5 Useful Tips for Good Meeting Agendas

by Jorma Bork (pixelio.de)

by Jorma Bork (pixelio.de)

  1. Keep meetings short. Normally plan for 45 minutes to gain best meeting performance. Of course, there are  exceptions, but normally you’ll want to keep it short. Therefore, the agenda needs to be short, too.  For each topic use precise and short descriptions. Put all additional info within comments!
  2. Try to estimate the time each topic will take and add this information to the agenda items. For example:
    “Wrap up about project status at customer xyz (7 minutes)”
  3. Do not use general descriptions. Be as precise as possible about the intended discussion. Sometimes it’s a good idea to use questions as topics.
  4. Put the overall target of the meeting into your invitation text for the meeting. Tell your attendees why they need to meet and what the intended outcomes or results are. “No-one leaves before xyz is settled”
  5. If you want your attendees to prepare some info on certain topics, make sure to assign them to the attendees and plan for enough time for the preparation! You need to send out your agenda early enough so that attendees can come up well prepared.

Tipp: How to use topics?

Use topics with short and precise titles. This gives attendees best overview of the meeting to come.
Remember that you can shrink / expand each topic level. By shrinking the top level you can give a rough overview to all attendees when the meeting begins.

What to know about “public meetings” in AgreeDo?

When you create a meeting with the checkbox “public meeting” set, the meeting is accessible for everyone who has the link to meeting. So there is no security at all for that. Therefore it’s called public :-).

For additional security we advise to use a password for the meeting and forward it to the attendees on a secure channel.

Public meetings are good where there are people who haven’t got an agreedo account (and don’t intend to create one).

Moving meeting minutes to the cloud pros-and cons!

Is it a good idea to move meeting minutes to the cloud like AgreeDo.com? Especially in times where NSA uses systems like prism to download all communication to their servers…

Collarboration around the globe

Pro:

  • Sharing meeting minutes in the cloud let’s you easily collaborate with people from within your company and people outside.
  • No software installation necessary, just a browser.

Cons:

  • Security threads no only from NSA but also industrial espionage

It’s time for your feedback. Do you want to add some pros and cons to it? Drop your comment here!

How to Handle Recurring Meetings

To understand how recurring meetings work in AgreeDo, you first need to understand how meetings work in general in AgreeDo.

The first step to prepare a meeting with AgreeDo is to create an agenda and send it to the attendees of the meeting. During the meeting, you can add new items and comments, so you have your meeting minutes ready at the end of the meeting.

Usually, the next step is to create a follow-up meeting (there’s a button on the top of each agenda to do this). This allows you to take the items from your meeting minutes to the agenda of a new meeting. So you can keep the points which should be followed-up or discussed again, and you can drop the issues which are resolved or don’t need further discussion.

One very important thing to know is that tasks created in one meeting and copied to the follow-up meeting are linked to the two meetings. So if you add comments to the task or change its progress, it will show up in both meetings. This even works if you have a task in more than two meetings in a row. You will always see the latest status of a task.

So here’s how you can handle your recurring meetings within AgreeDo:

  1. Prepare your agenda with all the important topics once
  2. During the meeting, take your meeting minutes
  3. After the meeting minutes are finished, create a follow-up meeting, import all topics to be discussed regularly
  4. Continue on step 2.

How to use AgreeDo together with Google Calendar?

Here’s how you can use AgreeDo together with Google Calendar:

When you schedule a meeting, you can invite the attendees to your meeting by pressing the “Send Invitation” button. This email contains a so called ICS attachment. You can open this attachment in GMail to import the meeting into your Google Calendar (see screenshot below).

google_calendar

In case you want to schedule a AgreeDo meeting using Google Calendar just follow the steps below:

  1. Create a meeting in AgreeDo and copy the url for this meeting from the browser window. The URL of the meeting looks similar to this: https://www.agreedo.com/MeetingApp.html#meeting;id=00000
  2. Now create a meeting in Google Calendar and paste the URL of your meeting into the invitation body of your calendar entry.

