3 Simple Tips to Make Meeting Agendas Better - Docket

3 Simple Tips to Make Meeting Agendas Better

Many companies are remote during this time which makes meetings more important than ever. In order to get work done, get questions answered, solve problems, or gain clarity, we need to see and sync with others. But how do we ensure the time spent in a meeting reaps what we need to make it worthwhile and continue our efforts outside of the meeting?

Walking into a meeting unprepared is taking cash and throwing it to the wind. Just a few things that can happen when there is no preparation for a meeting include:

  • Guests arrive distracted and focused on other problems
  • Guests may not show up due to lack of understanding or importance
  • Guests are not always equally prepared for the discussion
  • Not everyone has the same understanding or vision of the challenge or issue
  • Personal agendas are introduced
  • We have great conversations but we don’t capture the essence of the idea or solution
  • It takes longer to come to a solution
  • We may edge closer to a solution but we don’t capture the next steps or tasks

However, if you are prepared and also prepare others for a meeting, everyone can walk in aligned and ready to work together. We all know agendas are the tool that can drive a good meeting but so many of us struggle with making an agenda that makes meeting work for us. 

How can we conduct each meeting in the best possible way so we are turning challenges, problems, and ideas into goods, services, and progress? Here are a few simple tips to help you use your agenda to get more out of each meeting.

Make the title a meeting purpose

It is a common experience to see a meeting title be generalized into “Staff Meeting” or “Refinement.” These meetings are typically just that and also tend to be recurring so we don’t change them or make them any more specific. But what is the staff meeting FOR? What is the refinement FOR? Yes, the agenda will illustrate this further. But just as you work hard to write eye-catching subjects for your emails, why wouldn’t you also do the same for your meeting title?

Try this: Make your meeting title a meeting purpose. Ask yourself, “Why are we meeting?” and turn it into a quick phrase that speaks to the overall problem or challenge. A few agenda examples of a meeting purpose might be:

  • Design Review for Home Page Updates
  • Marketing Meeting for April Campaign Options
  • Staff Meeting for Monthly Department Status
  • Refinement for First Time Visitor Experience

Set a goal or a desired outcome

How do you help your guests have an understanding of what you want to walk away with after the meeting is done? They know you want to solve the problem or create ideas. But since no one can actually read minds, what expectations do you have that you wish to also share with them?

Try this: Create a goal to share what you hope to achieve in this meeting. Ask yourself, “When this meeting is over, I want to be able to…” and turn it into a brief sentence sharing that desire as part of the agenda. A few agenda examples of a desired outcome might be:

The goal of this meeting is to…

  • Have 2 options to provide the customer for their desired process. 
  • Walk away with 3 use cases we want this project to solve for.
  • Create a list of 5 ideas we can brainstorm in our next session.

Turn agenda items into questions

Providing an agenda is a great start but are the agenda items written in a way that tells you more than a 3-5 word topic? If you go into a 1:1 with your boss and an agenda item says, “Staff Reduction,” you are probably going to be a little stressed (and shame on your boss for leaving it at that!). But if you see a section that more clearly articulates the purpose such as, “What ideas do you have to help reduce the potential of staff reduction?,” you can know you aren’t walking into bad news and you can also know you have something you need to be prepared to discuss. In addition, you are being asked instead of being told which creates autonomy by enabling guests to be a part of the solution.

Try this: Turn your agenda items into questions. On each agenda item ask yourself, “How does this agenda item get us closer to reaching the desired outcome?” and create a question for each that drives the discussion towards that direction. Instead of labeling the agenda item as, “Customer Issues,” try:

  • “Which customers/industries are reporting challenges with this?”
  • “What are these customers’ biggest challenges with this today?”
  • “What is the customer’s desired process?

Now that you have created a clearer understanding for your meeting guests, make sure not to miss a few more critical steps to ensure the effort you put into the agenda creates the efficiency and results you are looking for out of this meeting:

  • Send the agenda out a day or two before the meeting – give your guests time to review the agenda and be prepared to discuss the questions you provided.
  • Review the topic to set the stage – when you kick off the meeting, review the agenda to get the problem or challenge at the top of their mind.
  • Keep track of the time – keep each topic moving forward. While free-form discussion is a great way to encourage creative thinking, it can also get you off topic. 

When the meeting is over, ask yourself, “Did I get what I needed from that meeting?”  If you did not, what can be changed in your agenda to get to this next time? Keep trying to adjust the format of your meetings to make them work better for you. If you did get what you wanted from that meeting, make sure to save that agenda as a template using a meeting tool like Docket so you can save time the next time and just customize the changes you need for that next discussion.

About the Author

Heather Hansson

Heather is VP of Product and Chief of Staff at Docket. She enjoys leading cross-functional teams to work together on vision, strategy, and implementing solutions that help people work and live better. When she isn’t helping rid the world of wasteful meetings with Docket, Heather likes to run, take violin lessons with her son, and spend time with her family.

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