Time is a precious commodity in business; you cannot afford to have discussions in meetings go all over the place.
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Agendas are an integral part in keeping meetings focused, organised, and flowing well. In this article, we will discuss the basic structure of agendas, how to select an agenda format and tips and techniques when writing an agenda.
The Basic Structure
An agenda is a list of the topics for discussion in a meeting, alongside with details that can help the meeting run successfully. It keeps the discussion on track and the meeting within schedule. When included in the invitation, an agenda is a way to brief participants on how they should prepare for the meeting and what they should bring.
The basic structure of a business meeting agenda includes:
- Date, Time, Location, and Estimated Duration of the Meeting
- Purpose of the Meeting
- Advanced Preparation Guidelines
List down what invitees need to review or think about before the business meeting in Wellington so that the discussion can be more targeted and productive. This is also the section to advise attendees what they need to bring to the meeting. Example: “Please have a copy of the 2011 Financial Report with you.”
- List of Invited (or Confirmed) Attendees
- Items for Discussion
It is recommended that you state items for discussion using results-oriented action words. Example: “Decide on which vendor to award XYZ account to.” is a better agenda item than “XYZ Account” or “Talk about XYZ bidders.”
- Person-in-Charge for each item
- Approximate Time to be spent on each item
Choosing an Agenda Format
A good business skills writing course will provide you with some formats to use when crating a business meeting agenda. There are many different formats of a business meeting agenda, although very few stray from the basic structure discussed earlier. Word processing software, like Microsoft Word, offers agenda templates and agenda wizards for you to use.
The agenda format to use depends on:
When the attendees are going to view the agenda: Most agendas are distributed days before the meeting (which is recommended). There are cases, however, when an emergency meeting has to be called, and the agenda is sent on the meeting day/ hour itself. If it’s the latter case, write the meeting agenda in outline form; this way it can be easily reviewed in the shortest time.
The context of the business meeting: Some meetings happen regularly, for example a monthly Board of Directors Meeting. In this case, sections on ‘Matters Resolved the Previous Meeting” or “Matters Arising from the Previous Meeting” may be appropriate for the meetings to have a good flow.
Agendas for meetings that happen regularly may not be as detailed as other agendas, as there is the presumption that regular attendees can easily make out what basic outlines and basic tags mean. The attendees’ level of familiarity with the items in the agenda can also dictate how detailed and how formal an agenda should be.
The purpose of the agenda: Your purpose in sending out an agenda can influence what format you should use.
Some agendas are meant as an invitation to potential meeting attendees. In this case, you can include sections on how you perceive their input on the discussion would help.
Some agendas are meant as orientations. For example, The Toastmasters’ Club issue agendas to inform their invitees what would happen in an event. They write the agenda in the second person, e.g. “This is the section where you discuss what happened in the last symposium…”
Writing the Business Meeting Agenda in Wellington
When writing the agenda, consider the following factors:
- Priority of Items
- Consult everyone involved in the meeting what topics should be included in the agenda. At least, seek confirmation from your team if the agenda is accurate and complete.
- Rank the topics in descending order of importance and urgency. This way, it’s the less priority topics that get sacrificed in case there’s no more time.
- Logical Flow
- Start with topics arising from the previous meeting before new stuff, unless new issues are more important.
- Combine items that are related and or similar.
- Start with ‘informational items’ first, before items that require critical thinking and decision-making.
- Allot time for questions.
- Close with a wrap-up/review session.
- Plan for only 30 minutes to 1 hour and 30 minutes. Anything longer tends to be unproductive because of attendees’ fatigue.
- Be reasonable in setting the time that will spent on each topic. If the discussion has to be really focused, state in the agenda what precisely would be discussed. You may also advise attendees what they need to prepare beforehand to get the discussion flowing faster.
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