When I was at school my favourite part of the week was attending the charity committee meetings. I felt comfortable in these meetings and I always knew exactly what was expected from me. Perhaps the most important thing was that we got lots of work done in these 60 minute meetings.
When I compare these meetings with many of the meetings I've attended at various businesses, the productivity of the school charity committee meetings wins hands down.
It may seem surprising that experienced executives could learn how to run a meeting from a group of 16 year-olds. But there was one simple thing that we doing in our charity meetings that I rarely encounter nowadays...and that is the use of an Agenda.
I expect you may be a bit disappointed with this 'secret'. However, I can guarantee that if you create and follow an agenda you will not only get more done in your meetings, but everyone will have an action plan and as a bonus, you will become known as a great chairperson!
In this day and age of rapidly changing priorities and agile working, agendas may seem a bit old fashioned. Who's got time to write one when there's more important things to be done? This is a false economy.
There should be only one reason for a meeting and that is for decision making. The meeting agenda should be very clear what the decisions needed are, and the agenda points show the steps being taken to get to that decision.
This is what I would call a Results Based Meeting (RBM). If your meeting is not results based, then all you are doing is passing information between people; this is an information session, not a meeting. Having an agenda will get you to your decision faster and lead to better results.
There are other benefits to an agenda. As chairperson, one of your responsibilities is to keep control. When you have an agenda, you can take a minute or so to review the agenda points at the beginning of the meeting. This automatically shows everyone invited that you are in charge. As the meeting progresses, if things start to go off track, you can easily bring it back to focus.
An agenda also gives you a handy place to make any notes. You can write anything important next to the corresponding agenda point for easy recollection at a later time.
Additionally, the agenda should have all the names of the participants and the departments or company that they are from. I don't know if you've ever seen Michael Buffer introduce two opponents at a boxing match. He has cards with the names and details of each boxer written down. He only has two names to remember, but he still carries these reminder cards. So, when you are starting the meeting and introducing all the participants, the agenda works as your version of the Michael Buffer note cards.
You've probably realised that I love an agenda and I know that meeting attendees appreciate one. For me, it acts like a safety net. Most people wouldn't lead a presentation without some form of notes, a meeting shouldn't be any different. It adds an element of professionalism that shows you know what you are doing, you are in charge and focused on getting results.