How do you create an agenda for a virtual meeting?

It’s a super lovely question to ask. Because showing up to a meeting without an agenda is kind of like going to the grocery store without a list. You end up with a lot of Doritos and Oreos and things that might feel good in the moment but aren’t necessarily too healthy for the productivity of your time.  

My job is to help some of the smartest  organizations and universities on the planet   have saved time by having more productive, engaging, connecting meetings. In this video I’m going to not hold back. I’m going to share everything I know about how to brilliantly set an agenda in a virtual meeting. Here we go.  

In this video, I’m going to share 4 different  techniques and ways that you can set an agenda. One will immediately save you time. One will make your meetings more connecting and a little bit more human especially virtually as we’ve lost this organic connection. The other will help you save time assuming that you don’t have a lot of time to prep an agenda. It’ll be a technique to live  set an agenda right in the moment. And the final idea that I’ll share will help you design agendas and meeting structures that are far more engaging than the typical boring meeting that maybe even should have been an email. 

Number 1 is this idea of Intention

In order to create an agenda, I believe that you have to get really crystal clear about what your intention is. Now, I’m a little bit of a nerd and uh the latin root of the word intention or… we’ll call this guy the nerd. The latin root of the word “intention” actually means to stretch or stretching. I love that because an intention is very different than an objective or a purpose to a meeting. Because an intention should stretch to include the needs of everybody in the meeting.Right, How often have you been in a meeting and the intention or the objective was something that your boss wanted or something that as the leader you wanted? Then your people were there to please you not necessarily because they were really gung-ho about that idea. The idea of an intention is something that stretches over the needs of the whole. That requires some empathy to think about, “What do people actually need or want to get out of this meeting?” As the leader the… this first idea is to get clear about your intention and share with the group. Then the advanced version is to then invite the group to kick out and share their intentions for that meeting. If you can do that in a written way, that will help live create your laundry list of things that the group collectively wants to get out. And that’s really important. What the group collectively wants to get out. When you acknowledge that and invite that into the room. The interest in participating and contributing to the success of that meeting goes way up. Whereas if it’s just your objective and you’re there and your mission, maybe people will follow along, right? But when you incorporate their needs, something changes. Let clear about your intention, share it at the beginning of the meeting and invite them… whoever else is in the meeting to follow suit and share that as well.

Number 2 plays on this idea that in virtual meetings we lose all the organic connection and conversation

That happens before a meeting and after meeting. Sometimes those side conversations can be the most productive parts of the meeting. Sometimes those conversations when you’re walking down the hall with somebody are when the decision is made to shift your product service lesson plan whatever it is in a slightly different more beneficial direction.

In virtual world I invite people to build and set the culture that there’s always an unofficial start and an unofficial end to meetings. I know that oftentimes we get booked up and we click from Zoom link to Microsoft Teams link to Zoom link and back and forth and we’re teleporting throughout the day. If we can build in the culture that there’s some buffer time where people are welcome to hop on early and people will be there and people are welcome to stay a little bit after and people will be there and we don’t cram our schedules so overlapped. It creates a little bit of time for one that organic connection to maybe get started. Also, for some of those off the record conversations there’s something really important and human about having about meeting outside of meeting time. I don’t know exactly what the psychology behind that is but over and over again, I’ve seen this improve the humanity and connection and actual morale and culture and energy in a meeting. It’s creating that unofficial start and unofficial end. Unofficial start should immediately and purposefully engage people.

One of the things that I often do as an unofficial  start is we’ll hold up a question to the camera and just invite people either in the chat or   verbally to unmute and share their responses to that question. And just right away whoever’s there doesn’t matter if there’s 2 people or 10 people. Immediately starts the conversation and avoids that sort of like awkward dead time where people are just waiting for the meeting to start. Because typically we reward people for being late by waiting for them. The unofficial start says, “No, no. Just kick it off and start rolling with some immediate and purposeful engagement. That unofficial start unofficial end. 

The third technique is a way to live set your agenda

This is assuming that you’re like walking to a meeting or you’re doing your remote commute from the kitchen to the office or to the living room and you’re clicking on your zoom link and you haven’t had time to prep an agenda. Even though we know that meeting 101 always spend time to communicate out and spell out an agenda before that meeting happens. But that’s an ideal world and most of the time we don’t have a chance to do that. This technique to live set in agenda is a fantastic way to incorporate the group’s intentions and needs and doesn’t take any time. Which means it’ll save you time. All you got to do in Zoom and I did this recently with a handful of universities and a couple companies which you almost certainly have heard of. Their minds were like blown a little bit at this method. It’s so, so simple.

