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Agenda Items

5 Effective Techniques for Prioritizing Agenda Items

Agenda Items

5 Effective Techniques for Prioritizing Agenda Items

Defining the Meeting’s Purpose and Goals

The first step of planning any meeting is always to clarify its purpose and objectives. This means that each element of the agenda should serve some goal and contribute to the meeting’s end effect. For example, if the primary aim is to prepare a quarterly marketing strategy, all elements can revolve around market analysis, campaign proposals, and resource allocation for this purpose. To set goals for a meeting, one can use the following procedure:

  • Set Goals: start by listing the ultimate goals, such as increasing market share by 10% in the next quarter or launching two major campaigns. This approach will allow you to construct an agenda that clearly serves achieving these goals.

  • Collect Data: try to find as much quantitative information as possible to set a solid context for the discussion. You could use a performance indicator touching on the previous campaign to illustrate the procedure, such as realizing a 15% increase in customer engagement this time.

  • Decide on Participants: consider the people who can provide the most useful information or who should make the final decision. It might be the marketing director, the sales manager, and the product developer. Prioritizing Agenda Items
  • When the purpose and goal are set, one should proceed to prioritize the agenda items. For this, we can take time, people’s attention, and involvement into account.
  • Evaluate Importance and Urgency: you might use the Eisenhower Box approach to set the tasks according to the categories urgent, important, both, or neither. For example, if you need to set the time of launching a new product, it might be both urgent and important.

  • Allocate Time: assign more time to more important and complex topics. If we consider finalizing the preparation for the product launch the most critical issue, we can allocate 30 minutes for a one-hour meeting.

Priority of agenda items

Although simple and easy to implement, the order of the items is important too. When your meeting opens with a high-energy, high-impact topic, it is easier to use the energy to discuss all other items. With less critical or more operational items, they tend to drift away or feel more boring if they are the first to be discussed. And remember to consider frequency effects as well: if a participant speaks on the first item and talks again only on the last one, it would be harder to keep his focus. With multiple participants speaking in a more balanced fashion, however, the engagement with the meeting is sure to be more effective.

Encouraging and Leading Discussions

Not all meetings that are well planned become effective – discussions must be led in a productive way. Therefore, it is essential to use techniques that foster participation and meet the expected outcomes.

  • Encourage ideal communication: keep a tone that facilitates the creation of open, debate-friendly meetings. Remind participants that everyone’s opinion is valuable but that, with it, it is also the duty of every leader to say why what is being said is important. This way, there is room for conflict and, ultimately, the best outcomes can be reached.

  • Use facilitation techniques: a notable example is the round-robin, where nobody leaves the table without first giving input on a partially available issue. For larger groups, a breakout can be organized. This divides a larger group into many smaller focus ones, ideally in a more intimate fashion, in order to promote a fruitful discussion of complex topics.

  • Guide the meeting: as the leader, also moderate it. Watch the watch and look constantly at the items’ order. If the discussion moves away from the center, gently move it back.

Agenda Items
Agenda Items

Scheduling Meetings Well in Advance

Organizing a meeting in advance is essential for better attendance of invited persons and to ensure that each member will be well prepared for participating. Moreover, this approach is not only more respectful for everyone’s schedule but also will present more opportunities for being fully prepared, which will have a net effect on overall productivity of the meeting.

Setting up the timeline

The ideal period can range in time, depending on how busy and scheduled people are and how important the discussed matters are . However, it is recommendable to schedule the strategic meeting minimum three weeks in advance because of the important talks usually involve members of top management whose schedule will be busy and in most cases the date of the meeting will be of higher priority.

Scheduling tools

Leveraging the abundance of calendaring software allows to identify the common time intervals between involved parties, which do that for everyone, providing the most valuable time for talking to each other without the general hassle of finding it by the use of direct communication .

The prior confirmation of attendance

Sending a calendar invite as soon as calendar was scheduled so that every member can mark the meeting date invites proper time to reschedule in case if something else appear in their calendars is very beneficial for avoiding the last minute notifications that member X and Y are unavailable .

