How can I avoid overstuffed agendas?

Clown Car

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

You’ve planned a thoughtful meeting, but folks keeps adding items to the agenda. Before you know it, you’ve crammed 15 different and disconnected topics into one hour. The first thirty minutes of the meeting go great, but as you approach the second half, you start speeding up to try to get through everything, cutting off any real conversation for the sake of time. The meeting ends two minutes late without any wrap, and you still didn’t get to everything. The hanging items get rolled over to next week’s already crammed agenda, repeating the cycle over and over again. 🙀

Are you frantic? Yup. ✔️

Are your meeting participants overwhelmed and confused? Yup. ✔️

🚗  Welcome to the Clown Car Meeting, an overstuffed call that goes nowhere and leaves people feeling cramped and frustrated. 🚗 

When you’re stuck in a pattern of these jam-packed meetings, how can you break the cycle and reclaim productive meetings?

1️⃣ Clarify the meeting’s objectives.

Often, we’re not very clear about the distinction between an agenda 📝 and an objective 🎯. These are not the same thing. Your objective is the goal of the meeting. It’s the answer to that all-important question: What do I want people to leave this meeting with? An agenda is not a list of conversation topics - it’s the map to getting you to your objective. If a topic isn’t moving you towards your objective for the call, cut it. ✂️

2️⃣ Set reasonable expectations.

Be clear with those involved in planning the meeting what can and cannot be covered on a given call. Admittedly, this can be really hard when your boss is the one trying to cram more topics into a meeting! Setting boundaries up front will make everyone happier in the long run, even if it’s tough at the outset. Over time, folks will come to appreciate your tightly-scoped, focused calls, so trust the process. 🤞🏻 (No one - no one! - complains when a meeting ends early. If your agenda was too brief and you end the call 15 minutes early, folks will be thrilled. Seriously.)

3️⃣ Consider not sending an agenda in advance.

A lot of times, we write an agenda in advance because we think it will help participants feel relaxed and prepared. However, I’ve found that sending agendas ahead of time can backfire, as folks either decide the topics listed don’t concern them and tune out, or they review the agenda only looking for their moment to make their point, becoming participation robots rather than actively engaged team members. 🤖 It’s controversial perhaps, but I prefer not to send an agenda in advance at all. Instead, I like to start calls by saying, 📢 “I have an agenda that I’m going to walk us through.” This approach totally changes the dynamic and puts trust in me as the facilitator. I’m stewarding the group, rather than letting them anticipate how the meeting is going to play out, and I’m controlling the flow of conversation rather than opening up the clown car possibility. 🚘  Win-win.

Employ these tips to keep your objectives clear 🎯, your agendas lean 📝, and your meetings productive 🏅. Before you know it, you’ll escape the clown car for good! 🚗

I’m guessing you’re here because you want to get better at leading groups, improve your meeting culture, and maybe even organise some great events.

Well, you’re in the right place!

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