The Important Bookends of a Meeting

 ©Jeff Timmons/ Dollar Photo Club

So after reading my last post you implemented all the components to a great meeting (right?). Your meeting engaged people’s interest by compelling and mission-minded work, you spent time developing them, everyone had input, and you even spent time in laughter.

So now you’re wondering, “Is that enough for a great meeting?”

The answer, “Not quite.” While the components of the meeting I wrote about last week are critical to the actual meeting, a good meeting begins before you cover the first agenda item but doesn’t end when you complete the last agenda item.

A meeting worthy of people’s time and organization’s energy has two other parts. They’re the bookends to an excellent meeting. They are: 1) the advanced agenda and, 2) the meeting output document.

The Advance Agenda

The advance agenda adds value to the meeting in several ways. Here’s what an advanced agenda can do:

  • Signals to participants the importance of their engagement
  • Allows you as meeting leader to prepare
  • Provides more efficiency to the actual meeting time

For each of the meetings I lead, I email an advance agenda from 3-7 days in advance. It not only includes the agenda so participants know what will be covered, but I also attach supporting documentation. These are documents the meeting participants should read prior to the meeting they are attending.

By doing this, I’m able to spend less time in the meeting providing context for agenda items and less time discussing the elements of each agenda item. Why? Because the support documentation provided that same information.

There’s no doubt an advance agenda takes work. I’m always working a week out and my support documentation has to be at least 80% done. There are times that I tweak the agenda or supporting documentation after it goes out.

The Output Agenda

The agenda output allows clarity about decisions and provides assignments of work. A good meeting output document serves multiple purposes:

  • Provides “minutes” to the meeting. It reflects substantive conversations and decisions. It becomes an archive of what’s determined.
  • It clearly assigns who’s responsible for what action items.
  • It allows the meeting leader clarity about what was done and what’s to be done.
  • It provides a template for the next meeting.

Usually within 24 hours of our bi-weekly senior leadership team meeting I send out the meeting output. I ask participants to take five minutes to read through all the red comments and pay close attention to any bold red copy as that reflects assignments of work. I’ve provided a Sample Output here.

By simply taking notes throughout the meeting and then placing notes back into the agenda following the meeting (a 10-20 minute task), you’re able to make sure everyone gets an accurate review of the meeting. In order to do this work, I add thirty minutes to each of these meetings on my calendar so I can come back following the meeting and take care of the meeting output immediately.

Obviously, the participants are the recipients of your work. While they could all very well take their own notes and remember what they’re to do, this output acts as another level of accountability. And besides, as the meeting leader I benefit most. As noted above, I now have a written record of what I’m going to do, what others are to do, and I have a beginning place for my next meeting agenda.


These meeting bookends do take work as a leader. But I’ve found for my most important meetings, this is time well spent. I encourage you to try it out.

How could people reading through materials in advance and having clear bolded red post-meeting assignments make your organization a more effective place?


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