Generally, a well-prepared good meeting can produce a lot of useful outcomes in terms of ideas shared, or decisions made – however, there can be a lack of effectiveness if all these good ideas or decisions are not followed through.
So how do we make sure that happens?
By making sure that topics of discussion are well tracked all the way through. The easiest way to do this is to track and follow up with the agenda.
Creating the agenda can be easy if you know what to do in advance. The SOAP technique helps to collect the topics, organize them, and select the ones that will contribute the most to your meeting:
- Seek topics from your participants: send an email to the list of participants you have identified earlier (which is important as you want to make sure you only have the right people in the meeting), and ask them for agenda topics:
- Give a brief explanation of the purpose of the meeting and an idea of what you are looking for in terms of topics (do this informally in case you have to edit their request later);
- When you make the request, make sure you ask the participants for the time they need to discuss their topic; and
- Provide a deadline to get their topic to you so it can be included on the agenda.
- Organize topics into a list: once you receive the topics, organize them into a list along with the time and the name of the presenter. This will give you the ability to scan through the list, narrowing it down to the topics you will select for the agenda.
- Assess which topics are relevant to the meeting purpose: with your list organized, determine which topics are the most relevant to the purpose of the meeting. Scratch out those topics you do not intend to use.
- Pick the number of relevant topics that will fit into your meeting time: review the time of the remaining topics. Select enough topics to fill the time of your meeting minus ten minutes. Give yourself ten minutes for meeting overrun. If you go over, you will end on time. If you do not, then you get to adjourn your meeting early, making everyone happy.
Remember to contact the presenter that had their topic removed from the agenda, explaining the reason why it was not put on the agenda (time constraints) and recommend that the topic be saved for another meeting.
Next, you have to make sure that the required stationery is available for everyone so that they can take the relevant notes on what they need to do or decide on before the next meeting. To prepare for this, use the following SHOWS acronym (which stands for stationary, handouts, organizer, writing tools, and special requests) to make sure you avoid last minute surprises:
- Stationary: this is all the paper you will need at the meeting. It includes, note pads, tape, paper clips, folders, and flip chart. Each meeting is different. You do not have to bring everything on this list. Determine what is going to take place at the meeting and materials needed for each activity or presentation. It is also wise to consult with the people on your agenda to see if they are going to facilitate activities that require stationary.
- Handouts: many times you or your presenters will need to distribute handouts. There could be a worksheet or an outline from an electronic presentation. In any case, you should consult with your presenters and acquire any handouts they may use. Make sure it is the most up-to-date version. If not, have them send it to you when they finalize it, but also make sure they do so a day or so in advance, giving you time to print and file it in your handout organizer.
- Organizer: when it is time to meet, the last thing you want to do is show up with a stack of handouts. Using an organizer like a folder or portable accordion file is an easy way to file your handouts and other stationary materials in one container. The filing system will allow you to file the documents in an orderly fashion, making distribution of the materials more professional. You want to avoid shuffling handouts around in front of your participants when it comes time to distribute them.
- Writing tools: this includes pens, markers, highlighters, and dry erase markers you may need for your meeting.
- Special requests: from time to time, your presenters may make a special request. An example could be a poster. Ask your presenters ahead of time for special requests.
This is still not enough, as next we have to make sure that your attendees show up and contribute effectively – more on this in the coming weeks.