Your Online Meeting Agenda: The Power Tool You Need

Onnline Meeting Agendas Toastmasters 101

What does your online meeting agenda look like to a guest of your club?

What?  You don’t have one?

Can you imagine trying to cut down a tree with a power saw – without starting it up?  Absolutely ludicrous idea, isn’t it?  The power tool is designed to be used to solve a problem quickly and more easily than it would by hand.

Have you ever thought about your agenda as a power tool?  That maybe it can do a lot more for you than you expect?

Some people think of an agenda just as a check list, nothing more.

What value does an agenda bring to a club?  How does it improve the club member and the club guest experience?

Does it need to change for online meetings?

Today on the podcast, let’s chat about your agendas – in person and online meeting agendas.  What yours looks like, what you may need to change up, and how to use it out to recruit your club guests to become members.

INTRO

Are you looking for an effective way to learn public speaking and leadership skills?  We’ve got it at Toastmasters.  In one hour a week, you can learn what you need to change the world.  This is Toastmasters 101 podcast and I’m your host, Kim Krajci.

On-site meetings vs. online meeting agendas

A few years back, I tried an experiment with my lunchtime Toastmasters club.  Instead of printing an agenda, we opted to use the Free Toast Host agenda online, but we copied the information onto a whiteboard in our meeting room.

Saving money, saving paper, saving time – we thought.

What we found was that we were missing a critical part of our marketing to guests when they walked through our doors.

The meeting agenda provides more than just “who’s the Toastmaster and who’s the Table Topics Leader” information to the people in attendance.

Personnel at the Meeting

It’s a great introduction to the names of the people who are supposed to be in the room.  Now, granted, we do see people who sign up – or rather, we don’t see them.  Sometimes people miss meetings.  Either they forgot that they were signed up for a role, or perhaps, in your club, members are assigned club roles in sequence, and they didn’t go into the agenda to cancel.

Or they forgot.

It happens.

My inner perfectionist has been squashed regarding the agenda.  I no longer think of the agenda as written in stone.  Some people think of it as a roadmap.  I prefer to think of it as a set of written directions.  Sometimes the directions aren’t clear, sometimes they tell you to drive down a road that’s closed for construction, and sometimes, they’re just plain wrong.

We’re dealing with people and real lives here.  That’s why it’s important that we try to keep our commitments to present or be present, but when we can’t attend, it’s a kindness to the club members to make sure your name is removed from the agenda so that a replacement can be found before the meeting begins.

Because the agenda helps the guest put names and faces together.  In online meetings, we get to have labels – some of us add our meeting roles to our names. 

An agenda is more like a set of directions.  In this case, it’s very much so when you look at the timing aspect of the meeting.  When I was in a lunch meeting or an early work-day meeting, we had to keep close track of time because people had reasons to leave.  An agenda with times listed – even if they’re suggestions and not hard time limits  – helps keep the meeting moving on time.  When the club is really jamming with Table Topics, it can be hard for the leader to know when to quit – unless the time is noted on the agenda.  Instead of the timer having to be the bad cop and say, “We need to wrap this up,” everyone can see that it’s time to move on.

Let me take a quick detour here to say – it’s everyone’s responsibility to keep the meeting on time.  The agenda is the tool we use.  If I want to answer the Table Topics question but we’re almost at that time limit, I will either have to rush my answer or pass.

The Value of the Agenda

Another valuable aspect of the agenda is to help new members understand how our meetings flow.  Guests will not know and probably go with the flow – although, giving them a rundown of what we intend to do and how long we intend to do it is important – I’ll talk more about that in a minute – but new members often are feeling a bit at sea during their first meetings.  When does the Word of the Day get announced and when is the joke of the day told?  When I’m toastmaster of the day, they get mentioned in the order that I remember, which often is not the order on the agenda.  Or the word of the day gets forgotten until the middle of the meeting, which really annoys some of us more competitive types.

The agenda is a checklist.  It’s a tool that can work for us – especially when we’re online and can miss the subtle signals that experienced Toastmasters might give to the new members.  Or when we shout it out at the first time Toastmaster of the day – which I’m guilty of.  Sorry, Joy.

Onsite meetings – roles and personnel

Some clubs – such as TNT in Green in District 10 when they met in person –  used nameplates for roles in their meetings.  Other clubs have assigned seats for people who have roles.

Those are good ideas.  Anything that helps a guest or a new member understand the meeting roles and the people who are performing them helps!

