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How can we get people to come prepared to a meeting? The secret is in the agenda

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We’ve all hosted those frustrating meetings where we have spent time preparing documents and updates for people to read in advance, only to find that they show up unprepared, claiming that they thought we would “talk them through it”. The meeting is then side-tracked getting everyone up to speed and time runs out to achieve the original objectives you set.

The bad news is that there are always going to be some lazy and disorganised people out there who will never be prepared. The good news is that the majority of people want to be prepared and will be happy to do so if you make it easy for them. The secret is in the setting of the agenda. In this blog, we’ll be exploring some tips for ensuring that you are able to keep your meetings on track with well-prepared participants.


Keep pre-reading relevant and, if it has to be long, include a summary or highlighted sections to make it easy for participants to be prepared.

Overload the participants with pre-reading. If it is overwhelming and irrelevant, they won’t get through it.


Give participants a chance to input into the agenda, together with the reasons they want to include an item. This will keep them accountable. If you choose not to include their item, explain to them why you’ve left it out.

Impose a broad agenda on the participants without details and reasons. They are less likely to be prepared for a meeting with an agenda they feel no connection to.

Agenda items

Include specific agenda items, which are clearly linked to the purpose of the meeting, phrased as questions to be answered. – eg “How implementable is the draft proposed leave policy?” This has the added benefit of making it easier to identify an item as complete when the question has been answered. A well-worded agenda item can act as a hook to pique participants’ interest and ensure they come prepared for the discussion.

State agenda items as vague – eg “leave policy”. This will leave participants wondering about the uncertainty and making stories in their minds about what exactly the issue is and what is expected of them.

Meeting purpose

Link the agenda items back to the WHY, the purpose of the meeting.

Include agenda items that aren’t directly related to the purpose of the meeting. You’ll confuse the participants and give them excuses to tune out from the preparation process as it’s easier for them to disregard it as irrelevant.


Expressly tell them exactly what you expect them to do to prepare for the meeting.

Attach documents or simply send an agenda without explaining what participants need to do in advance. If they have to go looking for what’s expected of them, they won’t make the effort.

Complete information

If the agenda item is to provide an update, DO circulate the update earlier and ensure the agenda item specifically states that it will be discussed at the meeting with a limited time for questions about it. This will ensure they read it in advance and come prepared with questions.

State “update” on an agenda without pre-readings or specific instructions on what will be expected in the meeting.


State WHO is responsible for each item and HOW LONG you have allocated for it. Be realistic about the time allocation for each item. This will ensure you Not so great meeting agendas overload your agenda and that the outcomes are achievable within the timeframe.

Leave agenda items without an owner or a timeframe. Items can then drag on and fill your meeting with vague undirected discussions.

Having a clear agenda enables participants to engage in advance and come prepared for the meeting. It also allows introverts to be clear on what is expected of them so that they have time to reflect and be ready to contribute to the meeting discussions.

If you have followed the first ingredients for effective meetings – a clear purpose and the right people in the room, investing some time in a transparent, well-framed agenda will save time and energy in the meeting by ensuring everyone is well-prepared with clear expectations for what you need from them.

  • Bec Ordish avatar
    Bec Ordish
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