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How To Design An Agenda For An Effective Meeting

There’s a reason Elon Musk says it’s okay for his employees to leave meetings if they find them to be unnecessary. It’s because most meetings could be better organized. Without proper planning, pitfalls are inevitable and can often leave participants without a clear sense of direction, thus rendering the meeting completely ineffective.  

As a result of this, it may take time to refocus after a meeting and some attendees may be subject to “Meeting Recovery Syndrome,” or MRS. This is where productivity decreases as a response to elongated and potentially useless meetings.

Presenters can arrive unprepared and/or drift off onto irrelevant talking points; they can also spend too much or too little time communicating directives. These issues are often indicative of poor agenda design.

Here at MeetingPulse, we help you create more engaging meetings with our online live polling and survey app. The following is a step-by-step guide to creating an effective and time-saving agenda for your next meeting.

Related: Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos’ Tips for Running a Great Meeting

Gathering Input

Share a pre-event survey with your target audience

Before attempting to draft an agenda, consider your target audience. Who are they? If you are also leading the meeting, what do you want them to take away from your presentation? A good rule of thumb: reach out to team members prior to scheduling and ask them to suggest talking points—and their reasoning—for inclusion in the agenda.

If you feel a certain suggestion is not relevant or could potentially steer the meeting off-topic, share your feedback as to why it should be omitted. This ensures that the information discussed is relevant and concise.

To gather input, you can use MeetingPulse to create a quick survey ahead of time. It’s easy for employees to fill out, and you’ll be able to create an agenda that addresses specific goals.

Keep Your Invite List Short: Relevant Members Only

It is very common for people to feel excluded from a meeting—even if they have been invited. Oftentimes, team members are not given an opportunity to participate because the subject matter does not involve them or their department. While you may think that it is beneficial to over-invite, a smaller, more intimate group is always best.

Too many attendees create chaos and increase the likelihood of disruptions, which can prohibit presenters from communicating effectively. Make sure the meeting topics are relevant only to those who have been invited. If it is in fact necessary to hold an all-hands meeting, consider having working groups and using polls to keep everyone engaged throughout. MeetingPulse even offers a sentiment chart feature for you to gather audience feedback, letting you know whether people are bored or happy by using emojis to gauge their feelings.

Consider the Meeting Goals

What is the nature of your meeting?

Not all meetings are created equal. For the sake of efficiency, it is important to establish what you want each team member to take away, as well as what they should be expected to bring along. What type of meeting are you hosting?

Sharing information

If the goal of your meeting is to bring members together so that they can share information, be sure to acknowledge this. Direct each member (or a team lead from each department) to bring all relevant materials to the table for discussion.  

Seeking input

If you want to gather group feedback and/or consensus, let participants know that their input and suggestions are expected and/or required in order for you to make a final call. By giving them ample time to brainstorm beforehand, you can ensure that everyone will be engaged once assembled.

Making a decision

If you want participants to make a decision during your meeting, include this tactic in the shared agenda. Be direct—if you are in charge of leading the meeting, reinforce this statement during your opening presentation. Avoid polling methods that waste time, like taking a count of hands. Instead, you can ask meeting attendees to access a quick link through MeetingPulse and submit their response live.

Related: How to Get People to Take a Survey

The Agenda

What to include in an effective meeting agenda?

Generally, an effective agenda will include the following:

  • Informational items—updates that are relevant to the meeting topic (i.e. quarterly profits, or individual performance results).
  • Action items—items for the group to assess and action throughout the meeting (i.e. performance within a specific timeframe).
  • Discussion topics—points for the group to consider, and eventually provide feedback on (gathering input on upcoming changes to an established business procedure).
  • Meeting Objective -  Clearly define the meeting objective in one to two sentences. This way all attendees and leaders can use this as a reference throughout the meeting, and compare  

Agendas should also include specific logistical details, like who will be presenting and for how long. Depending on the nature of the meeting, agendas can be formal or informal. They can also be distributed well in advance of a scheduled date, or shared in person at the very start of the meeting—as long as the goal of the meeting is established and communicated beforehand. You can integrate MeetingPulse with Powerpoint and ask employees to access documents (like the agenda) by using the link you provide.

