New to Leading Meetings? Create an Agenda

Everyone has been to meetings where the leader failed to prepare. These events typically veer off-topic and are rarely productive. Instead of solving a problem or brainstorming new ideas, participants are left frustrated because the meeting host wasted their time.

If you’re new to leading meetings, the thought of keeping the conversation on the rails may feel daunting. Don’t worry. There’s a simple solution you can use to keep your meeting on track.

To ensure you’re prepared to host a meeting, you must create a meeting agenda. Agendas set specific meeting objectives, helping your team members understand your meeting’s purpose. When everyone is on the same page about why you’re taking the time to talk, you’ll have more productive conversations. To create an effective agenda and use it successfully, follow these six tips.

1. Plan Ahead

You don’t want to create your meeting agenda the night before you need it. Waiting until the last minute doesn’t just increase the likelihood that you’ll forget to include important information. It also prevents your team from preparing beforehand. Companies like Fellow recommend thinking proactively by providing participants the agenda ahead of time is crucial to meeting success.

Getting the agenda to your teammates at least 24 hours before you convene will set your meeting up for maximum productivity. This gives participants the opportunity to read through each topic, brainstorm creative ideas, and formulate unique solutions. Many people don’t do their best thinking when put on the spot. Allowing participants to think through topics in advance makes it more likely that all team members will contribute to the conversation.

2. Make Sure Your Agenda Is Relevant to All Participants

Nothing is more frustrating than sacrificing an hour of your day for a work meeting that didn’t apply to you. Your teammates are busy, and you want to respect their time. To ensure that your meeting is productive for all participants, cover topics that apply to everyone.

Of equal importance is only inviting teammates that need to be there. If you ask members from every department to attend a meeting that pertains to one department, participants will disengage. Worse, they’ll be less likely to attend another of your meetings in the future.

3. Create a Question-Based Agenda

You sent your meeting agenda ahead of time and only invited the people who needed to be there. You’re feeling confident about the first discussion point, only to be met by crickets. Where did you go wrong? It’s likely that you created a topics-based agenda rather than a question-based agenda.

Most agendas simply list a series of topics to discuss during the meeting. For example, the first topic on your agenda may be “client onboarding.” This leaves people wondering, “What about client onboarding?” Instead of simply listing a topic, propose a question like, “What can we do to make our client onboarding process more effective?” By asking a question instead of stating a topic, it’s easier to engage meeting participants.

4. Open With Employee Recognition

How many times do you recognize your teammates for their hard work? If this hasn’t been a regular practice in your workplace, team meetings are a great place to start. Providing regular recognition can boost team members’ morale and their productivity. In fact, 40% of working Americans said they would dedicate more effort to their work if they received more recognition.

To get your meeting off to a positive start, dedicate the first portion of your agenda to team recognition. Make your agenda document editable so all meeting participants can add team wins and highlight their colleagues’ great work.

5. Set a Time Limit for Each Topic

All too often, people get laser-focused on one meeting topic and spend most of the meeting discussing this single item. This then requires meeting hosts to schedule a second meeting to discuss the ignored topics, taking up more of everyone’s time. Instead of spending an indefinite amount of time on a topic, set limits around how long a subject will be discussed.

Including topic time limits in the meeting agenda allows participants to adapt their contributions to fit within the time frame. The purpose of creating a limit isn’t to halt the conversation but rather to ensure you’re using your time efficiently. Perhaps you’ll receive pre-meeting feedback that multiple people have thoughts on a specific topic. In that case, you may need to dedicate more time to that subject, adjusting your agenda accordingly.

6. Leave Time to Discuss Next Steps

You’ve just ended one of your most productive meetings to date. Your team came up with tons of creative ideas, and you finally found a solution for that nagging onboarding problem. Then weeks go by, and nothing has happened. What went wrong?

Chances are you didn’t end your meeting by specifying next steps. This left everyone with a handful of great ideas and no plan to achieve them. Don’t assume your teammates will take action after a meeting. Instead, dedicate the end of your meeting agenda to laying out next steps and identifying who will handle them. This ensures everyone knows what tasks need to be completed, by whom, and by when.

You don’t need to be nervous about hosting your first meeting. Simply creating a structured agenda will set you up for success. Use the tips above to create a meeting agenda that promotes a productive meeting.