A 4-step recipe to produce successful meetings

Meetings make the world go ‘round, but ineffective ones stunt and hinder us from achieving greatness. Last week on the blog we talked about how to run an effective meeting and the need to set a new standard in meeting culture in order to have magical meetings, every time.

Every single meeting matters, so we must properly prepare for and execute each one so that we can accomplish truly meaningful work together. 

The key to any successful meeting begins with preparation. You need an effective meeting agenda to have productive conversations and work sessions. Let’s break down the recipe for writing constructive agendas. 

Write an Effective Meeting Agenda 

We have a strict rule at Voltage Control that we will not hold meetings without a set agenda–both with our internal team and with clients. That’s because without a clear outline of what will be discussed, when, and for how long, there is a great threat of unproductivity. And we’re in the business of doing meaningful work. When we meet, it is with explicit purpose and direction. It’s the best way to ensure prime productivity. 

Follow the 4-step recipe below to craft a meeting agenda and use it to run successful meetings.

1. Identify an explicit purpose

Too often meetings are pointless time-sucks. Most people spend the time talking about what needs to be done instead of actually doing the work itself. We follow a set of meeting mantras at Voltage Control to keep us from wasting precious time and resources at scheduled gatherings. Our first mantra is “No purpose, no meeting.” We don’t meet unless there is a clear reason to. You must have a distinct purpose to have a meeting, period. If you cannot answer the following two questions, do not hold a meeting: 

1. Why are you having a meeting?
2. What do you need to accomplish by the end of the meeting?

Make sure there is sufficient enough reason to gather people together and take time out of their days. Do you seek to make an important decision or receive input from your team? Is the matter better addressed with an email or a one-on-one? Hold meetings with intention, or not at all.

2. Focus on crucial topics

Once you identify the purpose, it is time to begin agenda construction. Only choose meetings topics that coincide with the purpose and the goal you wish to reach to keep the group focused–stick to main topics. Your agenda is the structure of the meeting. Make it as specific and bulletproof as possible. Do not include any talking points that stray from the objective. Any time that is spent discussing topics that do not directly serve the purpose of the meeting is precious time taken away from productive conversation.

What essential topics need to be discussed? Your answers will function as each segment of the meeting. Arrange them in order of importance or relevance to create a natural flow. 

3. Schedule realistically 

Take your meeting outline and assign each segment a time slot. Note: We often underestimate the time required to fully address a topic. This includes Q&A, explaining and understanding different points of view, ideating possible solutions, and coming to a group consensus after a discussion to make a thoughtful decision. Do the math and allot adequate time for each segment. Go with your instinct. This is a skill that will improve over time.

The more meetings you run, the better feel you will get for scheduling properly. 

After you time out each segment, look for appropriate places to insert breaks, as applicable. Breaks are critical for retention and providing the best attendee experience. Shorter meetings may not need a break at all. Longer meetings may require multiple breaks. Keep in mind that the ideal meeting length is no longer than 60 minutes. In fact, research shows the ideal meeting length does not exceed 18 minutes. This is a finding TED Talks implements. Every single one of their guests, from household names to new faces, speaks no longer than 18 minutes on the stage.

Use only the amount of time you need to achieve your outcome–anything more threatens focus and participation.

Participant focus and attention span significantly decreases after 30 minutes: from the start of a meeting to the half-hour mark, about 84% of people will still be engaged; attention span decreases to 64% by 45 minutes.

Step back and evaluate your schedule after timing it out. Does the overall time make sense? Are you giving too much time to some topics and not enough to others? Make adjustments as needed. Finalize the timing by naming a start time and end time, then stick to them. When you honor the schedule, you let attendees know you can be trusted and that you value their time. 

4. Reserve time to reflect

One of the commonly overlooked aspects of an effective meeting agenda is not making time to debrief. It is imperative that you schedule in time to reflect on what was discussed and decided on in the meeting. When you remind attendees of the big takeaways, you help solidify retention. People can also ask questions about anything they are still unclear about, and everyone leaves on the same page. 

Debriefing is also a time to assign specific tasks to the appropriate people to carry out one the meeting adjourns. Have a to-do list of actionable duties to be completed. What needs to be done, when, and by whom? Establish post-meeting tasks to bring the decision made in the meeting to life and keep the forward momentum going. 

A meeting is only as strong as its agenda. An effective meeting agenda can help you have productive and participatory meetings every time. 

Need an expert facilitator for your next meeting, gathering or workshop? Let’s talk.

Voltage Control facilitates events of all kinds, including design thinking workshops, innovation sessions, and Design Sprints. Please reach out to us at hello@voltagecontrol.com if you want to talk or for a consultation.