Meetings need agendas. Agendas help with project communication — they ensure people know why they are turning up to a meeting and what they should be doing when they are there.
Agendas and meeting minutes go hand in hand. The agenda makes sure the meeting starts on a good footing. The minutes ensure everything is document and wrapped up effectively at the end.
This article deals with creating agendas that work. I’ve also got 10 tips for writing good minutes for when you need to plan what happens next.
But here, we’re focused on how to create a meeting agenda and tips for preparing a good agenda. You can also use the free template for meeting agendas below.
1. Set up a standard meeting agenda
A sample meeting agenda could include:
- Apologies (we’re coming to them below)
- Review of actions from the last meeting
- Progress updates and upcoming milestones
- Budget update
- Confirmation of when people are out of the office in the next few weeks
- Other matters arising (this is a general bucket agenda item for anything that has come up since the last meeting)
- Any Other Business (AOB). More on that later too.
For formal meetings, you can include an item that is approval of the meeting minutes from the last meeting.
Anything you ask about or discuss regularly can go on your standard agenda template. Then you can use this as the basis for each agenda you need to create going forward.
2. Get input from the team
For any specific meeting, make sure you check in with the team before putting the agenda together.
You want to make sure that everyone’s points are covered, so talk to team members about what they want to discuss at the meeting. You may have to cull some of the suggestions if they are off-topic or would take too long.
If you can’t find space on the agenda for all the topics suggested by attendees, let people know when they will be able to discuss their points with the group. Set up a separate meeting, or advise them that their topics will be discussed at the next regular meeting. This helps people understand that their points are not forgotten and will be discussed in due course.
Fit the suggested agenda topics from the team around your standard agenda items.
3. Start with apologies
The format for your meeting agenda should start with apologies.
It is always good to recognize who isn’t in the room and to introduce their deputy if they have sent someone to attend in their place. It helps focus the team if issues arise that need the input of someone who isn’t there.
Put ‘Apologies’ as the first item on your standing agenda template. If you don’t need it on the day, simply skip past it.
4. Always include AOB
This stands for Any Other Business and should come at the end. You go round the table asking people if they have any other points they want to raise.
Including AOB on the agenda gives people confidence that they will have the opportunity to raise other points that are not covered by the main agenda topics.
Tip: You don’t have to write “AOB” on the agenda. Colin D. Ellis taught me (via the agendas he produced for our PM Circle team meetings) that writing “One more thing…” is actually more effective! It also represents more accurately what people say during that time.
5. Confirm the next meeting
Before or after AOB it is a good idea to include confirmation of the time and date of the next meeting. People can check their diaries there and then.
If you have announcements about where the meeting will be held, then this is the time to say. You can also use this point to ask for suggestions of topics to discuss on next time’s agenda.
Bonus points if you can send out the invite before everyone has left the room!
6. Send out the agenda in advance
Ideally, you want to issue your agenda 3 to 4 days in advance of the meeting.
If you send it too soon, people will lose it or forget about it. Too close to the meeting and people will feel that they have not had time to prepare.
There are various formats you can use to send out the agenda. For formal meetings, use a separate document. For informal meetings, send the agenda in the body of the calendar invite.
7. Put meeting details on the agenda
Include the names of attendees, the names of people who have sent their apologies, the time and date of the meeting and the location.
Include a link to map to the venue if you are not meeting in your offices, or if you are inviting external people like suppliers who may need guidance on how to find the location.
People will bring the agenda (either a printed version or because they’ll have it on their device), but they probably won’t check the calendar invitation for all those details.
Avoid attendees ringing you up asking where they are supposed to be by including the location, time, dial in details and so on at the top of the agenda.
8. Have ideas for timings
You should plan about how long you expect every agenda item to last. This way you can be sure that it will all fit in your allotted meeting time.
Don’t write the timings on the agenda, but have an idea in mind so that you can keep the flow of the meeting going. Otherwise the team could get stuck on the first topic and not make it through the other agenda topics.
Thinking this through also gives you a chance to reflect on whether there is too much for one meeting. It’s frustrating to not be able to discuss everything, so try to give each topic enough time.
People appreciate finishing early more than they appreciate having to stay late in an over-running meeting “just for one more question.”
9. Let people know if they are leading a topic
You won’t be an expert in everything, so some discussion topics you will want other people to lead. You may also want project team members to give project updates.
If this is the case, warn them in advance! No one should find out they are leading part of the discussion by receiving an agenda with their name down on it.
Talk to ‘focus speakers’ in advance so before the agenda goes out, people should know if they are going to feature on it.
10. Have an agenda
Finally, have an agenda! You can’t run a good meeting without one.
A meeting agenda template
Here’s some template text you can use for your own meeting agenda.
Project X Workshop
8 October 2021, 10.30am
Location: Address of venue
Map: link to map of venue and any other travel instructions
Person 1 (Chair), Person 2, Person 3, etc.
Apologies: Person 4, Person 5
1. Review actions from the last meeting (Person 1)
2. Project progress so far: an update (Person 2)
3. Review risks and issues (All)
4. Another agenda item
5. Arrange next meeting
6. AOB and close
What format should meeting agendas be in?
So now you’ve got some tips for what to include and how to create your agenda, what format should your meeting agenda be in?
Honestly, it doesn’t matter.
I’ve seen agendas created in so many ways:
- Google doc agendas
- Excel and spreadsheet versions
- Word agendas (personally this is what I use and is my favorite software for the majority of business documents I create)
- PowerPoint, where the agenda is made of bullets on the first slide of a presentation
- PDFs, so the attendees can’t change the topics — this is particularly common if you are sending an agenda outside the company to a third party supplier.
As long as everyone can access the agenda to see the discussion points and prepare their contribution in advance, it doesn’t matter what format you use.
3 Ways to communicate at work without meetings
Meeting up isn’t always an option. On the days that you can’t have a meeting, the graphic below shows some alternative options for communicating as a team.
A visual guide to a meeting agenda that actually works
For a print-out-and-keep guide to creating a meeting agenda that is fit for purpose, this graphic will help keep your meetings on track.
Pin for later reading: