Plan Your Best Meeting: Purpose and Agenda

In the first post in this series, I proposed five principles to make your meeting planning  effective. Now, let’s apply those principles to our meeting planning. First, let’s look at how to plan our agenda by developing the meeting purpose.

people planning a meeting agenda
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Do I really need a meeting?

Start your planning by asking “do I really need a meeting?” As analysts we have other ways to get information. Too many meetings are a drain on productivity so consider alternate methods whenever possible. Other ways to get decisions or collect information include:

  • Emails
  • Phone calls
  • Collaboration tools such as Jabber or Slack
  • Asynchronous collaboration methods such as a shared Wiki or Confluence page
  • Data collection methods such as surveys or document reviews

Modeling these methods in your organization can help others see alternate ways to get things done without assuming they need a meeting.

What’s the meeting purpose? 

Meetings must always have a purpose. We are asking people to take time away from their work so we should be clear about how this meeting time will result in a benefit to them (or the organization). Get clear on its purpose by thinking through the outcomes you want to achieve. Here’s an example of a purpose statement:

The purpose of this meeting to discuss the feedback we received on the website changes and prioritize the user experience issues that need to be resolved. 

A well-defined purpose will help you:

  • define your meeting objectives,
  • identify topics to discuss or decisions to be made, and
  • determine the inputs and outputs of the meeting

When you have these items developed, you will be able to plan your meeting agenda and have put a plan together to help your attendees prepare.

Now, plan your meeting agenda

I find that planning the meeting agenda is the most common missed step in meeting preparation. Here are some reasons I’ve heard when I asked meeting organizers why there was no agenda:

  • “It’s just a 30 min/1hour meeting. We don’t need an agenda”
  • “The meeting title will help participants understand what we’ll discuss”
  • “I was asked to schedule this meeting. I don’t know why.”

Have you heard these before? Bluntly put, I think meetings with no agendas are a disrespectful invasion of people’s time. The organizer assumes that the invitees have no better use of their time than to attend his or her meeting. It also implies that the invitees are ready to speak on whatever comes up (I refer to these as “improv meetings”). This is a recipe for meeting dysfunction. When you plan the meeting agenda and include it in the invitation, it shows that the organizer is prepared and helps the attendees to prepare as well.

Planning the meeting agenda gets you ready. The next step is to help your participants get ready. Before you can do that, you’ll need to put some thought into who needs to participate to help you achieve your purpose. And that’s the next topic in this series!

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