What to do Before a Meeting

A large part of what makes a meeting successful occurs in the preparation phase. Although it may vary by committee, department or unit, there are seven key responsibilities expected of chairs or team leaders before a meeting takes place. Each is explained below in detail.

  1. Clarify purpose and aims
  2. Create an agenda
  3. Schedule the meeting
  4. Post and send out agenda
  5. Circulate supporting information
  6. Make room arrangements
  7. Arrange for recorder

1. Clarify purpose and aims

A clearly stated purpose or aim describes the key decisions that must be made or actions that must occur at the meeting. The purpose of a meeting should be stated at the top of the meeting agenda.

Some example purpose statements might look something like:

  • Share best practices in graduate recruitment and identify opportunities to recruit collaboratively
  • Identify priority goals for next year
  • Examine and update admission criteria
  • Decide how to get feedback from faculty, staff and students

Everything else on the agenda including topics, times, and presenters are activities that, taken together, will accomplish the aims. A weekly or monthly staff meeting may not require aims beyond the agenda items.

For more information, see: Clarifying aims and purposes.

2. Create an agenda

An agenda is a framework that guides and supports the meeting. Agendas are like roadmap, blueprints, flight plans, and recipes. An agenda helps focus the group's work toward achieving desired outcomes. Good agenda items provide focus and structure for a meeting.

Some example agenda items might look something like:

  • Report on fall enrollments
  • Identify members for ad hoc space committee
  • Generate list of possible solutions for the xyz problem with pros and cons of each

For more information, see: Creating an Actionable Agenda

3. Schedule the meeting

Scheduling a meeting involves much more than just making a list of attendees. It requires identifying key people who must attend and either finding times that work for them or notifying them of the meeting's time and location. Once an optimal date and time are agreed upon, a meeting location can be selected. (Choice meeting locations sometimes dictate meeting dates.)

Other scheduling activities might include some of the following:

  • Create a scheduling grid
  • Create an electronic mailing list at the start
  • Keep a sample E-mail handy to use as a double-check
  • Draft the final meeting notification early on, with date, time and location added later.

P.J. Barnes, from the University's Office of Quality Improvement schedules multiple meetings every week involving the chancellor and provost, vice chancellors, associate vice chancellors, deans, directors, chairs, and other campus leaders. P.J. has a system for these hard-to-schedule meetings.

See P.J.'s article, Scheduling Meetings (Word Document)

4. Post and send out agenda

An agenda should be sent to participants ahead of time to help them prepare to participate. There are legal requirements for posting meeting notices. All campus committees created by rule or official act are subject to certain Wisconsin open meeting laws. For more on Wisconsin law click here.

For departmental and standing committee meetings you should do the following:

  1. Provide at least 24-hour advance notice of a meeting via a central bulletin board. (Newspaper announcements not required.) In limited cases, 2 hours advance notice would be allowed.

  2. Allow public access including newspaper reporters and others (E.g. anyone in the department could attend the open portion of the of the Executive Committee meeting).

  3. Allow committees to go into closed sessions (members Conly) to deliberate on personnel matters, although votes must be taken in open session.

E-mail voting is not allowable under the current law, nor are electronic discussions. Open meeting laws do not apply to advisory committees or ad hoc task groups.

For questions, contact John Dowling, Senior University Legal Council, jdowling@vc.wisc.edu.

5. Circulate supporting information

You should always circulate supporting materials to participants in advance of the meeting. However, deciding how much information to send in advance can present a conundrum. Some people won't look at anything prior to the meeting and some will conscientiously read all the supporting information they can. Here are some things to consider when deciding what and how much to send out ahead of time: 



1.    Do provide enough information before the meeting so people arrive with a general familiarity and framework of the issues to be discussed.

1.    Don't assume that everyone wants or needs his or her own copy of large reports. Two people can often easily share a copy in a meeting. This can save paper and staff time resources.

2.    Do provide web site URL's instead of paper documents where possible.

2.    Don't send documents/materials without some explanation of how they relate to the agenda (if this is not clear from the agenda).

3.    Do extract information in a succinct outline or summary whenever possible to make it unnecessary for members to read long or ponderous documents.

3.    Don't send anything that is so complex or technical that it requires someone to interpret it. Hand that out at the meeting (or parts of it) and explain what it means.

6. Make room arrangements

Ensure that room arrangements (including refreshments) are made. Room arrangements can make a big difference in how well a meeting goes or doesn't go. Most important is that participants can see and hear each other.

Although a "U" shape arrangement or open square is ideal for smaller groups of 20 or less, it is not usually a good choice for larger groups. The yawning hole in the middle makes communication difficult. A herring bone arrangement of tables is usually better for these larger groups.

[See "Room Arrangement for A Successful Meeting."]

7. Arrange for recorder

The recorder takes notes on paper, laptop or on flip charts. Meeting notes should be distributed as soon after the meeting as possible. The longer the lag, the less confidence the members have that their investment will result in action.

For groups that meet regularly, the recorder is responsible for keeping previous meeting notes and agendas in one place where they can be referenced later such as from a notebook or shared network drive, etc.

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