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  • Pamela Lippitt

Choosing the Right Agenda Style

We all take meeting agendas for granted. But do we take them seriously? Depending on the circumstances there are different style agendas that create an engaging, clear, and content driven meeting. Especially during this time of zoom meetings, it is up to the meeting chair to make it a worthwhile use of time.

First things First: Before you decide to schedule a meeting figure out them real cost. You can do a simple calculation on the website Calculators.org. For example, a meeting of 10 people with an average salary of $80k for 90 minutes costs you $600 in staff time every time you meet. If you meet once a week, just because its on the schedule, that over $31,000 in wages.

Choosing the right Agenda is key. Here are a sample of different agenda models to make sure your meeting is effective.

The Traditional Agenda- This is the one we all know about. Approve minutes, Reports, Old Business and New Business. And if anyone is still paying attention, Good and Welfare. We have all rolled our eyes at these agendas. We know the important parts are way down this list and chances are we might never get to the important issues at hand. As you can tell, it is not my favorite agenda style.

The Consensus Agenda – This is a great type of agenda that allows you to create a hi-bred of reports and involvement in important issues. This agenda groups routine business and reports into one agenda item and can be approved in one vote. The chair creates the list of items in the consent portion. This can include minutes, committee reports, updates on information in previous meetings and other routine information. This should be part of the agenda that is sent out in advance of a meeting giving people time to read and review the material. Then at then at the actual meeting, only one vote is taken. This can save 10-30 minutes of a meeting and leave time for the important issues at hand. The one caveat to this is that any board member can ask for an item to be taken out of the consensus portion of the meeting and return to the regular part of the agenda. You should ask people to do this ahead of time, but it does not have to be done.

The Bell Curve Agenda- Many of us have gone into a meeting as the chair knowing there are difficult decisions to be made. You can hear the pulse of the meeting as you move toward that item. Most of the time, it is part of new business which means that people are not paying attention to other critical issues. And, it means, the meeting will probably end with members angry that not enough time was given to the “issue” or they have not had their own say. In my experience these kinds of meetings end with people yelling at each other in corners of the room, or the parking lot.

A Bell Curve agenda is a great way to plan for contentious discussions. In this agenda model, you start with announcements and the progresses to easier decision making and then harder decision making. In this model, late comers do not need to catch up and early leavers still feel they have contributed. The meeting ends with announcements and information about upcoming issues. In the Bell Curve, everyone concludes on a good note.

A few extra tips:

1. All meetings should start with approving minutes of the previous meeting. Make sure you circulate minutes of the previous meeting in advance. Maybe even send them out again a couple hours before the meeting and let people know, politely, to read them ahead.

2. Meeting leaders should plan to arrive 15-30 minutes early to make sure that the room is set up correctly, technology is working, and they have a change to sit a breath before others arrive.

3. Meetings can be great, but follow-up is critical. At the end of each item or the end of the meeting review action items and just who is responsible for the next step.


Watch for future posts on

· Leading meetings

· Setting the scene

· Difficult committee members

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