Setting the Agenda and the Takeaway: #4 of 28 Big Ideas from the World of Coaching

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

Start by setting an agenda and a takeaway. By @RoadTripwithRaj, from Unsplash.

This article is fifth in a multi-part series that adapts and excerpts my entire book, The Coach Within: 28 Big Ideas for Engaging the Power of Your Own Wisdom, Creativity, and Choices*(Everything Goes Media, 2017).


4. Setting the Agenda and the Takeaway

“A human being is a deciding being.”

Victor Frankl

One of the first points of responsibility for a coaching client is to bring a session’s agenda and takeaway. The coach does not decide, direct, fix, or plan the course to a client’s better life. That is 100% the choice of the client. Together the pair works on the items the client names and brings — the agenda (What do you want to work on?) and the takeaway (What do you want to get out of the session?).

So, when you’re in need of a coaching session with yourself, start with the agenda. What would you like to work on? Once you have it, make sure you understand correctly. Reflect it back to yourself. Does it sound right? Is it clear?

For example:

  • Hmm. Today I want to work on why I never work out.

  • So, Self, you want to work on why you never work out, is that it?

  • Actually, I guess it’s about getting out of bed early enough to work out.

  • Ah, you want to work on getting out of bed early enough to work out?

  • Yeah, that’s it.

See? Defining the agenda and confirming that it is the thing ensures that the work gets started in the right direction. Don’t assume your own agenda and don’t judge it. Acknowledge what it truly is and be with it.

But an agenda is not enough for a typical coaching session. The coach will want to know what the client wants to take away from the session and, as with the agenda, verify it.

For example:

  • What would you like to take away from today’s session?

  • I want to figure out a title for my new book.

  • OK. At the end of this session you want to have a title for your new book?

  • Yeah! I really need a good title. Come to think of it, input from others on the title makes more sense. What if we brainstorm some good titles?

  • Nice. You’d like to use our session to brainstorm a list of possible titles for your new book?

  • Yes, at least five. That will be enough for me to show others and get their opinions.

  • Let’s do it. Five titles.

More clarity and direction. The agenda and the takeaway serve to frame the session, give it some parameters. Not only do these pieces help focus the work you’re doing and head you in the direction of some desired result, but they reinforce taking responsibility for what you want. You decide what in your life needs attention and you decide what you want.


What can an agenda item be?

In short, anything. Any area of your life, your dreams, your problems, your goals. Something that bothers you, something that inspires you, something that needs to be fixed, something you just happened to notice and want to explore. Name it and see how it sounds. Reflect it back to yourself. Good to go? Then proceed. Not quite right? Refine it and check back in with yourself.


What about a takeaway?

Anything, really, but examples may best demonstrate: Takeaways can be exploring a topic, releasing emotion, fleshing out a plan, making a decision, brainstorming possibilities, getting clarity, coming up with action steps.

Let’s say you have an agenda of:

  • My paycheck isn’t going far enough.

Possible takeaways could be:

  • I want to figure out what I’m spending all my money on.

  • I want to brainstorm some ways I can bring in additional income.

  • I want to practice asking my boss for a raise.

  • I want to create a plan for finding a new job.


Your Coaching To-Do’s

⎕ Practice setting an agenda and a takeaway in different settings today (pick 2): Sitting in meditation. During a walk. In your journal. While in a work or home situation.

⎕ At the beginning of the session with yourself, name and confirm the agenda, and follow that right up with selecting and confirming the takeaway. Then, sit in stillness, take your walk, write in your journal, or proceed as inspired in your daily life.

⎕ Notice what happens next after the agenda and takeaway are chosen. See where your active or passive mind goes as it moves (if it does) from the agenda to the takeaway. If you succeeded in moving from your agenda to your takeaway, take note of what you did or how that happened. How did it feel?

⎕ Did getting to your takeaway, leave you with a next step? Something to do? Do it now or schedule that thing some time in the next 24 hours.

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