Meeting Agendas: How to Choose the Right One

One size does not fit all– choosing the right meeting agenda format is key

In person, or online, a well-written meeting agenda can prevent unproductive meetings and help you reach your objectives. It sets clear expectations for attendees, keeps the discussion focused and acts as a time management tool.

Identifying what type of meeting agenda works best for the type of meeting you’re hosting will help you write better agendas, and host more effective meetings. Whether you host many meetings per week, or you’re preparing to host your first one, it’s always a good idea brush up on the fundamentals.

This article will walk you through the different types of meetings and agendas and how they work together so that you can choose the best format to meet your objectives. You’ll also walk away with a helpful step-by-step list to guide you through writing any type of meeting agenda.

Two images side by side contrasting a formal meeting agenda and an informal meeting agenda. The formal meeting agenda uses Roberts Rules of Order and is presented in an Avery binder with Avery Print and Apply dividers. The second image shows a notebook with a handwritten meeting agenda for an informal meeting.
For some types of meeting agendas, presentation matters, for others, not so much. Present a formal meeting agenda in a ½ inch binder with printable dividers that neatly apply all tabs at once for a clean, professional look.

4 types of meeting agenda formats/structures

1) Informal meeting agendas should not be confused with having no structure at all. Rather, the structure is incredibly simple with just the topics, presenter and time allotted for discussion of each item.

An informal agenda can be typed, sent via email or even jotted down in a notebook for you to reference while hosting.

2) Formal meeting agendas use Robert’s Rules of Order which is a manual for conducting meetings where all members’ opinions are heard and decisions are agreed upon as quickly and efficiently as possible.

A formal meeting agenda following Robert’s Rules of Order should be distributed as a typed document or PDF and includes: call to order, roll call, approval of prior meeting minutes, discussion of open issues, discussion of new business, and adjournment.

During discussion, motions are made, discussed and voted on until the assembled group has reached consensus.

3) Prioritized meeting agendas assign an order to topics according to importance. The topics are then discussed in this order. In general, a prioritized meeting agenda should be distributed as a typed document or email so that attendees can follow along.

4) Timed meeting agendas simply assign how much time is allotted for each agenda item and there is a commitment to stick to the time allotted. Often there is a designated time-keeper to ensure the proper pace is maintained. They are generally a typed document or PDF which is distributed among attendees.

All other meeting types can also have a timed element, for example allotting five minutes for calling a formal meeting to order or allotting 30 minutes each for the highest priority topics. However, the key difference is that the commitment to the timeline is the defining structure of a timed meeting agenda.

What type of meeting are you hosting?

Categorizing meetings into types relates directly to the purpose of the meeting. Do you need to brainstorm with colleagues for a campaign or is there a major issue in the supply chain that needs to be resolved? Or perhaps you’re just meeting to get on the same page for a project.

The most common types of meetings include:

  • Status-update – aligns a team or teams
  • Information sharing – one-way distribution of information
  • Decision making – coming to a consensus as a group
  • Problem solving – resolving complex issues
  • Innovation – conceptualize and create new ideas
  • Team building – facilitates collaborative work
Two images showcasing individual and public ways to present a meeting agenda to attendees. The first image shows a meeting agenda in an Avery folder with a matching business card laid flat on a desk and the other image shows a meeting agenda displayed on a screen in a meeting room while a woman using a wheelchair gestures to the screen.
Meetings that follow a schedule should have an agenda that’s easy to circulate among attendees. Two-pocket folders with a place to insert a business card and electronic displays provide individual and public ways to present your meeting agenda.

Status-update meeting agenda

Status-update meetings bring together various teams/team members meet to share progress updates, discuss any challenges and review next steps. Status updates don’t need a lot of bells and whistles; they’re simply a tool for team communication.

Best meeting agenda formats: informal, prioritized or timed.

Information sharing meeting agenda

Information sharing meetings can be within the organization and/or business affiliates (e.g. presentations, town halls, investor pitches) or disseminated to an industry audience or the public (panel debates, lectures, webinars, etc.).

Best meeting agenda format: timed.

Decision making meeting agenda

Decision making meetings bring people together in order to formally agree on a decision. The scope of decisions can range from a board meeting deciding company-wide policy, to a team meeting planning a content schedule.

Best meeting agenda formats: formal (board meetings, upper management making high-impact decisions); informal or prioritized for team decisions with lower stakes.

Problem solving meeting agenda

Problem solving meetings are used to find the best solution or compromise to resolve a complex issue.

Like decision making meetings, the scope of a problem solving meeting can vary widely.

Best meeting agenda formats: prioritized or informal for day-to-day or severely time-restricted problem-solving; formal for large-scale problems that dramatically affect the company.

Innovation meeting agenda

Innovation meetings (otherwise known as brainstorming) are held to conceptualize and come up with new ideas. They can be utilized and applied to any facet of a business or organization.

Best meeting agenda format: informal.

Team building meeting agenda

Team building meetings facilitate collaborative work among employees and generally includes team-building activities to encourage socializing. Which in turn, increases employee engagement and productivity.

Best meeting agenda formats: informal or timed.

Steps for writing an effective meeting agenda

Below are general steps (in order) that you can save as a checklist for writing an effective meeting agenda. Depending on the type of meeting that’s required, there may be more or less steps, but this is a great starting point.

Step One: consider your starting point. Is this the first meeting for a new project or a new group of people? Or are you writing an agenda in order to improve meeting efficiency going forward?

If you’ve met before, review the notes and action items from the last meeting before proceeding to step two.

Step Two: set an objective. What is your goal, what do you hope to have accomplished at the end of the meeting?

Step Three: define meeting type. Based on the objective, decide what type of meeting is required.

Step Four: pick a format. Decide what type of meeting agenda format best facilitates the objectives.

Step Five: seek input. Carefully consider who needs to be included in the meeting in order to reach your goal, then reach out to invitees for questions and other input.

Step Six: list questions/topics. Create a rough list of topics and/or questions to address in the meeting and the purpose of each.

Step Seven: review and streamline your list. Does everything on it serve the purpose of meeting your objective? Anything that doesn’t should be addressed elsewhere.

Step Eight: nail down topic details. Estimate the amount of time to spend on each topic and who will lead each topic. Prioritize if necessary.

Step Nine: finalize meeting agenda document. Once you’ve followed the steps above, you should know what type of meeting agenda will work best for you and have all the information you need to fill it out. Microsoft office has a great library of meeting agenda templates you can use to create your final document.

Hosting better meetings is a valuable business skill

The ability to put together and host a great meeting is sometimes an underrated skill, but it absolutely shouldn’t be. A good meeting can facilitate progress on projects, help those in key positions reach decisions, solve problems, win investors, reach new audiences and so much more.

Hone your meeting skills with tips for hosting more effective meetings, (whether they’re online or in person). Shop a wide selection of professional binders and dividers to help you get organized and plan to perfection.

Don’t forget about making a great first impression with clients, investors and other important meeting attendees. Explore ideas for creating custom branded details that will “wow” at your next in-person meeting. Shop printable cards, name badges and blank labels to create those special custom details.

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