How to Create Effective Meeting Agendas for Productive Meetings [+Examples]
Want to run productive meetings? It may be tempting to think that all it takes is a few best practices.
Show up with the right attitude. Get everyone engaged. Keep an eye on the clock to ensure the meeting wraps up on time.
While those skills are certainly valuable once you're in the room, truly effective meetings are born long before the meeting date, even before invites are sent out.
It all starts with the meeting agenda.
Great meetings are derived from necessity. That necessity needs to be well-defined before a leader can decide who needs to be in a meeting and how it will run. Meeting agendas accomplish exactly that, and much more, serving as a team preparation tool before the meeting, and a guide during it.
An effective meeting agenda clearly states meeting goals and discussion topics. It is written in a way that helps team members get on the same page, before, during, and after the meeting, providing all necessary information to set the team up for success.
Definition: What is an agenda?
Created before a meeting begins, an agenda is a list of meeting activities and discussions that will be covered in your meeting. They are laid out in order, often as a list or set of bullet points.
Agendas can range from a very basic list, to a more complex document. Exactly how much detail to include depends on the type of meeting you are having, and how organized you want to be. A quick one-topic huddle may require no agenda at all, whereas an All-Hands meeting should be carefully planned to maximize the team's time together.
Agendas are notably different from meeting notes, which typically begin with the agenda, but are filled in with more information about what took place during the meeting—such as decisions and next steps.
For example, an agenda may include a question that needs to be answered, such as, "Discussion: Should we post-pone our team-wide retreat until 2021?" Then, in your notes for the meeting, after the discussion you might jot down, "Decision to delay until 2021 due to the risks of having the entire team traveling during the COVID-19 outbreak."
How to create your meeting agenda
Your first step in putting together your agenda is decide what kind of document to use. This sets up how easy it will be for meeting attendees to create, share, and reference your agenda.
Options for formatting your agenda include:
- Word doc
- Google Doc
- Put the agenda in the calendar invite
- Use a document-in-folder notes app like Evernote or OneNote
- Use a calendar-based meeting notes software like Hugo
You will want to consider whether anyone else will need to contribute to the agenda or be able to comment on it. If so, emailing the agenda is going to add friction there, so going for a more shared approach is going to be useful.
For example, you may want to design a beautiful agenda PDF to print before a meeting. Using such a format will make it difficult or impossible for others to make suggestions to the agenda, or fill in their part with more detail if they are presenting at your meeting. That's why a shared document is often preferable.
But, regardless of what platform you choose for your agenda, here are the best practices to use to make the best meeting agenda possible.
Create your meeting agenda in advance
Early agenda creation has multiple benefits — from narrowing down meeting goals, which helps identify who needs to be in the room — to estimating a realistic meeting length for the discussion topics included. Outlining a meeting before sending out invites increases the likelihood that attendees will arrive prepared, since they’ll know what’s on the agenda.
Here are a few key things to keep in mind while creating a meeting agenda:
Make the agenda well enough in advance to share it.
In most circumstances, it’s not productive to spring meeting goals and discussion topics on your attendees the day of the meeting. That might work for weekly meetings with low-stakes decision making objectives. But, a wiser approach is to get into the habit of sharing well thought-out meeting agendas with room for attendees to suggest changes. Agendas are more powerful when shared, and when attendees can contribute to them.
Whether a key piece of information needs to be included to inform the meeting — or more time needs to be allocated to a topic which a team member feels is more complex than it appears — enabling attendee engagement early on forms a strong foundation and grants attendees ownership. What’s more, building an agenda in advance gives the meeting leader plenty of time to organize thoughts and goals, and make sure that nothing important is missing from the agenda on meeting day.
Not sure where to start? Check out some of these sample meeting agenda templates for inspiration.
Decide on a formal or informal agenda.
Those weekly low-stakes internal meetings probably require a different agenda style than, say, a meeting with a new potential partner. An informal meeting agenda may be short and simple, something like this:
Marketing Campaign Reflection Meeting
1. Housekeeping (5 mins, all attendees)
2. Presentation of marketing campaign results (10 mins, Joe S.)
3. Discuss strengths and weaknesses of campaign (20 mins, all)
4. Brainstorm adjustments for next campaign (20 mins, all)
5. Assign project leads and deadlines (5 mins, Samantha Q.)
An agenda like this assumes quite a few things: that everyone understands what to expect from “housekeeping,” that Joe has been given enough notice that he will be making a 10-minute presentation, and that attendees have been involved enough with the marketing campaign to identify strengths and weaknesses and brainstorm adjustments. There may also already be internal discussion/brainstorming practices in place which ensure all voices are heard.
An informal agenda such as this is fine as long as attendees are familiar with the processes utilized at each stage of the meeting. Still, sharing it in advance so that Joe can communicate that he may need more time, or another team member can suggest more brainstorming allocation, is beneficial in ensuring the meeting will be productive.
A partnership meeting, of course, is a meeting that will likely require a more formal, detailed agenda. Sharing a well-written meeting agenda at the time of invitation gives everyone internally and externally the same opportunity to prepare and give feedback as needed.
Use action-oriented language in your agenda
The best agenda topics are also more than just a procedural list. They explain the goal of that part of the meeting as an action. For example, "Brainstorm adjustments for the next campaign" is much stronger than simply saying, "Brainstorm."
Here's a super-short video explaining how to create action-packed agendas.