Discover more from Hartley's Handbook
Super Simple Meeting Agenda Template
If nothing else, these should ALWAYS be filled out when you send out a meeting invitation.
Prepping for my O’Reilly webinar on “Protecting Your Schedule,” I was reminded of how little effort it takes to instantly improve meetings. It all starts with a little organization from the facilitator. And I do mean a little.
I implore you, please do at least, the bare minimum and fill out this simple meeting agenda. We’ll cover what each section entails further down.
Behold, the simplest meeting agenda template ever!
Super Simple Meeting Agenda Template (copy/paste)
Yep, that’s it. Using this template and filling it in for a meeting you’re creating will instantly make it more accessible.
Other sites might give you anywhere from 5-20 bullet points to fill out, but after years of experimenting, these are the key three elements I’ve found most helpful. It solves the following questions:
What are we here to do?
Why am I here and why are others here?
What do I need to know ahead of time to be effective?
Basic template, but gives attendees so much power to say “oh, I don’t need to be there.”
Subscribe for more easy-to-implement templates, released every Monday!
What are we doing here? The desired outcome instantly highlights the key purpose of the meeting. Some examples:
Desired Outcome: Determine which front-end framework to leverage for XYZ project.
Desired Outcome: Decide on where we will have our hot sauce festival
Desired Outcome: Follow-ups and action items after brainstorming how best to cook a potato
Every meeting can usually be boiled down (potato pun) to one key sentence of why you are all gathered in a room, virtual or otherwise. When a desired outcome is noted, all attendees can help keep the meeting on track, because they know where it ought to be going.
Highlight who is in the meeting and what purpose they are going to serve. Continuing our potato cooking meeting, it might look something like this:
Gary - Vegetable cooking expert
Brenda - Viral cuisine consultant
John - Potato enthusiast and part-time potato-eater, general food SME
Again, straightforward, but tells each person what part of their brain you want to tap into in the meeting. It also gives each individual a chance to tap someone else who may be a better fit for the meeting or the expertise you seek.
“Oh no, I got a better participant than I otherwise would have because I was clear about the meeting needs. Darn.”
— No one, ever
Expertise ought to vary if you’re making a decision. Otherwise, you run the risk of building an echo chamber. If your goal is to have everyone nod their heads and agree with whatever idea you came up with, don’t hold a meeting, simply say “this is the decision we’re making” and go from there.
Note: A general rule of thumb is to keep participants to 4 or fewer. There are exceptions, but challenge yourself to keep it at 4 or fewer and see what breaks the rule.
When there is a lot of data, complex ideas, diagrams, or anything that needs to be digested ahead of time, links to pre-reads are helpful. You don’t need to go to Amazon lengths of memos and spending the first fifteen minutes reading the memo, but help others be prepared to best help you.
Too many meeting attendees hop in and get blindsided with overly complex information that in won’t sink in until after the meeting, making it tough to make a decision and generally spawning at least one more meeting. Be thoughtful and think, “if I were attending my own meeting, what would I need to know to feel comfortable at the table.” Link those items in the Pre-read section.
Worst-case scenario? No one reads it. Best-case scenario? Everyone reads it and comes prepared and the meeting is done in six minutes. The prospect of the six-minute meeting wins out in my mind every single time.
Does it create more work for you as organizer/facilitator? Sure, but guess what, a side effect of you being more prepared means you will also be more effective.
Remember back in high school or college when your teachers would say “alright, you can have one note card of notes for this exam,” so you spent the night before writing as small as you could to cram everything onto one note card? Those teachers tricked you into better understanding the information. Walking in the next day I’d bet you didn’t use that notecard nearly as much as you expected. Solid trick.
Optional Means Optional
The heading says it all. If you’re adding someone for visibility or as an optional participant, mean it. Sometimes all but 2 individuals in my meetings will be optional, because I know who my key participants are and past that if folks want to be in there they can, otherwise I’ll send out notes/decisions after the meeting.
Especially with engineers, they may feel pressured to be in a meeting even if they don’t expect to be able to provide value. Adding them as optional and then reminding them what optional means, gives them the chance to opt-out.
Start with 25 minutes. As C. Northcote Parkinson so famously stated, “It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” (The Economist, 1955). The whole essay is a solid read, but the point is still missed by many nearly 70 years later.
If your meeting is scheduled for an hour, chances are you’re going to take at least 40 minutes. If it’s 25, you might feel the time crunch, and become more focused.
“That meeting was far too focused. Harumph.”
— No one, again
Start chipping away at the knee-jerk reaction of scheduling for an hour. Surprise, you can always schedule more meetings. It’s not optimal, but it will put you in the mindset of “how do we work effectively for the next 25 minutes?”
Trust me, your teams will thank you.
This is by no means a perfect system, but it’s an easy system to implement and begin tweaking to fit your needs. If you are asking people to take time out of their day to help with something, it only seems fair to give them the tools to best help you.
What did I miss? Let me know below if you implement this template or another and the positive changes you see from it!