Create an agenda-building ‘cheat sheet’

The monthly department meeting is next week, and you’ve already heard from four people who want to appear on the agenda. You expect a few more to chime in.

It’s your job to create an agenda that affords adequate time for each item, as well as to make sure the meeting runs smoothly and ends on time.

Your best approach? Annette Marquis, co-owner of TRIAD Consulting, recommends building an adjustable meeting-agenda template in Excel.

This simple worksheet automatically manages start and end times, she says. When you add a speaker at the last minute, time allotments for other items adjust automatically.

Here’s how to build one:

  • Create your title and headings (location, date, etc.) for the top of your template.

Enter column headings, beginning with “Start,” “End” and “Time” (or “Length”). You might also wish to add columns titled “Item” and “Presenter.”

  • Select the Start, End and Time cells in the worksheet’s first row.
  • Click Cells on the Format menu.
  • Click Time in the Category list on the Number tab.
  • Click 1:30 p.m. in the Time list, and click OK, so the cells will display time entries.
  • Click the first cell in the End column and enter this formula: =IF(ISBLANK(C8),””,A8+C8). This formula will calculate end times for each agenda item, based on how long each item will take.
  • Click the cell in the second row of the Start column, and enter this formula: =IF(ISBLANK(B8),””,B8)
  • Copy (or fill) the formula in cell B8 to cell B9.

Before adding formulas to subsequent rows, test the work sheet. Enter a start time in the first cell under “Start.” Then, enter a time value under “Time.”

Example: If the meeting start time is 2 p.m., and the first agenda item will take 20 minutes, enter 2:00 p.m. and 0:20. You should see 2:20 p.m. appear in the “End” cell of the first row and in the “Start” cell of the second row.