The 5 components of a great meeting agenda

Jackie Colburn
6 min readApr 15, 2024

A thoughtful meeting agenda can seriously improve the efficiency, productivity, and effectiveness of meetings, making them more valuable for everyone involved. So why do so many meetings feel like a waste of time? And why aren’t more people designing thoughtful agendas and using them to guide their meetings? These are the questions I always ask myself when I leave a less-than-satisfactory meeting.

As a facilitator, I’m pretty particular about the arc of a meeting or workshop and firmly believe in the power of a great agenda to guide participants toward better outcomes. Sure, a list of topics is a good starting point, but it isn’t the whole story. Nor is it going to help you tap into all the benefits of a well thought-out agenda, like:

  • Better organization and time management: When meetings are structured to cover topics in a logical order, the conversation flows better. It also naturally adds guardrails and keeps people moving through the topics while staying on track (and on time).
  • More informed, focused conversation: By outlining specific topics for your discussion, sharing the agenda in advance, and clarifying expectations for individual contributors, your participants can prepare for what they’ll need to speak to. This helps people show up ready to contribute and also reinforces the value they bring to the conversation.
  • Improved accountability: When done right, an agenda helps drive accountability both in the meeting, as well as afterward. When you set expectations with people about what you aim to do in the meeting and keep track of decisions made while you’re together, it helps hold participants accountable and ensures that follow-up actions are clearly outlined and assigned.

While the actual agenda for any given meeting is highly context dependent, there are a few practices you can follow to make sure your agenda is top notch. Think of these components as a blueprint to guide the creation of almost any agenda for almost any purpose.

5 Components of a Great Meeting Agenda

1. Start the Gathering with Intention:

As the host of your meeting, you’ll want to designate time for the group to get settled into the space. Once all are present, don’t be afraid to interrupt idle chatter to direct the group.

If you’re a team that rarely works together, it might make sense to start with intros. If you’re a team that interacts daily, it probably makes sense to skip the intros and head directly to the purpose of the meeting (see #2 below).

I’m also a big fan of icebreakers for workshops and longer meetings. They have an ability to create a sense of camaraderie amongst a team, kick things off on a positive note, and get people excited about the work that lies ahead.

If you use one, just be sure you’re managing your time appropriately. That might mean picking a prompt that will yield a more concise answer for shorter meetings rather than a prompt that might incite a more detailed answer, which could be better for a full-day workshop.

Here’s a list of some of my favorite icebreakers that you can steal.

2. State the Purpose and Expectations:

Every meeting should begin with its purpose. Why are we here? What’s the purpose of the gathering? What are we hoping to accomplish during our time together? State it on the agenda, then display it on the white board or via screen share when you start your meeting so everyone is aligned and in agreement.

On a similar note, make it clear how you want to spend your time together. Is it to reflect and review? Is it to collaborate and ideate? Is it to react or make a decision about something? Get specific on how you want the team to engage. This will help them understand the purpose even better, and give them more insight into how you want them to participate and contribute.

3. Make Your Discussion Topics Actionable:

The most obvious component of an agenda is an outline of the topics you want to cover. But don’t simply write vague statements. Instead, make every topic action oriented. For example:

  • Discuss last month’s performance
  • Confirm plan for next month
  • Decide roles and responsibilities
  • Outline next steps

Do you see how each item starts with an action verb? It might seem subtle, but by leading with this language, you indicate to your team what kind of action you’re expecting them to take. This contextualizes the topics and creates more momentum and clarity around how to participate in the meeting.

Side note: If there is a particular person or people you want to weigh in on a specific topic, consider assigning their names to related topics so they know they’re expected to speak on the subject.

4. Assign a Meeting Champion(s):

At the onset of any meeting, make sure it’s clear whose role it is to keep the group moving through the agenda, stay on topic, guide the discussion, and capture notes. These might be two different roles. For example, one person may focus on ushering the conversation forward and keeping an eye on the time while another captures the decisions made, or ideas shared, or any other important outputs that need to be recorded.

You’ll also need to decide where these outputs are being captured. Is it within the agenda itself, or are notes being taken in a separate doc, tool, or app? What’s the protocol for sharing the notes afterward? And who is assigning roles and responsibilities?

This is an often-forgotten job, but it’s so important in ensuring you keep things moving forward. Naturally, you’ll want to make sure whoever takes on these roles is comfortable and, ideally, knows about the assignment before going into the session. Sometimes you can ask for a volunteer, but be mindful that it will likely pull those participants out of active contribution in other ways.

5. Bonus Tip: Movement

Building moments of movement into your agenda might not make sense if it’s just a quick 30 or 60-minute meeting, but if you’re leading a multi-hour or muli-day session, be sure to bake in some time for people to move their bodies.

This agenda item is separate from a formal break or lunch time. I like to do it during my longer sessions because getting the breath flowing and blood moving wakes up the brain and also grounds people, which is good for focus and staying present.

Consider some light stretching, guiding a few deep breaths, or suggesting simple movements throughout. I also look for opportunities to get people up and moving around the room during in-person sessions as a part of the structured activities we’re doing.

What’s Next?

Once your agenda is ready, share it with your participants in a timely way. You can drop it into the meeting invite, or email it separately to the group. The “how” matters less than the effectiveness of your agenda, and your ability to deliver it with enough time for people to see it and reach out with any questions before the meeting. I always invite questions beforehand because I’d much rather answer them before we gather to ensure the time spent together is focused on the intended work.

My hope is that incorporating these elements into your own agendas will make meetings and workshops more productive and enjoyable for everyone involved. Our time is precious, so the smarter we can be about why and how we meet, the more impactful we can be during and outside of those collaborative moments.

Are you a fan of better meetings, too? What are some of the things you like to do to support a more positive and productive experience? Let me know in the comments, and clap me some love if you found this post helpful. Your reactions let me know what I should (and shouldn’t) write about in the future!

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Jackie Colburn

Weekly resources for facilitators and leaders. Learn tips and methods to run better workshops, accelerate teams and uncover new ideas. www.jackiecolburn.com