I have attended too many meetings without a clear agenda, or no agenda at all – except for a vague subject line – then I can count. Writing a good meeting agenda can be the difference between a productive conversation bringing you closer to your goals, or a waste of time.
Sadly, a good agenda is no guarantee to a productive meeting. It all depends on the participants. You can write a clearly defined agenda, right down to what the outcome should be: decide on X or Y, and still people could show up unprepared. But now it is clear who is not doing their part, who is not paying attention.
By writing a good agenda, you have done your part to maximise the success of any meeting.
Write a good title
The subject line should be short and to the point. The tighter the group of participants, the shorter it can be. If you invite in people from other parts of the organization, or external people, it may have to convey some more information. In any case, the title needs to be self-explanatory to the group attending.
State the expected outcome
Write down what the outcome of the meetings should be. Is it a decision? Is it another meeting? In other words: what do you want to achieve? Since this is the most important part of a meeting, I would suggest keeping this at the top of the agenda.
Ask for input in advance
Be clear on the input needed to make decisions. A meeting is not the time to look up information that could have been prepared in advance. Make sure to tag the person(s) responsible for doing this, otherwise it will not happen. Again, this may not be a guarantee that they do their part, but it is on them, not you. If someone has not done their job, make them aware of it. Make them learn to respect you and the meeting culture you want to build.
Be succinct and to the point
You are not writing a novel, so keep the content brief and use bullet points if possible. Nobody wants to read more than necessary. You should attach any related reading material as separate documents. If you are to discuss an incident, the deviation report should be an attachment.
As with asking for input, tag people if they need to familiarize themselves with the attached documents beforehand.
Invite the right people
Invite the right people and make sure they stay onboard. I have been in meetings that have been forwarded to a bunch of people that have no clue on what is going on, and the person you really wanted – that you needed – have dropped out. Do not allow this to happen. Be strict. Cancel if necessary. Do not waste time if the right people are not present.
There you have it: my five tips to a better meeting. Now, make sure to take notes. Who attended, what did you discuss, who should follow up on what. This is valuable information, especially if you are to have a follow-up meeting.
Even if you are “just” a participant: take notes. It will make you a better human being.