Ordering of agenda in a strategic order

The order of agenda items, not every item itself, also has an effect on overall meeting efficiency. This is because of agendas firstly should be ordered in an order of most energy consuming and engaging talks which are discussed in the beginning, and information and other trivial talks are left to the end.

Identify objectives

Consequently, the important way is firstly to identify overall objectives of a meeting, and following the aforementioned, the structure of the importance. For example, if the given example is about budget allocation for the next quarter, this always should have top priority over managerial data and updates .

Availability of main actors

It is also important to know the schedule of top management to schedule for the meeting, in such a way that the meeting will start by the most important items. It means that if CFO will be at the meeting for up to three hours, the financials should be discussed in the first part, while the operational items are left to the end .

Agenda Items

Allocation of time

Most importantly, a time should be properly allocated per each item for, for example, 30-minute sessions. However, there should also be some spare 10 minutes, and there should not be several following sessions to present the material.

Discussion of item

Finally, for the allocation of first session, important sessions and items, which are net energy consuming should present some more engaging actions like brainstorming, SWOT analyses , and others, to hold the meeting engaged more effectively.

Limiting Agenda to Core Topics

Focusing a Meeting on Core Topics

Focusing the agenda on core topics greatly benefits the overall purpose of the meeting. Moreover, a focused meeting helps ensure that time is used wisely and that the discussions are always on track and relevant. Below are some methods to achieve this.

Define Core Topics Clearly

To start, determine what a core topic is. These are issues that have a direct impact on the main goals of the meeting, or the outcomes of a business meeting. If you were in a review meeting for the performance of the company’s second quarter, core topics that can be discussed are sales results, budget variances, and problems with operations. You can also include in such topics issues that have a great impact on the company’s operations or can negatively affect the business.

Use a Filter

There should be a criterion for discussion topics to choose to include in a meeting. Relevant questions include: “Does the topic matter to a decision that has to be made?” and “Does the topic require a collective brainstorm to finalize or move forward?” Any topic that does not pass this simple criterion should be held in another session or a different group meeting.

Before the Meeting, Ask about the Agenda

One more way to not only filter the topics but to get input from the meeting stakeholders is to ask them about the agenda prior to the finalization of the meeting flow. You may send a list of tentative topics before confirming it to everyone, and ask the people who will be participating if they think some topics should be recognized in the meeting or if there’s an important issue that the schedule missed out.

Structuring the Agenda

Organizing the agenda in such a way that it is focused on core discussion allows for an efficient and effective flow of meeting topics.

Order by importance. Start the agenda with the most important topics, especially if there is a decision that needs to be finalized. For instance, in a product launch, the decision should be in the first slot of the list.

Limit Items to Key Discussions: The fewer items on the agenda are, the better. A focused agenda might only include three to four items, making sure that each of them has sufficient attention and resolution. It is important to avoid overwhelming participants with too much information and too many decisions as it can result in decision fatigue.

Allocate Time Based on Importance: It is also important to spend more time on central topics and less time on those that are more informative. In the case of a discussion related to the adjustment of the yearly budget, 30 minutes could be devoted to this issue. For the general update on the state of the market, 10 minutes will be enough.

Communicating the Agenda

After the creation of the agenda, it is crucial to ensure that the participants are adequately prepared and their expectations reflect the planned issues well.

Provide Pre-Meeting Information: The agenda should be sent to the participants with at least a week in advance. However, it would be helpful to also provide other material about each of the topics to be discussed. For example, such articles would provide data that could be analyzed, questions that could be asked, or insights that could be brought to the discussion.

Set Expectations: Alongside the agenda, participants should be provided with the information regarding their roles. For example, if a person needs to prepare for leading a discussion on a central topic, it should be made clear to them, as well as what they will need to achieve as a result of their preparation and leadership.

