The key to running an effective meeting is a well thought out agenda. When you prepare ahead of time by writing an agenda with detailed information about the meeting, you will not only save time for everyone involved, but the outcome is more likely to be a success. Here are 5 items you should always include when creating an effective meeting agenda.

Define the meeting goal. (Or goals)

This might be the most important part of an agenda. It specifies the purpose of the meeting and the outcome or decision you are hoping to reach at the end. It provides a clear understanding to everyone involved of what you are trying to achieve and why their participation is valued.

For example, a meeting may be required to make a choice between five varying options. The goal would be the agreement on the decision. A goal can also be something less final, like a status update at a weekly team meeting, to ensure that a project is still on track.

When you start with the goal, you are more focused on the end result while creating the rest of the meeting agenda, improving the efficiency of your meeting before it even begins.

Outline a list of meeting agenda topics for discussion.

Once the goal of the meeting has been established, a list of topics for discussion can be outlined. Each topic should assist in achieving the meeting goal. The list can be brief but should be detailed enough so that team members can prepare for the meeting to make an effective contribution. A common method is to position each topic as a question. This kickstarts the thought process for your participants and provides a check-in on its relativity to the meeting goal.

Each topic should have an owner and a specified amount of time to cover the topic. Topic ownership provides accountability. A time frame keeps the meeting on schedule.

Identify the list of required attendees.

The attendee list tends to be a common weak spot for meeting organizers. The challenge presents itself, not when deciding who to invite, but who not to invite. Only people who really need to be at the meeting should be on this list.

If you’ve established your meeting goal(s) and assigned meeting topics, you should have a good foundation to work with to finalize your list of attendees. With that in mind, ask yourself three questions when considering each meeting participant. If you answer yes to any of the questions, add him or her to the list.

  • Does s/he need to be present in order to achieve the meeting goal?
  • Does s/he have valuable knowledge or expertise that could impact the outcome?
  • Is s/he directly impacted by the end result of the goal?

If you’re unsure, make his or her attendance optional. You can always send a post-meeting summary, recording or transcription instead. Meeting minutes from a note taker, not always required.

One of the biggest complaints about business meetings is that they are a waste of time. Don’t be a time waster. Be respectful of your colleagues’ time without losing out on results.

Leave a section for action items and off-topic discussions at the end of your meeting agenda.

Follow-up is just as important as the meeting itself. At the bottom of the meeting agenda template, it is beneficial to include a section where attendees can take notes, document action items, decisions, and takeaways. Having this section organizes the conclusions made in the meeting and allows attendees to visualize the process that has to take place afterward.

Unexpected topics can arise during the meeting that steers focus away from the end goal. To stay on track and on time, “park” the off-topic discussion in the “Parking Lot”, usually at the end of the agenda, to revisit outside of the meeting. Another common term for this is “Let’s take this offline.”

Last, but not least, double check meeting details, such as time, place and conference logistics.

This is particularly important if attendees will be participating in your meeting remotely. Make sure that all conference details are clearly outlined and correct, including dial-in numbers, access code, and any links to your online meeting room. Or, create a meeting with FreeConference.com and the conference details are populated in all invitations and reminders, along with your meeting agenda.

Try to send out the agenda at least 48 hours in advance.

Advance notice provides attendees with the time to prepare for the meeting and to ensure that they don’t have any conflicts in their schedule.

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How to Host Stellar Meetings from Meeting Agenda to Follow-Up