How to write perfect meeting minutes?

Here′s a summary of the most important comments from the ongoing discussion on LinkedIn about “What are the 5 most important rules for writing perfect meeting minutes?”.

Know your meeting type!

The right type of meeting minutes depend on the type of your meeting. Whether it’s the summary of a board meeting or a brain storming, makes a huge difference in what to write down!

Know your audience!

Be sure for whom you write you meeting minutes. Know their culture and their expectations. Whether they are used to a more narrative style or a more terse style (just facts). If you ask me, I am more on the short and to the point style side :-)

Keep it short !

If you rewrite the current status too often the meeting minutes get useless. So try to only write those points down which are nearing their deadline and are currently most important. leave out all the others or group them together under another topic.

Keep the focus!

When meetings lose their focus it’s likely that their minutes also have no focus. So try to remember the purpose and the targets of the meeting. Take this as a starting point for deciding what items (i.e. decisions, tasks, important info) should be part of your minutes.

Know your people!

An important part of meeting minutes are tasks, due dates and their assignees. You need to be carefull of whom to send a reminder (in the meeting minutes). People who are well organized don’t need reminders. Therefore sending them a reminder could run you in problems! On the other hand you will have attendees and tasks assignees who regularly need reminders on their tasks. Remind them, and make sure they know they are constantly tracked.

There are lots of other good hints for perfect meeting minutes in the above mentioned discussion on linked in. So drop in and read of all it or even add your comments!

Why AgreeDo Is Better Than Google Docs

When people hear about AgreeDo the first time, a lot of them tell us that they would rather use existing tools, like Google Docs or Microsoft Word. These programs also allow you to write an agenda or write down the meeting minutes. And Google Docs even allows the agenda to be shared easily between many participants of a meeting. So where exactly is the advantage of AgreeDo?

Piece of papaer – AgreeDo's better than that.

When you write down your meeting minutes in Google Docs, it’s not more than a piece of paper. Of course this piece of paper is shared online, but still the document itself does not know much about its content. For example, if you write down a task like this in your minutes:

Bob: please prepare the sales presentation till end of next week

This looks simple, but contains important information. A task (preparing the presentation) has to be completed by a certain person (Bob) and within a certain timeframe (end of next week). A piece of paper and Google Docs won’t care about this. It’s just some words for them, not more.

This is where AgreeDo’s advantages come to play: AgreeDo knows Bob (by his email address). So AgreeDo sends Bob an email with the information that he was asked to prepare the presentation. Also, AgreeDo will send him another email if the task has not been marked as completed by the end of next week.

Using Google Docs or a piece of paper, writing these two reminder emails would be the job of the team manager or whoever is responsible for this. So AgreeDo saves this person extra work at this point.

Actually, this was just one example where AgreeDo offers extra help. AgreeDo also supports tracking decisions, i.e. the main outcome of most meetings. Also, AgreeDo helps you preparing a meeting, sending the invitation, or managing regular meetings using the “follow-up”-feature.

Image by curtesy of Claire Cessford

Run Your Meetings with Influence

ANOTHER MEETING? If you’re a manager, a team leader, or an executive, your day is probably full of meetings. This article will teach you not only how to make your meetings more productive, but also how to exert more influence while you’re at it. As a meeting leader, you have a great opportunity to use your influence skills to your advantage and achieve the results you want.

Picture showing a business woman

There’s nothing more frustrating than sitting through a meeting that’s pointless- and seems endless. Not only can unproductive meetings waste everyone’s time (consuming up to 50 percent of the average manager’s work week), but, considering the salaries of the participants, they can get pretty expensive, too. Here are some guidelines to get your meeting back on track- so you can get back to work!

Influence the Outcome by Setting a Specific Agenda

Do you want to make an announcement, get people to discuss some new development, request their input, or mediate some conflict within the department?  Let others know ahead of time what you expect of them to bring to a meeting (background information, reports, etc.) and what, specifically, you expect to accomplish (a workable budget for next year’s campaign, for example).

