How to Hold Effective Meetings
Meetings can make or break your group. If your meetings are well prepared and facilitated in an efficient yet engaging and upbeat manner, they'll help strengthen your group. If your meetings are poorly planned and poorly run, on the other hand, it will be difficult to sustain your group. Effective meetings are characterized by three key elements: solid planning, good facilitation, and thorough follow-up.
Often, the most difficult and time-consuming aspect of a meeting is the planning. Yet, as with many things, you get out of it what you put into it.
Step 1: Determine What Kind of Meeting You're Going to Have
Most of your group meetings will fall within one of two categories - Planning Meetings or General Meetings.
Planning Meetings (also known as a Leadership or Exec Team meeting) are used to plan events, make decisions, and organize your group. They lay the groundwork for how your group will run and are generally "internal" meetings for key leadership. While it is not necessary to keep these meetings exclusive to only group leaders, it is important to make sure those who attend are interested, willing, and able to take on some level of responsibility and work. Inviting an active/committed Faculty Advisor to attend one of your group's planning meetings is a great way to get helpful feedback and pointers. For student groups, these are the meetings that your faculty advisor/sponsor will either attend or provide guidance as to how they are to function.
General Meetings (also known as Weekly or Monthly Meetings) are held regularly in order to accomplish your group's goals and to ensure a sense of stability within the group. These meetings are your "full group" meetings in which all members attend. Additionally, they are usually "open" meetings in which new members or interested individuals are welcomed to attend.
Exactly what your group should accomplish in its general meetings depends upon the group's focus. However, general meetings are often used to disseminate information, identify willing volunteers, divide the group's workload, solicit input from the entire group and build organizational morale by bringing everyone together to learn more about the issues and celebrate successes.
Step 2: Set Meeting Goals and an Agenda
Review your group’s priorities and plan your meetings accordingly. Be sure to identify clear goals and draft an agenda for each meeting. Your goals should be concrete, realistic and measurable and help to achieve your group's long-term objectives.
- Use planning meetings to do strategic planning, develop strategies and timelines for your programming, develop recruitment or fundraising strategies, and evaluate your progress.
- Planning meetings are also useful to take care of routine business such as financial matters and planning agendas for general meetings. Larger, more established groups will also have "committees" to coordinate specific events and other goals such as recruitment. These committees will generally have separate meetings but report and seek input on their activities at planning meetings.
Step 3: Determine Where to Hold Your Meeting
Consider the following when choosing a meeting site:
- Familiarity. Are people familiar and comfortable with the location?
- Accessibility. Is the meeting site centrally located and accessible for those you are trying to reach? Is the room accessible for people with disabilities?
- Represents Constituency. Is the site perceived as a representative one for those who you want to participate?
- Adequate Facilities. Is the size appropriate for the number of people you expect to attend? Will you need audiovisual equipment, tables, or desks to write on, or open space for an activity?
Step 4: Set a Date and Time
Be sure to set a time that is convenient to all members. Try to schedule around typical class schedules and school-wide activities.
Every meeting should be enjoyable, run efficiently, and build group morale. Although these goals may be difficult to measure, they are important. No one wants to attend meetings that are boring or poorly run. Efficient meetings respect people's time as their most valuable resource. They also build group morale by generating a sense of unity and helping people respect and support one another.
Here are some guidelines you should incorporate into meeting facilitation:
When planning your meeting
- Have a designated facilitator. The facilitator helps accomplish the meeting's goals by presenting the agenda and keeping the group on task. This person, a member of your group's leadership, should be selected in advance. The facilitator should rotate to spread out responsibility and allow different people an opportunity to gain leadership skills.
- Start and end on time. Respect everyone's time by beginning promptly and keeping within time limit you have set for the meeting.
- Set aside time for introductions or an icebreaker. This is another way to ensure that people feel included and welcome. Ask each person to introduce himself or herself and answer an additional question such as: How did you hear about/get involved with our group? What interests you most about being Iranian? What is one thing you would like to get out of this meeting?
During the Meeting
- Sign everyone in. Always pass around a sign-in sheet so you know who attended the meeting and how to contact them. This is important for retaining new members who come to your meeting for the first time.
- Stick to the agenda. This can be a monumental task. However, it is a central role of the facilitator. Meetings that get off track are often unproductive because they don't address the discussion items agreed upon during your planning meeting.
- Be flexible. Sometimes important issues arise that cannot wait to be addressed. The facilitator needs to be able to recognize these (consult with other group leaders if needed) and propose a revised agenda if needed.
- Encourage participation. Balance those members who tend to talk all the time with those who are shy. Actively solicit the more quiet members to speak up and participate. Deliberately seek the views of new members in attendance, but be sensitive to those who may not be comfortable speaking in a group.
- Seek commitments. Get members to sign up for events, programming committees, and other specific tasks. Keep track of who has committed and follow up with those individuals.
- Avoid detailed decision-making. This should be reserved for planning or committee meetings. Explain the appropriate process for these decisions and return to the agenda.
Why do we need an agenda?
An agenda lists the goals of the meeting and the topics to be discussed. Think of it as your roadmap for the meeting. It should give the group a clear picture of your destination and the route you're taking. Get the group's agreement at the beginning of the meeting on the issues to be discussed by reviewing the items together. It's okay to be flexible - don't be afraid to add or subtract items as long as they are in line with the goal of the meeting. Get group buy-in and interest in a general meeting by asking members what else needs to be addressed. If members feel that their input is important and that they are involved in the planning process, they are more likely to attend meetings and participate actively.
The Parking Lot or Bicycle Rack
If your group is having difficulty staying on track, consider having a “parking lot” or “bicycle rack.” Hang a flipchart sheet on the wall and label it "parking lot." Whenever a member brings up a question or discussion topic that is not part of the group's agenda, simply "park" the question/comment in the lot. Return to the parking lot at the end of the meeting and either address items that were not addressed during the meeting (if there is time) or put them on the agenda for the next meeting.
Make sure that follow-up is a priority after your meetings. When people are reminded of the commitments that they made and thanked for the work that they have already done, they are inspired to keep up the good work.
Here are some tips for effective follow-up:
- Make sure the note-taker prepares the meeting notes soon after the meeting.
- Add new members to your group's database, address list, listserv, etc.
- Call or email members who missed the meeting in order to keep them informed. Provide them with updates and ask if they would like to volunteer for any upcoming events or actions.
- Call new people who came to the meeting, thank them for their participation, and ask if they have any questions that you can address. If a large number of new members showed up, send thank-you notes or e-mails with an invitation to the next event or meeting.
- Place a copy of the meeting notes in an organizational notebook or file so that everyone knows where the "institutional memory" is kept.
- If a big event is coming up, give members updates on how the planning is going and reminders of any important dates and times.
- Follow through! If you made a promise (e.g., to gather information for a member or add items that were not on the agenda to the next meeting's agenda) make sure that you keep it. If you are not able to complete the task, be sure to explain why and, if appropriate, when and how it will get done.
- Consider information, suggestions, and request from this meeting when planning your next meeting