Encouraging Pre-meeting Team Input

For team meetings, engaging team members in agenda setting can significantly enhance the relevance and efficiency of discussions. This approach ensures that the topics to be addressed reflect the team’s priorities and challenges, allowing them to make the meeting as focused and decisive as possible. There are several strategies for obtaining the necessary input and structuring it to ensure the agenda is balanced, and the most critical issues are addressed in a timely manner.

A Pre-meeting Survey

One of the ways to gather data from team members is by using a survey or a feedback form distributed to all potential participants several weeks before the meeting. The questions on the survey should be designed to ask the team members what topics they consider crucial for discussion and to have them ranked on a scale of importance. For example, if 80% of the team considered addressing falling sales in a key market paradigmatic, the issue would be the first item on the agenda. Some topics may have such high priority that they would require separate discussions in addition to the main meeting. Pre-meeting discussions may also be a good strategy to obtain more specific and nuanced data on the issues the most affected members are facing. For example, if mid-level managers seem to face a backlog of responsibilities due to the early announcement of new policies, the data obtained in the discussions with them may persuade the leader to make the discussion of this problem a key item on the agenda.

Structuring Input Channels

The most critical aspect of managing the initial stage of the process when the input is collected is setting up the appropriate structure in which information will be submitted.

The specific email address or chat where team members must submit their agenda suggestions must be created.

The message must contain a clear description of the purpose and the format of the input and should also ask the team members to provide their submissions by a specific time and date. For example, if the meeting is set for the end of the month, the deadline for submitting the input on the agenda items must be set for the tenth.

The input must then be analyzed to define which topics are urgent and relevant and how they should be integrated into the meeting agenda. The following are the guidelines for conducting this stage of the process:

  • Apply a frequency model. If several team members have submitted the same input, it is most likely relevant and should be discussed at the meeting. Also, consider which topics, if discussed, could have the most positive impact on team performance.

  • Balance the agenda, ensuring time is allocated both for strategic discussions and for tackling operational issues if these are the most frequently raised. For example, if the project risks for the long-term future are raised by the team together with a series of major operational problems, the meeting agenda should contain time allocated to each.

Facilitating Focused Discussions

Making discussions focused and effective is a vital condition for a meeting’s success. Both structured techniques and clearer form of communication will help to make the points more productive and make the objectives reached within the discussion. Some of the techniques can be organizing the discussion itself, some can focus on the matters or instruments used for the meeting.

Set Clear Objectives for the Discussion: For each point of the meeting’s agenda state the objectives. For instance, if the appropriate point for the discussion on the meeting is “Improving Customer Service Response Times”, the point could include improving the customer service response time from 24 hours to 12 hours per client. Such a statement will keep the discussion focused on the meeting, versus having mixed matters to touch upon.

Use Time Limits Wisely : Set specific intervals for each point of the discussion. It will help clearly concentrate attention of each participant on specific points, and keep the balance between the points by placing emphasis on time limits made for each item. For the “Improving Customer Service Response Times” put the restriction to discuss it only within 20 minutes and follow the time limit against a hidden dissenter s

Facilitation Technique Used:

Facilitate Discussion to Keep People Involved: Use a facilitating technique by asking direct questions to make the whole team involved. For instance, instead of the idiomatic “any thoughts?” say “What has been the experience of your department with the 24-hour response limit?”, thus making the whole team affected by the discussion.

Redirect and Summary: Learn to make summaries of the point discussed and redirect the discussion if it is not going according to the agenda. For instance, after a long discussion, the statement like “So, we accepted three major ways to try out. What should be the term for this new pilot-project?” will help to finish the discussion and move to the next item.

Visual Aids and Instruments:

Charts and Graphs: Use visual aids for pointing to something specific or for making clearer some unclear information. For instance, the specific graphical demonstration of a customer service response time will put in the context the information manually understood only in the rows of similar data.

Use of Technological Tools:

Use a digital whiteboard to draw, or other tools like sharing Google Document, where everybody can write to have ideas accumulated in one place.

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