Ask members beforehand what items they think should be included in the meeting’s agenda. This will encourage them to feel more involved and committed, and they will be more likely to work collaboratively. Then, before you finalize the agenda, ask yourself some key questions: What is the current situation? What result is needed? What decisions could come out of this meeting? If you can agree upon goals before the meeting, sidetracking peripheral discussions will be kept to a minimum, the group will have an easier time staying focused, and you will be better able to control and influence the flow of the discussion.

Using your Influence to Manage the Meeting

It’s important to create a climate in which all opinions are valid and valued. One common problem is that certain people are too shy or insecure to speak up at meetings, even though they may have valuable contributions to make. A variation on this problem is the silent treatment – a person vents hostility by withholding important information from others in the group.

A good way to create a receptive climate is to pool all members present, especially the quiet ones, to find out what’s on their minds. You might try something like “Does everyone think what Ann has proposed is a feasible idea? Can anyone think of anything that might go wrong in terms of production, quality control, durability, sales? Has anyone had any experience with something like this that has worked well? Any experience with something not working well?”  By encouraging all opinions, especially dissenting ones, you’ll get what people are thinking out in the open.

While the idea is to establish a policy of openness for free exchange at meetings, watch out for the group member who takes advantage of the occasion to vent his personal distrust and disapproval. When members dominate a meeting by being aggressive or violating other people’s rights, they’re probably suffering from insecurity and a need for attention. The best way to handle them is by demonstrating control and assertiveness-don’t ignore them or give them negative attention; instead, confront the problem directly. Show that you’re listening by such nonverbal messages as making direct eye contact and turning your body towards the speaker. If the person feels confident that you’re listening, he or she won’t have to resort to such antics to get attention.

Once you get the meeting rolling, bounce ideas off different people. For example: “George is making an interesting suggestion here about the processing center’s time log.  Ellen, how does that fit with your experience when they tried that in the western region?”

Set a climate of precise, clear, open communication. If a member makes a vague or fuzzy statement, ask questions until you’re clear about what the speaker means. Fuzzy speaking is often an indicator of fuzzy thinking; by forcing people to be more specific, you are helping them get their thoughts straight. An added benefit of this approach is that people on your staff soon may begin to speak with more precision and clarity.

During the meeting, focus on desired outcomes rather than problems. Too often, attempts at identifying problems deteriorate into long-winded gripe session about unrelated issues. Also, when groups start discussing problems, it’s all too easy to attribute cause or blame to other departments or other people. A focus on desired outcomes will put people in a positive frame of mind and get them to think about the ideal situation or goal. Here is where your gentle but positive influence can guide the tone and focus of the meeting.

To keep track of what’s going on, keep a flip chart, a notebook, or a chalkboard near you to record information as it’s given. Ask for a volunteer to be responsible for the meeting record so that you won’t be distracted from your job as a leader.

Closure

Make sure everyone leaves the meeting with the same idea of what is to be done-and how it is to be done. Be precise and clear when giving assignments, and ask people to be specific when they volunteer some service. Use an easygoing tone of voice so you do not come off as a cross-examiner. You simply want to put everyone on the same wavelength. For example, if someone says, “I’ll do a report,” ask, “What will the report include? How long will it be, what will it accomplish, and what form will it be in?” Ask questions until you’re satisfied that both you and the writer have a clear idea of what this report will be like when you see it.

Another way to determine whether people are clear on their duties is to go around the room at the end of the meeting and ask, “What is your understanding of what’s expected of you?” You may feel that it is impolite or unfair to challenge people in this way. On the contrary, you are doing them a service by helping them clarify what they mean and what they’re promising to deliver. This is what truly influential leaders do.

When people understand exactly what you want, they feel much more comfortable about producing it. They don’t waste time or put off a project because they’re not sure they are doing it right.

