Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Writing an agenda

I have written in the past about how to run good meetings (here), but one thing I have not yet talked about is an easy way to write an agenda.

As a supervisor of student projects, I require my supervisees to use an agenda. What surprises me is how many supervisees will resist writing one. The ones whose projects are going to go well are those who instinctively see how useful an agenda is.

This post, then, sets out to explain why an agenda is useful.

Firstly, what is an agenda? At its simplest, an agenda is a list of questions or issues to be addressed at the meeting. The agenda is "a list of topics to discuss, a sequence of planned activities, or both. The simplest agendas are formatted as a short bulleted list. More complicated agendas may include detailed topic descriptions, including the expected outcomes for each item and reference material, such as reports and proposals for review prior to the meeting. Formal agendas [may] also include timing and presenter information for each agenda item" (LucidMeetings, 2021). 

Secondly, why have an agenda? I like to think of an agenda as a map of the mahi (work) that we hope to get done at our meeting. The agenda guides us to our desired destination, in the time that we have together. It means we don't take unnecessary side trips (read more on that here). The agenda indicates what will be done at the meeting. "The agenda makes sure that a meeting stays on track and that everyone knows what is happening and what is going to happen next. Without an agenda, a meeting can rapidly become chaotic and important business may not be completed" (Prykucki, 2014).  Having an agenda tends to mean that meetings take a more planned approach, and should therefore be more productive (Sessoms, 2019), providing the meeting chair uses the agenda to track meeting progress and redirect when off-track.

Thirdly, who sets the agenda? The agenda should be created by the person calling the meeting (the chair). They check a draft agenda with everyone attending the meeting, to see if there is anything else that needs to go on the list. The agenda should be finalised and circulated a couple of days before the meeting, so that attendees can prepare ahead of time.

Fourthly, what should an agenda look like? I personally like a Word table with questions down the left-hand side, and space for attendees to write comments, notes, feedback or issues to discuss on the right. See the supervision agenda example here. Allowing participants to make their own notes about their own potential contributions makes for a much more engaged meeting. But equally an agenda can be just as LucidMeetings proposes: a bulleted list (2021). 

The over-riding principle with agendas? Keep it simple. 

I hope that is useful!




  1. Thanks Sam summed up beautifully, I love Agendas otherwise I can go off track easily.

    1. Kia ora Wendy,
      Thank you for your kind words. It is always a pleasure to help!


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