Meetings can flounder without proper planning, even with a clear purpose and appropriate participants. Using an agenda to plan a meeting can help the gathering run smoothly and effectively address key issues or topics. Planning ahead gives those attending the meeting knowledge of what to expect, time to prepare, and provides an order in which things will be discussed. Another reason that agendas are popular is that they save everyone time.

What is an Agenda?

Simply put, an agenda is a list or a plan. This list includes topics and problems or issues that will be discussed during a meeting. There are a variety of agenda formats; the purpose and type of meeting will determine which agenda format to use. Types of agendas typically used include informal, formal, prioritized and timed. Familiarizing yourself with each agenda format will allow you to effectively choose the proper type for your needs.

Informal and Formal

An informal agenda basically refers to an informal list of items that will be discussed during a meeting and is often thrown together at the last minute. A formal agenda follows more of a format. This format includes the type of meeting, lists the meeting facilitator and lists all of the attendees. The agenda then follows a specific order: call to order, roll call, minutes from last meeting, open issues, new business and adjournment.

Prioritized and Timed

Prioritized agendas follow a priority system. Items are given an order according to perceived importance to the group. The topics are then discussed in this order. Timed agendas refer to using a set time line for the meeting -- usually a time keeper is assigned to help stay on task. In this format, the agenda would be set up in time intervals. For example, 9:30-9:35: socializing/warm-up, 9:35-9:40: review purpose and desired outcome, 9:40-9:50: review minutes from last meeting.

Bottom Line

Don't hesitate to ask for input from other participants when building an agenda. Participants can provide valuable insights about which topics or issues need to be discussed. Having the appropriate participants is key to a well-planned and successful meeting. All agendas should contain the purpose of the session; have clear desired outcomes; classify agenda topics as either information sharing or information processing; and end with a topic wrap-up and a discussion of next steps.