Once the group has arrived at some tentative, workable solutions, restate the main points and decisions made at the meeting. (If someone is taking minutes, this will help too.) As the meeting breaks up, you should already be thinking ahead to the next one, so get people to publicly volunteer to take specific action before the next meeting.

How to Deal with Problem People at Meetings

PROBLEM SOLUTION
Latecomer Start meetings on time-don’t wait for stragglers.
Early Leaver Get a commitment from all members at the beginning of the meeting to stay until the end.
Broken Record (Brings up the same point over and over.) Use “group memory” or the minutes of the meeting to remind Broken Record that the point is noted.
Doubting Thomas As facilitator, get the group to agree not to evaluate any ideas for a period of time, and then use this agreement to correct violators.
Dropout (Nonparticipant.) Try asking the person’s opinion during the meeting or at a break.
Whisperer As Facilitator, walk up close (low-key intervention). Or ask for focus on a single topic.
Loudmouth Move closer and closer, maintain eye contact. Ask person to be group recorder.
Attacker Thank the attacker for observation; ask the group what it thinks.
Interpreter (Often says “In other words” or “what she really means.”)  Check this in public with original speaker.
Gossip Ask the group to verify the information.
Know-It-All Remind the group that all members have expertise; that’s the reason for meeting.
Busybody Before the meeting, ask other members to get Busybody to stop.
Teacher’s Pet Be encouraging, but break eye contact. Get group members to talk to on another. Lessen your omnipotence by asking Teacher’s Pet, “What do you think?”

By using all these techniques, you will be running an efficient and productive meeting.  And most important, you will also be seen as a leader with Influence Skills. Running a Meeting With Influence can be a most important way to become a Successful Leader.

This is a guest post by Elaina Zuker. She blogs at http://www.ezinfluence.com/ and is the president of Elaina Zuker Associates, now based in Montreal, Quebec. She has taught seminars to hundreds of employees and managers at major corporations such as AT&T, IBM, American Express and MCI International. She is the author of six books, on leadership, management and communication. Her best-selling book, “The Seven Secrets of Influence” (McGraw-Hill), the recent Main Selection for the Business Week Book Club, has been translated into four languages.

Ms. Zuker holds a B.A. in Psychology, an M.A. in Management/Organizational Development and is the 2004 recipient of the Alumni Achievement Award from New York Polytechnic University.

Making PowerPoint Work for You

In one of our last blog posts we briefly discussed when to use PowerPoint presentations. This was only the tip of the iceberg. Here we would like to go into depth on how to make PowerPoint work for you and your presentation. PowerPoint is a great tool of sharing information when used effectively and appropriately.

The Don’ts of PowerPoint Presentations

  • Don’t let your PowerPoint be your whole presentation. In other words, PowerPoint is a tool to improve your presentation but should not be the whole presentation. Some presenters literally hide behind a podium and simply click through the slides. As a presenter, you should engage your audience; talk to them rather than read to them.
  • Don’t use PowerPoint as your textbook. This means you should know you material thoroughly before the presentation and your PowerPoint presentation should only serve as cues.
  • Avoid putting together wordy presentations. Your audience should be paying attention to what you are saying and not trying to read through your presentation.

The Do’s of PowerPoint Presentations

  • Begin your presentation with an outline, your agenda for the presentation. This tells your audience what they can expect to gain from your presentation.
  • You should use your slides to enhance the information that you are sharing with your audience. Consider using graphs or pie charts where appropriate or any other graphics that will help to bring your message across.
  • Use a large enough font for all to see and consider using contrasting colors to make it easier for your audience to read the information on your slides.
  • Rehearse your presentation several times to get a good idea on when to transition slides and also to keep track of the length of your presentation. There are some fun slide transitions you can use to give your presentation some visual interest. However, the slide transition should not distract or take away from the information that you are sharing with your audience.
  • Finally don’t take yourself too seriously – have fun!