The printed agenda for an onsite meeting will likely be a print out from Free Toast Host or Easy Speak.  I’ve seen so many varieties of printed agendas that I’m guessing that they allow for a variety of styles.  Yep, just checked.  Several options on Free Toast Host.  Included on the agenda will be all the speakers, the times, some other details as you wish, such as pictures of the members if they’ve been uploaded.

One thing that I thought was missing on one of the options I saw – the lack of club information.  I don’t know that knowing all the officers’ names is as important as the contact information and who to talk to about membership when you’re giving this document to a guest!

For the guest – the agenda should be a sales document!
  • Why should they join?
  • What do we offer?
  • Who should they contact about membership?

We’re missing our shot at putting critical and persuasive information into our guests’ hands when all we give them is a list of times and names of participants.  Agendas can help you with recruiting.

Before you say, “Oh, we give all that to them in the guest packet,” let me remind you that good guests are not going to peruse your guest packet during the meeting.  Until they have the motivation to open it, it’s useless.  But the agenda is going to be on the table right in front of them for an hour!

Toastmasters club mission statement

Ok, then some of the agendas I’ve seen have the Toastmasters club mission statement printed on it.  Isn’t that persuasive enough?

No.  A thousand times NO.  A mission statement is not designed to persuade anyone of anything!  According to Wikipedia,

A mission statement is a short statement of why an organization exists, what its overall goal is, identifying the goal of its operations: what kind of product or service it provides, its primary customers or market, and its geographical region of operation.

Important information, to be sure, but hardly persuasive.

When we can ask them what they need, what are their goals, then we can show them the answer to the classic question:  What’s in it for me?  That’s persuasion.  That’s what gets people to come back!  If your onsite meeting agenda doesn’t sell your club – change it.  

The onsite agenda needs to address the guest’s needs in some fashion.  At the very least, it’s a takeaway that might grace your guest’s desk or pocket for a while, and when they look at it again, they’ll be reminded about your club meeting and what they got out of it.  A tangible reminder and reinforcement of their experience.  Ok, so maybe they write their grocery list on it back of it, but hey!  They’ve looked at it again!

Online Meeting Agenda

Is your club struggling with the online format?  Are you losing members?  Are you finding new members?  How are they finding you?

One of my clubs is growing outside of city limits.  We’ve got members who live in other states.  They never would join Toastmasters but because their friends are in this club, they’re joining us.  These new Toastmasters started as guests and became members.  Did our agenda help?

Not really, because we don’t publish it.  But I think we should for 3 specific groups of people:  the guests, the new members, and the members who are in this meeting.

The Online Meeting 

Online meetings do have some benefits – I mentioned that you can rename yourself with your meeting role – sometimes your name gets lost when you type in “Grammarian/Ah Counter/Word of the Day” – just saying.

The online meeting agenda helps put people and their roles together.  Not sure who that guest speaker is?  There’s a name.  Don’t know who the Table Topics Leader is?  You’ll see that person right there.  And the guest or new member can look at names on an agenda and names onscreen and put them together.

But what if you’re meeting online?  How do people see the agenda?

If you’re using Free Toast Host, only members who are signed in can see any of our club meeting agendas.  That excludes all guests and those who can’t log in – and there are enough of them that I think this is a legit issue.

One club copies the agenda into the chat.  Empty slots are visible and I can scan down the list to see what role I can fill.  I signed up to attend a meeting and I was told I would get an agenda in an email.  I never did, but I tend to think that was my email’s fault, not the VPE’s.  Mass mailings often get kicked into my trash folder before I even see them.

Social Media Sharing

Should you post your agenda on your club’s Facebook or Instagram page?  What about Linked In?

How do you handle people who don’t want their names published?

When do you publish it?

Speaking as a social media marketer, I wonder if posting the online meeting agenda on FB would be of any value.  I love the idea of posting images with titles of speeches and maybe (with consent) the pictures of the speakers.  Or the theme of the meeting or, if you don’t mind giving away the surprise, the table topics topic.  That would be a fantastic vice president of education who managed that!

If you’re going to do that – let me suggest that you include the date and start time in large print.  And use the UTC code.  I’ve noted several announcements of upcoming meetings with themes or topics that interested me – but I had no idea when they were being held.  Some of them didn’t even have dates on them – they just say the say of the week.  With the weirdness that is Facebook’s algorithm, I may not be seeing it even the same week of the event.

Think I’m joking?  I went to a funeral that the announcement said “this Saturday.”  I was a week late.  Don’t assume that your reader is going to get this announcement on time!

How do you publish your agenda?

I think that maybe the online meeting agenda should be kept a little closer.  There are people who would rather not have their names published.  There are also those empty slots that might look discouraging to the potential guest.

