Meetings: Ditch the Agenda, Open with The Executive Summary

In nearly every workshop I teach, the topic of “the open” comes up for deep discussion. My colleagues and I focus a great deal of time and attention to teaching people how to engage their audience, right from the first moments of the presentation or discussion. And one of the biggest mistakes we see people make is to start off with what we call the “agenda based open.”

Agendas are fine. We are not declaring war on agendas. In fact, for many people a good agenda is critical. Some people will choose not to attend without a good agenda distributed ahead of time. But while agendas have their place as an organizational tool, they are not enough to effectively open the presentation or meeting.

We coach people to open with what we call an “executive summary based open.” We believe this is a far more effective way of engaging your audience and driving a good outcome.

What is the difference? The difference is huge.

An agenda based open is like a table of contents. It tells the audience the macro areas that will be discussed. Nice. Helpful, to a point. But far from enough to fully engage the audience.

The executive summary based open does more than give the table of contents. It gives the 60 or 90 second summary of the whole story. It provides the end result/recommendation/proposal. It tells the audience, specifically, where you are taking them.

Here is a quick comparison.

Good morning everyone. Today we are going to cover three areas: last year’s performance, an overview of this year’s initiatives, and a recommendation on what we should be thinking about for the fourth quarter of this year.

This is the classic agenda based open. Not very specific. I don’t know if this is going to be good news or bad… if you are asking for anything specific… if there are problems or opportunities… I have no idea what the tone of the conversation is going to be.

Contrast that with an executive summary based open:

Good morning everyone. As some of you may know, our financial performance in 2017 was strong. We outperformed the market by 6%, grew our market share by 12%, and had our strongest financial performance in a decade. Therefore we came into 2018, with two major growth initiatives, as we attempted to leverage last year’s success. However, our growth initiatives this year have not generated the desired results, so I am going to be proposing a modest increase in our marketing budget for the 4th quarter. I will be asking you today to approve an extra $250,000 in budget, which includes one new full time marketing associate.

Do you see the difference? One is general, and one is very specific. One leaves all the important details until later, the other shares specifics right up front. Anyone who has ever worked in the military has probably heard the term “B.L.U.F.” Bottom Line Up Front. Your audience will love you for it. No one likes having their time wasted, and the more senior your audience is, the more true that statement becomes.

The agenda based open isn’t wrong. It just isn’t good enough. Don’t waste people’s time. Get to the point, quickly.

Good luck!

Does your team:
– Take too long to make decision?
– Fail to ask for what it wants or needs from you?
– Make things too complicated?
– Deliver unconvincing or disorganized presentations?
– Have new hires who are unprepared to communicate in the workplace?

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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.