Whatever your group does, good meetings are vital to working together well. Meetings make all the difference between a motivated and dynamic group or one feeling lethargic and lost. Making the meetings work for everyone involved will make your group more effective and more fun. Here are some tips from few source.
- Before the meeting:
There are many different kinds of meeting – your meeting could be a one-off event to provide information; to start or to plan an action. It might be a regular meeting of a well-established group, discussing day-to-business, or a specially called meeting to deal with a conflict within the group.
Whatever the meeting it will benefit hugely from a little bit of planning and preparation.
You need to be clear what the purpose of the meeting is. Writing down and displaying the purpose (eg: on flipchart paper) in a clear and concrete sentence at the beginning of the meeting can help to keep people focused. There may of course, be several purposes for the meeting, eg: planning an action; attracting new members to the group and day to day tasks such as discussing finance.
- Try to find a time that most people are able to make. Think about patterns of daily activity, such as parenting, work, dinner time. If lots of people won’t be able come at the same time why not hold two meetings?
- Find a venue: The venue needs to be big enough to accommodate everyone comfortably, but not too big. It can be very disempowering when you have hired a huge hall and only twenty people turn up. Ensure the venue for your meeting is accessible – can someone in a wheelchair, or with hearing difficulties participate as easily as possible? Does the venue itself put some people off (pubs and venues with religious affiliations can have this effect) and finally, have you put clear directions on your publicity? For more information on accessibility take a look at our briefing Access Issues at Events.
- Letting people know about the meeting
- Planning the meeting: It’s a good idea to think in advance about the agenda, facilitation and decision making processes you could use in the meeting, especially when organizing a large public meeting, or one dealing with difficult issues or conflict. It may be useful to prepare a rough agenda and think about the order in which to proceed. Remember that this is only a rough proposal – do let people participate by adding to the agenda and priority sing it before or at the start of the meeting. This will help them feel more involved with the meeting.
All this might sound like a lot of work, but if you share out jobs and work jointly with someone else it will reduce stress levels. You’ll probably be able to learn something from the other organizers and have fun too.
- During the meeting
- Arrange seating in an inclusive way, so that everyone can see one another – circles are best for this, but aren’t suitable for all groups. Welcome everyone as they arrive and find out who they are. Introduce yourselves. Some groups designate a welcomer or ‘doorkeeper’ for newcomers. This ensures that everyone is greeted by a friendly face, knows where the toilets, refreshments and fire exits are, as well as being brought up to speed with the meeting progress if they arrive late.
- Start the meeting by asking everyone to introduce themselves: to say a bit about themselves or why they are here, not just give their names. Try an icebreaker appropriate to the group. This can be as simple as telling the group your name and using an alliterative adjective to describe yourself.
- Make sure people know how the meeting works – how are decisions made: by consensus or voting? What kind of behavior is acceptable in this meeting and what isn’t? It can be helpful to make this ‘formal’ by using a group agreement. See our briefing on Facilitation of Meetings for more on this.
- Agree on an agenda. You might have prepared a rough proposal, if so, ask everyone to check and add to it. Then, as a group, decide on priorities. You could tackle difficult issues in the middle so people have had a chance to warm up, but are not yet tired. Maybe some of the points can be discussed in smaller working groups.
- Agree on a time to finish and when to have breaks. Have breaks to revive people (for drinks, toilet, cigarettes) and for informal chatting, especially if the meeting lasts longer than 1½ hours.
- Make sure everyone can see the agenda – display it on a large sheet of paper. Flipchart paper or the back of a roll of wallpaper are ideal for this. You can cross off points once they are dealt with as a visual reminder that the meeting is getting things done.
- Take one point at a time, and make sure the group doesn’t stray from that point until it has been dealt with. A common way of starting is to recap recent events or the last meeting. Summarize regularly and make clear decisions with action points (don’t forget to note who’s doing what, and by when) to be carried out by a variety of people.
- Don’t let the same people take on all the work – it can lead to tension and informal hierarchies within the group. Encourage everyone to feel able to volunteer for tasks and roles. It can help if the more experienced members of the group offer to share skills and experience.
- Encourage participation at all times so that everyone can get involved and contribute to the meeting. This can be helped by using tools such as idea storming, go-rounds, and small groups.
- Challenge put downs and discriminatory remarks.
- Don’t let the same few people do all the talking or let everyone talk at the same time. Tools such as go-rounds and talking sticks can help to regulate the flow of discussion.
- Don’t let the meeting get too heated – have breaks for cooling off or split into pairs or small groups to diffuse tension.
- Try to keep discussions positive, but don’t ignore conflict – deal with it before it grows.
- Ending the meeting
- Make sure the meeting finishes on time, or get everyone’s agreement to continue.
- Pass round a list for people to add their contact details so that you can send out minutes and inform people about future meetings.
- Decide on a date, time and venue for the next meeting.
- You might also want to decide on points to be discussed at the next meeting. glasses clinking – cheers!
- Remember to thank everyone for turning up and contributing.
- It can be nice to follow the meeting with an informal social activity like sharing a meal or going to the pub or a café. Think about any special needs – not everyone drinks alcohol, you might have vegetarians or vegans in your group and so on, so try to choose an inclusive venue or activity.
- After the meeting
Send minutes to everyone who was at the meeting and don’t forget those people who could not make it, but would like to be kept informed. In the minutes be sure to include any action points as well as thank people for their contributions.
Evaluating your meetings can help to constantly improve them. It’s a good idea to leave a few minutes at the end of every agenda and ask the group what went well and what needs to be improved. You could also get together afterwards with the other organizers to evaluate the meeting. Remember to celebrate what you have achieved!
Website of Harvard university: https://hbr.org/1976/03/how-to-run-a-meeting