Have you ever received a meeting request at work and simply scratched your head? You wonder what exactly the meeting is about, what will be discussed, and maybe even why you were invited. You look at the other invitees hoping for a hint, but are still clueless.
Some say if you receive a vague meeting invitation, you should just decline it. Now, whether you agree with that or not, if you are the coordinator, is it worth the risk that head-scratchers will decline just because they are baffled?
With a little forethought and the right tools, you can make sure that your meeting objective is clear and reduce the risk of declining attendees due to an unclear meeting request.
Plan Ahead With the 5 Ws
Before you haphazardly send out the meeting request, think it through using who, what, when, where, and why.
1. Who to Invite
Many times, people send meeting invitations that include too many participants or just the wrong ones. Do your legwork ahead of time to answer these questions:
- Who should be invited?
- Who is necessary to the discussion?
- Who has the knowledge needed for the purpose?
Do not just willy-nilly invite everyone in the department because you are unsure.
2. What the Meeting Is About
This is the most important part of your planning. Think about what exactly the meeting is about, what the objective is, and what the expected outcome should be. If you cannot determine the point of the meeting yourself, then it is likely premature.
3. When the Meeting Will Take Place
This may not seem like an important piece if you work in a small office environment. But for larger companies or bigger meetings, it is essential. Do you have attendees who are remote, do they reside in a different time zone, and do they work the same hours as the others?
Be sure that you choose a time that is accessible for all.
4. Where the Meeting Will Be Held
This is also key when planning your meeting if you have off-site attendees. Will a conference call be needed? Should a web meeting be planned? Or do you simply need to reserve an onsite conference room? Be sure to think ahead to accommodate those you expect to attend.
5. Why the Meeting Is Necessary
This is just as important as the What question. Why is a meeting necessary? Can the objective be solved without a roomful of people? Could a little research provide the answer? Do you have enough information to hold the meeting at this point?
Remember, meetings take time away from the duties of everyone involved. The last thing you want to do is waste your attendees’ time.
Create the Meeting Agenda
Now that you have answered the five Ws, use those to work on the meeting invitation and the agenda. And yes, a meeting agenda is almost always necessary for a variety of reasons.
A meeting agenda lets the attendees:
- Know the purpose and objective of the meeting.
- See discussion points and be able to plan ahead for their part or prepare questions.
- View what is expected at the end of the meeting or what the meeting should solve.
- Follow along throughout the meeting and stay on track.
Start With a Template
The best way to create your agenda is to start with a template. This not only saves you time but already contains the outline you need for the details. Here are just a few options for meeting agenda templates you can check out for Microsoft Word. They are flexible enough for any meeting type or size.
This agenda template is great because it includes a well-formatted meeting minutes template with it. With one download, you get both. With a nice table layout, everyone can clearly see the objective, attendee list, and the agenda of topics. Another helpful section shows what participants should bring to the meeting, which is often a forgotten piece.
This next agenda template is a good option as well. Like the other one, you can easily see the objective, agenda topics, and any previous action items. But it also includes areas for new action items you can jot down during the meeting as well as a spot for notes.
Here is one more template to take a look at that is clean and clear. Like the first one shown, it has a basic table format with easy-to-read sections. Plus, it offers the area for what participants should bring to the meeting.
How to Prepare an Effective Agenda
Once you have decided on the meeting agenda template, it is important to actually complete it effectively. Be clear, precise, and do your best to leave nothing open to interpretation. The attendee section is the simplest piece, but the others must be communicated well.
This should be a simple one to two sentences (at most) goal for the meeting. This comes from the What question from above that you will ask yourself. For example, say your meeting is to review the three user interface layout options for the new website.
Your objective should state exactly that and not something like “talk about new website”. The latter is vague, does not pinpoint the part of the website to discuss, and is generally unclear.
Meeting Agenda Topics
Here you will list each portion that you intend to discuss. Again, this must be clear so that those who are expected to address a topic can prepare.
Using the above example, if the web developer Bill is expected to provide the pros, cons, and the three layout options, say so. Do not simply state: talk about layouts. Will Bill know what exactly you want to discuss? If you state it, he will.
Items to Bring
If you expect your participants to provide information, materials, pictures, or anything at all, use this section. Do not assume that simply because an attendee shows up that they will provide what you hope.
For our example with Bill, you were clear on the agenda topic, which is perfect. However, to ensure he brings a list of pros and cons for each layout along with pictures of those layouts, add it to the appropriate section of the agenda.
Provide Items Ahead of Time
If possible, attach the agenda to the meeting request when you send it. This lets your attendees have it handy when the meeting time arrives and lets them know exactly what to expect. This is even more important if you schedule a last-minute meeting.
If you send the meeting request far in advance, you may prefer to wait on the agenda. It could be a work in progress or you could be waiting on further details for it. If this is the case, just be sure to include the meeting objective, a brief summary of the topics, and preliminary items to bring in the request.
Then, state that the official agenda will be sent on X date which should be at minimum three days before the meeting. If you can, it is also a smart idea to print copies of the agenda and bring them to the meeting. There always seems to be one participant who forgets theirs.
Prepare to Capture the Meeting Minutes
If you have followed this blueprint so far, then your meeting is already off to a great start. But there is one more thing that you must do beforehand. Prepare to capture the meeting minutes.
Here again, using a template is ideal. You can print these Microsoft Word template options if you prefer to handwrite or use them on your digital device if applicable.
This template, which you can find inside Microsoft Word, is a terrific option because it expands on each agenda topic. For every item, you can include notes on discussion points, conclusions, action items, responsible parties, and deadlines specific to each topic.
If you prefer a meeting minutes template that does not detail the discussion points, this is a solid option. You can list the agenda items that were actually discussed, by whom, and for how long. You can then jot down decisions that were made and new action items with responsible parties and due dates.
Take Good Notes
We all have a way of taking notes during a meeting. But if you are the coordinator, you absolutely must take strong notes. There is nothing worse than writing down a note only to look at it later and wonder what is says or means.
Capture as much as possible during the meeting and then review it before adjourning. You should review what was discussed, anything that was decided, and most importantly, the new action items. Briefly go over this out loud with your participants as a review for you as well as them. If anything is missing or mistaken, it is best to find out before everyone leaves the room.
Go Forth and Meet
While there may not be an exact or positively perfect way to ensure you have an effective meeting, this blueprint can get you on your way. Do what you can to prepare yourself and your attendees well ahead of time.
What tips do you have for planning a meeting? Is there something you do as the coordinator that helps? Let us know your suggestions in the comments below!