The agenda can be your most important piece of paper. Properly drawn up, it has a power of speeding and clarifying a meeting. The main fault with most agendas is they are unnecessarily brief and vague. For example, the phrase "choosing activities" doesn't really say very much, whereas the longer explanation "To brainstorm about possible activities to promote healthy food choices in restaurants" helps members to form some ideas in advance.
- It is also helpful to use a heading for each agenda item (e.g., "For information," "For discussion," or "For decision" to explain meeting format).
- Don't send out the agenda too far in advance, since the less-organized members may forget or lose it. Two or three days is about right. (This is assuming they already know the date in advance.)
- Memorandums sent out early with the meeting date, time, and place, noting that meeting materials will follow, are helpful. The agenda can then be sent out with the meeting materials.
- The early part of a meeting tends to be more lively and creative than the end of it, so if an item needs mental energy, bright ideas, and clear heads, it may be better to put it high up on the list.
- A common fault is to dwell too long on trivial, but urgent items, to the exclusion of significant long-term subjects of fundamental importance. This can be remedied by putting the timeframe for discussion of the important long-term issue on the agenda-and observing it.
- Very few meetings achieve anything of value after two hours, so an hour and a half is usually enough time to allocate for most purposes.
- It is often a good idea to put the finishing time of a meeting on the agenda, as well as the starting time.
- The practice of sending out background material with the agenda is a good one. It not only saves time, but it also helps in formulating useful questions and considerations in advance.
- If papers are produced at the meeting for discussion, they should be brief and simple, since everyone has to read them.
- All items should be thought of and thought about in advance if they are to be usefully discussed.
Meeting notes should include:
- Members present.
- The time and date of the meeting, where it was held, and who chaired it.
- All agenda items (and other items) discussed and all decisions reached.
- If action was agreed on, record (and underline) the name of the person responsible for the assignment. The time at which the meeting ended (important, because it may be significant later to know whether the discussion lasted 15 minutes of 6 hours). The date, time, and place of the next committee meeting.
Reprinted From: How to Run a Meeting, Harvard Business Review, 1976 [Attn: Non-MDH site]