How to Set Out an Agenda

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An agenda is the order of business for a meeting. A productive agenda ensures important topics are sufficiently tackled and the meeting achieves its purpose by establishing continuity. The details of agendas might differ greatly, but the principles remain the same.

The agenda should set out the title or topic of the meeting along with date, time and place. Following this, begin the agenda by providing opportunity to acknowledge the absence of anyone able to attend. This section is usually called, "Apologies for Absence."

The first substantive item on the agenda–if the meeting is one of a series–is approval of the Minutes of the previous meeting. This is an opportunity to note any errors in the record of the last meeting. Ensure that the Minutes of the previous meeting are circulated in advance so that they can be reviewed by attendees.

The agenda should continue with "Matters Arising." This is an opportunity to note issues yet to be resolved from the previous meeting, report ongoing efforts and note progress or query lack of progress.

The agenda should then move to the main order of business. This is the prominent list of topics to be discussed at the meeting set out in a logical order. These topics might be announced in advance by the chairman, or suggested by the meeting's attendees. Be certain that you have collected all such suggestions before setting out the agenda. Often specific attendees will be designated to introduce each topic. Make sure you have a complete list of topics, as well as the names of the attendees who will introduce them. You might also be required to allocate time to topics so that the meeting does not run longer than necessary.

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At some meetings, a special presentation will be planned to review a topic in detail. The presentation may include visual aids or a demonstration of some kind. There is no fixed position on the agenda for such a presentation, although it will usually follow any discussion relating to the Minutes of the previous meeting. Make sure that it appears on the agenda.

Sometimes a guest speaker will be invited to attend a meeting–to respond to a topic in which he or she has expertise or to give a presentation. The timing of the guest speaker's participation will depend partly on scheduling convenience, but it too will usually follow the approval of the Minutes of the previous meeting and any related discussions. The guest speaker's name should appear on the agenda–and it can be helpful, where appropriate, to attach brief biographical or other relevant details.

The next topic, "Any Other Business" signals that the dominant part of the meeting is over. This is an opportunity for attendees to raise for discussion topics not included in the main order of business. And it can be important if a significant issue arises after the agenda for the meeting is circulated.

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If this is one of a series of meetings, the last item on the agenda should be setting the date, time and place of the next meeting. After this is agreed, the agenda can end and the meeting be adjourned.

When the agenda is fully set out, print copies and distribute them to attendees in advance of the meeting. Be prepared to deal with questions, corrections or suggestions for further topics after the first draft of the agenda is circulated. Sometimes a second draft will be required.