Organized meetings: agendas and minutes

I spent two years as the secretary of an organization whose board met monthly, and during that time I thought a lot about agendas and minutes. Based on this experience, the following are suggestions for creating agendas and minutes that are organized and both easy to write and easy for others to read and use. With an agenda, your meetings will be shorter and have a defined purpose for all the attendees.

Using a template

Use a template where you can just fill in the spaces. I used Microsoft Word with a series of tables and there are also Microsoft designed ones you can customize. There are many advantages of using a template, saving time and remembering recurring agenda points among them.

Creating an agenda

Not every agenda will need these specific items, but consider including:

  1. Logistics: This section often includes the meeting location along with the meeting date and time. Because WiFi access was an issue for my group, which used hotel meeting rooms, I always noted if WiFi would be available in the room. If WiFi was available, I’d also list the price.
  2. Attendees: This is a simple list of people expected to be in the meeting, and their titles.
  3. Meeting preparation: If meeting participants are expected to do anything before the meeting, these items can be noted in this section. In our case, there were always documents that needed to be reviewed before the meeting.
  4. Agenda items: These are the points to be discussed or have action taken upon them at the meeting. Each of these items should have the name of the person leading that part of the discussion and the anticipated start time for that part of the agenda. Noting the time allotted to each item was critical to our group for ensuring we stayed on schedule. In the meeting, we sometimes chose to run overtime on one item, but we realized that meant something else would need to run shorter, or be cut entirely.
  5. Open to-do items from the prior meeting: Review of these items should be an agenda item if you have any previous or unfinished business.

Email the agenda to people a number of days before the meeting, so everyone has time to prepare. Include attachments along with the agenda for items that will be distributed so that members don’t waste time reading the materials during the meeting.

Writing meeting minutes

Your minutes may include the following sections:

  1. All items from the agenda, with updates: The attendee list notes who actually made it to the meeting. The agenda is adjusted to show the actual time each item started. Also, update the to-do item status (more on to-do items below).
  2. Decisions that involve formal motions and votes: This includes motions and the number of people voting yes and no (as well as how many abstain). Not all decisions require an official motion and a vote, but record those that do.
  3. Other decisions: This section notes anything that is decided that doesn’t need to be put forth for an official vote. I often just captured the decision itself; in some cases, it was useful to also capture the reasoning behind the decision.
  4. To-do items from the current meeting: This includes the item, the owner, and the due date. To-do items without an owner and a due date tend to not get done, so be sure to clarify these points during the meeting.
  5. Critical information that is shared: Relating to our group, as our annual conference was being planned, I might have noted the venue, the date, the keynote speaker, the price, and the registration period as each of these points were finalized and reported by the head of the conference committee. If something was important enough that our members would want to know about it, I captured it in this section.

One thing I did not include in my meeting minutes was all the deliberation that went on in the meeting. If someone prefers to organize minutes around agenda items, and capture more of the discussion, I’d suggest still specifically calling out the decisions and the to-dos, and making them easy to find by using something like bold text for the words “decision” and “to-do.”

4 Comments for “Organized meetings: agendas and minutes”

  1. posted by Katie on

    Love this nice synopsis for creating meeting agendas and minutes. The importance of meetings is what the decisions were and the action (to-do) items. I don’t really care for the discussion unless there is a great idea we can pocket for later.

  2. posted by liz on

    As a treasurer for an organization, I would send pdfs of the financials to the board members -both the summaries and the detailed backups. I would have the summaries (balance sheet and profit and loss reports) printed out for the meeting. I could highlight the key points and take questions. Shortened my section of the meeting and the baord would have the electronic version. The secretary also had the electronic version and didn’t have to scan the financials.

  3. posted by ElizabethB UK on

    1 extra idea when compiling the agenda: list each agenda item in terms of what outcome or action should be completed by those present at the meeting. For instance, instead of “agenda item 2: Report from Marketing” put down “agenda item 2: Receive update from Marketing Team for quarter 1. Agree plan and budget for marketing new product X”.

    By putting it in terms of actions it focusses the minds of those attending the meeting, it helps them to understand ‘why am I even here???!!!’ and when the discussion on a particular agenda item begins to wander off and become interminable (leading to the ‘why am I even here???!!!’ previously described) having a specific action associated with the agenda item makes it easy to call the meeting to order and remind people about the purpose of the discussion.

    Seriously, it has helped me run meetings with packed agendas yet get through everything and with the participants still feeling reasonably energised by the end.

    PS Even with an agenda item labelled ‘Approve xyz’, it doesn’t mean that the project will get approval. But by saying that the purpose of the meeting is to seek approval it is clear why it is under discussion, it focusses the contribution that people make to any debate and if it is agreed that a proposal should not be approved it is helpful to writing the minutes to know from the agenda that it was there for approval and was not approved with notes of the reasons for that and any follow up action required.

  4. posted by harsh on

    I think creating an agenda can start with a positive attitude,with discipline,&proper management.
    Agenda can start with approval of all participant.

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