When attempting to hold a productive meeting, the most important thing you can do is to create an agenda. This should be sent to all attendees well in advance to give everyone time to examine the topics and prepare what they need to say. Agendas highlight the purpose of the meeting and the decisions that need to be made. Without an agenda meetings lack focus and decisions will not be made since attendees will go off on tangents and fail to understand what needs to be achieved. I should be clear at this point that there is nothing wrong with a brainstorming session where an agenda would not be required, but for more formal meetings with specific questions, problems and issues that need attention and solution, an agenda should always be given.

When setting the items of the agenda it is best to formally request content from the attendees. This will give people a chance to add anything they feel is important. You must give people time to reply so do this step as early as possible. A simple email will suffice. It is worth writing the agenda first and sending this out with the request since it will give people a better idea of the subject matter and appropriateness of their meeting topics. Of course there will be an 'any other business' section at the end of the meeting, but as many topics as possible should be set in the agenda so that a timescale can be more accurately estimated. If there are fourteen topics at the end of a meeting that only lasts for an hour because you didn't know about them in advance, then this is likely to be rushed and not explored fully or the meeting will overrun.

Every meeting agenda should contain a certain amount of general information in the heading section. This needs to be information on the meeting parameters rather than its content. For example note the date, the start time, the end time and the location. If this is sent in advance then it will be clear to everyone when and where the meeting will be held. It is a good idea to set any specific aims in this section. Say for example you are holding the meeting to decide upon the strategy needed for an office move. This should be noted at the top so all parties are aware of the topic. This should stop people trying to sneak inappropriate agenda items on such as the new CRM system requirements.

It is usual to have a section for attendees so that everyone knows who will be coming. This will also allow them to suggest anyone else they feel should be present that you have not included. This can be a simple list. If anyone is required to bring specific items to the meeting other than a notepad and pen then fair warning should be given. If you needed a specific maths problems solved and had neglected to tell people to bring their calculators then you would be at a serious disadvantageous when nobody has one. Time would be wasted while they all went back to their desks to fetch them.

Once this general information is listed, it is time to add the agenda topics. The first section is 'apologies for absence' since there may be people who cannot make it on the day. This section is required for the minute taker to note the actual attendees. Some meetings are held on a regular basis such as weekly planning meetings and project meetings. If this is the case then a section must be included called 'minutes of the last meeting.' This section will go over the actions resulting from the last meeting and follow them up. If they have been completed then they can be crossed of everyone's list and if they have not, then the action would still stand and may need to be discussed further.

The next agenda items will be specific to the topic of your meeting. Using the example of an office move, agenda items may be as follows; purpose of the move, location of the new building, responsibility for the move itself, informing the staff, marketing the move to clients and contacts and finally the responsibility for health and safety once the move is completed. Obviously this is a vastly simplified list, but hopefully it gives an idea of how to set relevant agenda points. All items must solve one issue and should add something to the overall solution required. The items should flow in a logical order and be related to each other. Think about what needs to be completed first before something else can be done. What are the dependencies? The office move cannot be marketed to clients before it has happened so this will logically be further down the list than items about the move itself.

Once all relevant items are on the agenda there should be a section called 'Any other business.' This will allow any last minute things to be discussed. Hopefully, if you have completed an agenda well, this section will be blissfully short since everything will be covered on the agenda points already set. Do not allow people to distract everyone from the main aim of the meeting. If people want to discuss unrelated items then suggest they email or set up a separate meeting.

The agenda will be in a different format and will include different things depending on the type of meeting and who will be in attendance. An all-day meeting in which people from outside the company or members of the public will attend may well need to include agenda points in a more specific time format. Agenda points may include introduction, tea and coffee break, lunch etc. whereas a general office meeting would often be too short and therefore exclude these items. The language you use would need to be simple and contain no industry abbreviation that people outside the area of expertise would not understand. As the presenter of the meeting, think about what people need to see in advance to get a good idea of what will happen during the meeting.