When you go to a restaurant, you expect your experience to be organized and in order. You expect things such as timing, delivery and taste to be done right. Imagine sitting down to a multi-course dinner and the kitchen is falling behind, the food portions are too large, or an important ingredient was left off your plate. These shortcomings would surely not lead to a pleasant experience, and you would probably be left unfulfilled and asking yourself what it is that you just sat through.

In association management, proper execution and delivery of a different kind of menu is key to an association’s success. This menu is known as the formal agenda. To avoid feeling lost and unorganized during the meeting, continue reading as I take you through the different components of the agenda with tips on how to ensure a successful meeting.

Formal Agenda (The Menu)

The formal agenda is where you will find all the pertinent information for the meeting, much like the food menu at a restaurant. It is important to include room location, so your board members know where they are going; meeting times such as the call to order, breaks, and conclusion; dates and location of future meetings; and the list of agenda items. To ensure that the meeting is seamless, these things need to be written on the agenda so that board members are aware how the meeting is to unfold. Similarly, diners at a restaurant are interested to know what they will be eating and when to expect their courses. If you would like to learn more about the formal agenda and when and what to send with it, visit here.

Agenda Items (The Meal Courses)

It is fair to say that board members tend to be the most focused at the midway point of a meeting. At the beginning of the meeting, they are still settling in and getting adjusted. After a couple agenda items, they should be raring to go and fully prepared to have a successful meeting. Therefore, ease board members into the meeting by starting off with a light topic (i.e. an aperitif) and ensure that the larger, meatier topics be located in the middle of the agenda, scattered among the breaks. Similarly, towards the end, board members begin to tire and become more easily distracted, so conclude the meeting with smaller items (i.e. digestif) to ensure that items that require important decisions have already been made.

Breaks (The Palette Cleanser)

If you are participating in an all-day in-person meeting, it is a long period of time to expect board members to sit and stay focused without a refresher. To understand the difference between in-person and teleconference meetings, read more here. Because in-person meetings tend to be longer, it is important to devote some time during the meeting for members to stretch their legs, grab some water, and attend to any obligations outside the board meeting. A good amount of time to allot for these breaks is fifteen minutes; enough time to refresh the mind, but not too long to lose their train of thought. You can position these breaks when you expect board members may begin to lose interest, for instance, after guest presentations or prior to large agenda items. You can think of these breaks as the palette cleanser of a multi-course meal. That is, it allows members to refresh their minds to prepare for the rest of the meeting ahead.

Depending on how long your meeting is, be prepared to work through lunch, if required. If you do decide to have a working lunch, make sure that the food being served does not require too much handling. For example, serve sandwiches and wraps with soup, as opposed to a piece of stuffed chicken breast with noodles. It is also important to ensure that the items discussed during a working lunch do not require extra papers.

Other Business (Dessert)

Agendas are pre-prepared based on items from previous meetings, recurring items (visit this blog to find out how to create a critical path for recurrent meeting items) and new topics that arose prior to the agenda being finalized. Once the agenda has been finalized, it is sometimes tricky to fit in extra items at the last minute, and this also does not account for topics or questions board members may have. It is important to include time at the end of each meeting to discuss new items collectively as a board before the next meeting. Have you never heard the expression, “always save room for dessert”? This saying is just as important when structuring your agenda.

Formal Agenda vs. Menu

While there are some clear similarities between an agenda and a menu, the meeting agenda is obviously not a direct comparison to a dinner menu for a couple of reasons. For one, when in a board meeting, items can, and probably will, be shifted up or down due to the natural flow of the meeting. This is perfectly okay and, quite honestly, to be expected. However, this would not bode well with diners if they suddenly received their dessert when they were expecting a filet mignon. Secondly, when it comes to making a motion, the board must come to a collective agreement. If a unified decision cannot be reached, the board would have to discuss until resolution has been met. Nowadays, substitutions are often made to cater to a dietary preference or restriction. However, during a meeting of the board, someone cannot order salmon if halibut is the only fish course being served.

As you can see, there are some important things to consider when creating your board meeting agenda to allow for a seamless meeting. The agenda should always include pertinent information, logical placement of the items, time for refreshment, and opportunity at the end of the meeting for extra discussion to ensure that you have a successful session.

Do not risk a poor dinner service by preparing a poorly constructed menu, but leave the diners coming back for more.