An agenda is simply a list of the things you want to discuss during a meeting. As well as helping you plan, it is a useful way of making sure that at the meeting you cover everything you need to.
Agendas provide an important outline for meetings, and communicate important information such as the topics for discussion, presenters or discussion leaders for each topic, and the time allotted for each item. Creating an effective agenda is one of the most important elements for a productive meeting.
A well-prepared and organised agenda is an important tool for helping your team hold orderly, efficient meetings. An organised agenda is not thrown together in a few minutes. Thought and planning are necessary to develop an agenda that provides meaningful information, but does not become a lengthy narrative document. In addition, a carefully prepared agenda can influence the outcome of a meeting.
A meeting agenda may be relatively brief and sketchy or longer and more informative. No matter its form, a good agenda helps members prepare for the meeting, and during the meeting, it helps participants follow the order of business and provides a place to take notes.
The following steps are essential to developing a good meeting agenda:
- Determine the level of attention appropriate for each agenda item. Questions to consider include:
- Will an announcement be sufficient?
- Will discussion be in order?
- Will a vote be required?
- Carefully consider the order of the topics on the agenda. List those items that require immediate attention first, in case time runs short.
- Ask participants requesting an agenda item to contact you no less than two days before the meeting with their request and the amount of time they will need to present it. If an inappropriate request is made, suggest that person send an email or written update or report instead or recommend that this agenda item be discussed at another meeting.
- Indicate on the agenda which group member is responsible for each agenda item, and highlight any documentation or background information that will help members understand the issues involved.
It is important to plan how much time to allocate for each agenda item, particularly if the meeting has a specific start and end time. Be realistic in the amount of time you allocate to each item. Don't cram an unrealistic number of agenda items into a two hour meeting. When people accept an invitation to a meeting, they expect to be finished by a reasonable time. When meetings go over time, people generally tend to get uneasy. It's better to schedule 1 hour 50 minutes of discussion into a two hour time slot. This way you have 10 minutes to spare and if you get done a little early, people will be pleased.
Standard Agenda Items
One way to streamline meeting procedures is to adopt some standard agenda items. These agenda items allow groups to take care of routine business items quickly. These items are regular noncontroversial and self-explanatory and can be consolidated and approved at the start of the meeting with one motion for each item. Examples of such items include apologies for absences, minutes of the previous meeting, matters arising, routine correspondence and confirmation of actions required in the constitution.
Many groups are in the habit of discussing every topic on the agenda. Not all items require discussion or deliberation. Furthermore, some items may have been discussed and explained previously, and additional discussion will be repetitive and unnecessary.
Who decides what's on the agenda?
It is formally the chair of the meetings job to prepare the agenda ready for distribution to the team. However, it is good practice for them to work with other members of the team to produce the agenda as this can make life a lot easier and ensure everything is covered.
It is also useful to ask key members of the team if they have any items to contribute. Some ways of doing this are:
- Ask for suggestion by email, or put a sheet on a notice board.
- At the meeting, ask for items for the next meeting.
- When you send out the notice of the meeting, ask for suggestions for the agenda.
Remember to put a contact address, and the date you need them by.
A basic agenda
An agenda can be very simple. Here is an example:
- Apologies for absence
- Minutes of the last meeting
- Matters arising (10 minutes)
- Correspondence (5 Minutes)
- ADC's Report (10 minutes)
- Section matters (10 minutes)
- Item 1 (5 minutes)
- Item 2 (5 minutes)
- Item 3 (5 minutes)
- Item 4 (5 minutes) etc...
- Any other business (10 minutes)
- Date of next meeting
Items for your agenda
- The bulk of your agenda will simply be the items you need to discuss. Make each important matter a separate item.
- Look through the minutes of your last meeting. Are there any things to report back on? Are there items that need to be discussed again? Put each issue down as a separate item.
- Have you received any information, for example about meetings or other events that you need to tell everyone about?
- Always include an item 'minutes of the last meeting'. The purpose of this is to agree that the minutes of the last meeting are accurate and reflect what happened. The Chair should then sign a copy of the minutes and these should be filed for the Group’s records.
- Some groups have 'standing items' on their agendas. These are items that are always on the agenda at every meeting. They are usually reports from officers such as the Treasurer, or reports from sub-groups.
- 'Any Other Business' is a regular item at the end of most agendas. It allows people to raise issues that aren't already on the agenda.
- Try to avoid 'Any Other Business' taking up the majority of the meeting. If you can, it's better to find out beforehand what people want on the agenda. This allows you to organise the meeting more efficiently.
How long will each item take?
- It is useful to look at the agenda before the meeting, and work out how long you think each item is going to take. This can really help with the chairing and general smooth running of the meeting.
- Try to make sure the important discussions get all the time they need, and the minor issues don't expand to take over the whole meeting.
- It's hard to estimate exact times, but you can get a rough idea. For example, if you have 6 items to discuss in an hour's meeting you could give each item 10 minutes, or one important item 35 minutes and the rest 5 minutes each.
- If this looks impossible you need to have fewer items on the agenda, or a longer meeting!
What order do items go in?
- It is general practice to put the short, easy to deal with items at the start of the agenda. You can then get them out of the way quickly, and can concentrate on the important issues.
- There are no hard and fast rules about this. It depends on what you think will work best at any particular meeting.
When do you prepare the agenda?
- The crucial thing is to think about the agenda in advance. It's a tool to help you plan the meeting.
- The agenda for a large public meeting will need careful advance planning and thought, while a small committee meeting can be prepared the day before.
- If you are having speakers at the meeting, or need background papers or information, remember to prepare the agenda enough in advance to give yourself time to organise these.
- Think about whether you want to circulate the agenda in advance, or give it to people at the meeting. It is good practice to circulate the agenda a few days before the meeting as this lets participants know what will be discussed and gives them an opportunity to come to the meeting prepared for the upcoming discussions or decisions.
Some other things to think about
- Think about whether an item needs an introduction and if so who will do this. It doesn't necessarily have to be the Chair.
- Make sure you have background papers prepared in advance if an item needs them, and distribute them to the group if necessary.
- Be informative: describe each item in sufficient detail so that members come prepared and interested.
- Make sure you have a good idea what each item is about; you may need to refer to past minutes or discussions.
Of course, the most important part of creating an effective agenda is to follow it during the meeting!