All you need to do is at the beginning of the meeting just state your intention like we talked about a minute ago. State your intention for the meeting and then ask the group to reflect on their intention and maybe ask them to reflect on an outcome-focused intention. “By the end of this meeting, I would love to blank.” And have them type that into the chat but don’t press enter. Type it into the chat but don’t press enter. Give the group a solid minute or so to do that. You know one of the best ways to avoid awkward silence virtually is to create productive silence. Give them a solid minute of just quiet to write in their intention outcome focus and tension of what they want. Then on the count of 3, 2, 1, have them all press enter and submit that intention. What you did just did is live set your agenda. If you wanted to you could actually go   one by one through people’s comments or through people’s chats and hit on those items. That is your agenda. What a beautiful way to focus your energy and time and be really purposeful in a meeting without necessarily all the prep that usually goes into planning for an agenda.

The other reason that I invite people to hold and press enter all at the same time is typically when we’re meeting we reward people who think fastest and talk first we overvalue extraversion. With this method you not only avoid groupthink, you also avoid overvaluing extraversion because you essentially randomize who is first in the agenda. It’s a beautiful way to just create an equality of perspectives and include everybody’s voice right away at the meeting. And that idea of including everybody’s voice transitions us into our fourth and final technique to set really phenomenal agendas for virtual meetings. That is design for contribution not just consumption.

There are so many meetings and I’m so shocked some of the most brilliant organizations on the planet, when I look at their meetings or I sit in as a fly on the wall to give them feedback about how they meet how they can meet more effectively. I am shocked over and over and over again, their meetings are so consumption-based. It’s a report out. It’s either the leader just talking for 80% of the time and then saying hey anybody have any thoughts feedback etcetera, which is a good way to create awkward pauses or random responses random rabbit holes versus… Even if it’s a report on everybody’s reporting out. There’s still a level of consumption. You’re always just listening to somebody else. My invite is to think of a paper shredder or think of these two words rather, consumption and contribution as a paper shredder. And take your meeting agenda. Your meeting agenda and what you are going to be doing in that time and put it through that paper shredder. And if less than 40% is contribution then I would say your meeting is not actually designed to be as productive as it  possibly could. It’s not designed to include as many perspectives and ideas. It’s not inviting collaboration. Even at the beginning of a meeting you say, “I want this to be a conversation. I want this to be collaborative.” 

If you don’t take deliberate times, if you don’t actually script in and structure in places for people to contribute in the chat, in breakouts, verbally one at a time, via a quick poll to gauge everybody’s response if you’re in a larger group. Gauge a quick visual poll, this is contribution. Just saying, “Hey, is this meeting your needs on a scale of absolutely to totally not this should have been an email, where are you at?” Just a simple little thumb-o-meter check with the group like that is a way to invite some meaningful contribution. Designing your meetings for contribution and just going through a check.

Last but not the least is your Agenda

One little hack or trick to ensure that your meetings are designed for contribution is when you look at your agenda, are there at least a few questions in the agenda? Not like things you want to state or say. But are there questions that help people not only connect to each other but also connect to the purpose of why you’re there. You may want to report the quarterly KPIs to the group. Fine, do that. But maybe consider just before that saying, “How do you feel like as a team, we hit our KPIs. Before I show the data, before I share. Just based on how the last 90 days went for you, how do you feel we hit our KPIs. Or what did you notice about that we did really well last quarter? You see how that is a  really valuable conversation to have, to highlight best practices from the last quarter before seeing numbers and data and it also invites people’s contribution and perspective. 

When people are asked for them to share their experience, their perspective, their knowledge. Not only does it add value to the group and their meeting but it also says to that person, “You are valued.” When people feel valued they stick around, they stay in that organization, they love working in that organization a whole lot more.

This and a whole bunch of other tips on virtual meetings lives here: While I get to do this for organizations all over the world, I also have a mission to make these ideas accessible for free to all. I invite you to ruthlessly steal misinterpret all of these 4 concepts.   From getting really clear about your intention and stretching it over the needs to the idea of an unofficial start and an unofficial end over to this idea of live setting in agenda via the chat to avoid groupthink and all the way to this concept of using consumption versus contribution as a paper shredder to help you design better meetings. My hope is that this helps you not fall asleep in meetings and maybe even fall in love with your meetings. 

I’m Chad Littlefield. This was a blast hanging out in cyberspace with you. Have an awesome day. Oh here’s a bonus quote. If you’re hanging out at the outro,

“Nothing shapes our lives so much as the questions we ask refuse to ask or never dream of asking.”



No time for a workshop?

Use this FREE “Getting Started" Kit.

You’ll get a downloadable PDF that has:

  21engaging questions that build trust

  12 creative uses for the questions

  A link to video tutorials for group activities

  ✓ A 10-page excerpt of Ask Powerful Questions: Create Conversations that Matter by Will and Chad

You have successfully joined the movement of people around the globe filling their communities and organizations with conversations that matter! After you confirm your subscription, you'll receive a PDF with 12 powerful questions and some ideas on how to use them. #askpowerfully