings to be THE best way to get things accomplished – when they’re properly executed. And it all starts with a simple agenda.
Why am I harping about an having an agenda?
Attending a meeting that has no plan is terrible! Things are easily derailed and there is no way to redirect the group’s attention. Meeting agendas are essential to remedying those issues and creating a successful meeting.
Meeting Agenda Benefits:
- Sets the right tone: Let meeting participants know that there is a real business purpose to the meeting. Conveying that there are specific items that need discussing and outcomes that need to be achieved will set the correct tone – that you don’t want to waste time.
- Defines key objectives: One big problem that affects the success of a meeting is unclear objectives. A set agenda spells those out and ensures you’re not wasting your colleagues’, your sales team, or your customers’ time.
- Tool for guiding the discussion: A clear meeting agenda provides topics of discussion and identifies someone to guide the conversation on each topic. You might even find it beneficial to include a time allotment for each topic.
- Maximizes time: No excuses! Agendas mean attendees can’t claim they aren’t ready to dive into a particular subject because they didn’t know it was going to be brought up. Sorry Charlie, you’ve had ample time to prepare, which is saving us time in the meeting now.
- Cuts down on side conversations and keeps people focused: It can be difficult to verbally guide someone back to focusing on the task at hand. Having a visual cue, a written reminder of what you hope to get out the meeting, means people can help drive the discussions. A meeting agenda can help cut down on daydreaming!
- Ensures only the essential people show up: Having the appropriate people at a meeting is critical to holding a successful meeting. Making an agenda helps you to invite the right people.
Organization is my jam and I firmly believe meetings need actionable agendas. Every time. And they should be distributed to attendees in advance. Also, you can print copies and put them in front of each chair (this is obviously for in-person meetings.)
Giving the agenda out before-hand allows people to prepare. If folks have been handed an agenda in advance (minimum of 24 hours advance notice), there are no excuses for not being fully prepared and ready to meet. Introverted employees have time to think about the meeting topic and write down their thoughts so they have something to contribute. An agenda is a great way to get people involved who may otherwise have just sat quietly at the table. Bottom line, don’t spring things on people if you don’t have to! Send a meeting confirmation email that include the meeting agenda and you’ll be all set.
Only meeting with one other person? You still need to jot down a brief agenda of the main topics you want to discuss. That way you won’t forget anything and if either one of you starts to go off on a tangent, the agenda can help center the meeting. Trust me, it’s necessary.
If you yourself can’t write up a meeting agenda, delegate! One of the other participants can take on that responsibility and you’ll still be able to enjoy the benefits of having a meeting agenda, without doing all the work.
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Creating and distributing an agenda outlining the topics to be discussed can help a business meeting from being unfocused and unproductive. Be sure to include a final section on your agenda with action items and next steps – tasks that need to be complete before the next meeting or before the next phase in a project.
Now that you have this tool in your toolkit, your next meeting will not be wasted!