Thursday, April 12, 2007

Meeting Agendas and Meeting Notes

Meeting agendas and notes are things that are pretty basic, but I don't ever remember anybody teaching it in any undergraduate or graduate level class that I had. Maybe because it is basic we're expected to just know it or it's supposed to be common sense, but even the most basic of things have to be taught to us at some point. It may be so simple that we understand the concept after hearing about it once, but we still have to hear about it at least once, don't we? This is simple, but hopefully helpful.

You will invariably be invited to internal meetings where the meeting leaders have not sent out an agenda ahead of time. Even when you get in the meeting you may not see an agenda. It's sometimes hard to tell what the purpose of the meeting is, and after the meeting you don't see any follow-up summarizing the points that were discussed. Be a person who manages meetings in a more organized way.

Meeting agendas set expectations for what will be covered. Just because people are invited to a meeting doesn't necessarily mean they all have to attend. By sending out an agenda ahead of time, attendees can determine if they really need to be in that particular meeting and then let you know. People are busy, including you. Don't waste their time. Send out the agenda a day before the meeting, at the latest, and include an overall meeting purpose. e.g., Purpose - To discuss the signage installation for the marathon. The subjects could then be broken down by various areas of signage--expo and registration, merchandise sales, press conferences, start, course medical stations, course sponsor zones, general course signage, finish, awards area, family reunion, etc. One company where I worked had a policy that if invitees didn't receive an agenda at least 24 hours in advance, they didn't have to attend. The philosophy was, 'If you can't tell me in advance why I need to be there, then I obviously don't need to be in the meeting.'

Put times by the subjects on the agenda and try to stick to them as much as possible. A lot of planning meetings can become very long. Time ranges on the agenda indicate the approximate times you think you will get to those subjects. This will allow people to only come to the portion of the meeting where they're on the agenda. Most people will come to the entire meeting to get the complete overview of the subject, but sometimes they're schedule won't allow that. They attend the meeting for the approximate time range that covers their subject, then leave. They may also send one representative from the department to be present at the entire meeting, take notes, and then report back to the department.

Take notes in meetings. If you're leading the meeting, it can sometimes be difficult to do both, but it's necessary. If possible, ask a colleague or subordinate to take notes during the meeting for you or in addition to your notes. This option will let you lead the meeting with a smoother flow, yet still capture all the information. As an intern, being assigned as a note taker was a great learning tool. It made me pay attention in meetings and boosted my note taking skills.

Always send out meeting notes within 24 hours after a meeting. This is something that is very simple to do and it gives you credibility as someone who follows-up. Find a format that works for you. When I send out meeting notes, I leave the header that I had at the top of the agenda to note when and where the meeting took place. I list the names of the attendees. From there, I use the agenda topics and put the respective notes for those areas under the corresponding category headings. If something was discussed that wasn't on the agenda, I put that category at the bottom. At the end of the notes I have a section called "Follow-Up Items." Anything discussed in the meeting that creates a follow-up action for someone is listed here, along with the person responsible and the due date. (When you're taking notes put a star by these items, underline them, highlight them, whatever works for you. At the end of the meeting verbally summarize these points to make sure you have all of them and then put them in the meeting notes. If someone says they will follow-up on something, always ask the next question: by when?) The last section of my notes lists the dates, times, and locations of any upcoming meetings.

When you send out the meeting notes, ask people to review them and get back to you by a specific date/time if there are any corrections or additions.

Again, something basic, but hopefully it will be of use.

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