Consider the ideal length of the meeting

Timing is everything. A meeting that is too brief can leave participants feeling inadequately informed; alternatively, meetings that are longer than necessary can be overwhelming. When planning, it is important to consider the duration of each leader’s presentation—for the sake of the presenters and the audience. Consider Parkinson’s Law: “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”

By giving your participants too much time to complete a simple task (i.e. action items), they may find it more difficult than necessary because they are left to fill the extra time with more work—not to mention the added stress and tension.

By using simple math to determine the right amount of time (i.e. brainstorming, factoring in space for questions/comments) to any meeting task, you actually gain back more time and encourage members to act swiftly yet effectively.

Define Meeting Roles

Establishing roles for each member of the meeting is another important step for maintaining efficiency.

When assembling your agenda, be sure to include

  • The name of each proposed speaker/leader
  • The topic and purpose of their presentation
  • The steps they should take to prepare, and
  • How much time they have to speak.

Making this information available to everyone all but guarantees greater organization and transparency.

If you’re still following along, that means that you have remembered to invite required members only. However, this does not mean that everybody needs the same amount of time to speak.

Determine which presenter(s) should have more time based on the specialization of their work as it pertains to the meeting topic. And when you are allotting time limits, don’t devote too much to introductions—some members (i.e. note-takers, interns) need no formal introduction at all.

Advise key players if preparation is required

Once you have created your agenda—even a rough draft—it is a good idea to share it with leaders on the team who are presenting so that they have adequate time to prepare their speeches. This is a particularly helpful tactic for meetings that feature a heavy amount of supplementary materials. Allow these leaders to digest the volume of work while allowing them time to provide feedback or request minor changes.

Establish a clear theme for the meeting and make it the focal point of your agenda. Once you’ve shared a preliminary draft with your leaders, try to have them tailor their topics of discussion around that theme.

Time blocks are also a great tool to include. By scheduling and listing out every minute of the meeting, you and your team multiply your collective focus. Lastly, your agenda should always feature a reachable goal—even if your meeting does not result in one. The idea that everyone involved is working towards the same purpose ensures greater efficiency.

Create an Engaging Presentation

Incorporate your agenda into the presentation

Now that you’ve created an effective agenda—be sure to show it off. If you are leading the meeting, incorporate your work early into the presentation so that everyone can get a sense of how the meeting will flow.

Better yet, make your agenda the very first slide the audience sees. Remember to use language that is geared toward your target audience (a conversational style is often your best bet). Also, limit the amount of material you include in the presentation slides as too much clutter can make it difficult for others to follow along.

Related: 20 Interactive Presentation Games

Include your audience

Despite your best efforts, attention spans can drift throughout a presentation if it is not consistently engaging. The easiest solution to this dilemma is establishing and maintaining a connection. Allow ample time for audience questions throughout your presentation, not just towards the end.

Live polls are an effective tool for engagement, as they encourage participants to think not only about your questions, but also about their answers. They can help create mental breaks so that your attendees can regain their attention and stay focused right up until closing remarks.

By encouraging your audience to participate, you create a true group experience that leaves everyone feeling as though they have played an integral role in the presentation. Include a link to a survey or poll at strategic places within the agenda to keep everyone paying attention.

And lastly, be sure to thank all of the attendees who participated and helped to shape the tone of the meeting. Acknowledgment is a great way to ensure that the same tea members will look forward to future meetings.


An expertly planned agenda can increase the effectiveness of any meeting by establishing expectations for all participants, resulting in greater overall productivity. It brings all relevant members together and enables teams to address and resolve key targets, while also providing opportunities for discussion and sharing feedback.

By using the above tools to develop an effective agenda before your next meeting, you can ensure greater focus from your audience and dramatically increase engagement. A few simple steps are all you need to take your organizational and business skills to the next level.  

Related: 25 Fun Poll Questions to Ask Your Audience

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