When you think about meetings, there are two dominant attitudes. They're either a boon to your business or the ultimate time suck and bane of your existence. Often times meetings get derailed because they have little to no framework to keep them on point and on time. Vague and weak agendas are a sure fire wire for teams to go rogue in a meeting. Mastering the art of the meetings requires paying particular attention to the art of the agenda, and letting guide you to where you want to go. That said, here are seven tips to help ensure your meeting and agenda game, are strong and fruitful.

1. If it's not worth writing down and sorting out on paper, it's not worth having a meeting over.

Written meeting agendas filter out time sucking meandering meetings. Yet how many of your meetings have one? Put this rule to work for you. If you want the meeting, prepare an agenda. For those requesting a meeting with you, require that they do the same. This ensures that the person requesting or running the meeting has taken some time to clarify their thinking, anticipate problems, identify opportunities and provide suggestions on how to address them thoroughly and succinctly.

It also ensures that everyone has a script that focuses the group discussion and moves them through the sequence of beginning, middle and end. If you and your team or clients tend to meander in meetings, fix it by getting the ideas on paper in advance.

An additional benefit of getting things on paper is that it gives you the opportunity to review, reflect and resolve issues on your own without involving others,thus saving you and your team precious time, energy and attention.

Pro tip: The person who writes the agenda has a tremendous advantage in the meeting room. They set the perception of importance and time spent on issues. So if the topic is important to you, volunteer to craft the agenda.

2. On the agenda, break the meeting down into sections with time limits.

Each agenda item should have a designated allotment of time that explains how long you'll spend discussing that specific item in parenthesis with a minute count.

There are four elements of the meeting that are worthy of their own designated time limit:

  • The description of the agenda item
  • Open discussion of the agenda item
  • Decision points and actions items
  • Summary of the decisions and next steps at the end of the meeting.

If your team is presenting to you, wouldn't it be nice if you knew exactly how long each item would take? This will help you develop and stretch your patience and increase your engagement in the meeting as well. If you're meeting with executives and higher ups, this will help them patiently and attentively participate in the meeting.

3. Give the appropriate amount of context for each agenda item.

It's important that the meeting topic, agenda items and context be presented with minimal interruption. If attendees can see there's a scheduled time for open discussion after the agenda item is presented, they'll know to hold their comments. If they don't notice and attendees do interrupt, you can point them to the agenda and remind them that open discussion will follow after the item is presented.

4. Give a two minute shot clock for decision points, next actions and approvals.

Each decision point and action item should be given a separate allotment of time from the open discussion. This ensures that one to two minutes are given to reach a decision. In order to do this well, you ought to have some suggested next steps, solutions and actions in mind and on the agenda.

5. Keep a master facilitator copy of your agenda if you're running the meeting.

Depending on the meeting, there are two types of agendas to prepare. There is the master copy, full of details bullets, any suggestions and recommendations. And there is also the brief outline of topics with their time limits. Meeting attendees should generally be given the brief edition, that informs them of the agenda items and time limits to help them navigate the topic.

Handing out the detailed, facilitator agenda away before a meeting begins is like giving out your printed slide deck before speaking at an event. Everyone will want to skip ahead and fly through the paper deck instead of paying attention to the presenter and leader.

Also, if you are leading the meeting volunteer to keep the minutes or record the decisions of the meeting on your master agendas as you move through them. This makes the document more useful after the meeting.

6. Schedule time at the end of each meeting to quickly review the action items decision points.

Remind the attendees what was covered and accomplished, and what will be done next. This is a good way to bring the meeting to a close that increases the level of accountability and personal ownership of follow items.

7. Save and file the conclusions of the meeting with the master agenda.

This is an accountability artifact for you and your team. It is evidence for the whole team to use and keep each other on point and focused on following through. Referring to this document, decreases the need to have additional reminder meetings where time is wasted retreading ground you thought you had covered months ago.