But I do think it must go to the attendees before the meeting.  How do we do this?

Chat, PDF, Google Doc

Some clubs publish the agenda in the chat feature.  They’ll have to republish it for late arrivals or as amendments are made.

Other clubs share it as a PDF – which is an idea that I like, but again, there’s got to be someone on the ball and complete it on the fly and then post it in the chat or document sharing option of the online platform.

Another very timely way is to share the agenda on a public Google document.  Changes can be made easily and anyone can see them who has the link.

Ok, I’m going to admit, my clubs don’t practice what I’m preaching here.  Both clubs try to fill the agendas through our Free Toast Host websites, and then, at the beginning of the meetings, fill in the missing roles.  I’m expected to write down the roles as the presidents review the agenda.

Not to sound like a discontent, but I don’t like this.  I think we miss out on the value of the agenda.

The Online Meeting Agenda Creates Expectations

I think guests like agendas for a variety of reasons.

They can look at it and know this is what to expect.  Since we’re not sitting side by side and can’t whisper questions to each other, guests might not get the answers they’re looking for – especially when they’re trying to determine if Toastmasters is for them.  Can you imagine a guest coming in and watching 3 new member speeches – and wondering if Toastmasters can help them grow because obviously, these speakers aren’t very good.  An agenda can and should indicate what speech project is being presented.  If a guest sees 3 Level 1 Ice Breaker speeches, then they know that they’re watching beginners.

For the new members, the online agenda helps identify the places they can participate in the meeting and practice those online meeting skills.  Of course, this does apply to the on-site meetings, but here it’s critical in a more focused way.  In the onsite meeting, a new member can watch a member serve in a role that the newbie hasn’t filled yet – one that’s not obvious.  Timer is obvious.  Grammarian – not so much.  You can’t see someone online taking notes.  You can’t look over someone’s shoulder.  But you can privately chat with someone who’s filling the role and learn how to do it.  We are an organization that promotes mentoring – our new members rightly expect us to fill that role.

Agenda Power

The agenda isn’t just about the schedule.  It’s a tool for success.  When you fill in the details of your speech project – including your introduction – you’re helping out the club.  The Toastmaster of the Day benefits with an intro, you get a better audience, your audience is ready for your speech.  Intros are always win-win-win.

Does your club use themes?  Are they posted on your agenda?  I asked to speak at a different club to get some speeches done before the June 30th deadline this year and walked into a meeting with a theme.  Fortunately, the theme was “summer” and my speech was about baseball, so I was good, but that could have gone very wrong.  

Do you recognize last week’s winning prepared speaker, Table Topics winner, or best evaluator?  If your guest won and you mentioned that their name would be on next week’s agenda, might they be more motivated to come back?

Build a Great Meeting – next week

Whether the club meets in person, online, or a hybrid of both, the agenda can make a meeting – a week in advance.  

There are some clubs that end their meetings with an open call for people to fill up the roles.  Other clubs have a practice of assigning roles in a sequence to give everyone a speaking slot – this is particularly a smart practice in a club where either there are too many or too few open speech project slots.  

Either way, getting the agenda filled is important to the meetings.  Leaving it to the last minute means that the members are filing roles when they’re not prepared.  I see this often – I fill in a speaking slot with no preparation, which is good for me to learn impromptu speaking – but it’s not best for the club.  We need people to be committed to improvement and that happens only with proper preparation.

Here’s how you can help.  After the podcast ends, how about you go to your club’s website and sign up for the next seven meetings?  Take each of the roles – toastmaster of the day, prepared speaker, Table Topics leader, general evaluator, speaker evaluator, timer, grammarian – and sign up for each.  If each member did this, you’ll find you have better meetings.  And your club officers will be a lot less stressed.  And your guests will see people who are committed to improving their own skills and making the meeting successful.

Wrap it up, Kim

Our music is from incompetech.filmmusic.io

Toastmasters 101 is a podcast production of Toastmasters District 10.

Now’s the time of year that many countries see their students go back to school.  This mindset gets into adults’ minds too.  You might know a person who is considering joining Toastmasters but just isn’t convinced that it’s worth the money and effort right now.  How about you invite him to come to a few more meetings and talk about their goals.  Once we know what people are looking for, we may be able to help them discover how Toastmasters can help them, too.

Or you could suggest they listen to the Toastmasters 101 podcast.  You can find us on the web at Toastmaster 101 dot net, or we can be found on almost all podcast player apps.  We’re trying to get on some more international platforms, so let me know if there’s a place where you think we should be found.

Talk to you again on Toastmasters 101 podcast.