Organized meetings are important
for the success of advisory committees as well as any other group.
Whether monthly or quarterly, meetings provide groups the opportunity
to meet face-to-face to develop group identity and cohesion; define
a shared vision and purpose; and develop special projects, tasks
and activities. While most of the actual work performed by the
group occurs between meetings, meetings serve as catalysts for
measuring progress towards tasks, sharing ideas, group decision
making, and group recognition. If properly planned, meetings can
be effective. Effective meetings are efficient, results focused,
Effective meetings efficiently use
participant's time. The meeting chair takes steps to recruit influential
leaders in the community with a large network of contacts and
program area expertise. Because these individuals are very busy,
each meeting should maximize their time. This unit presents strategies
for more efficient meetings.
An effective meeting is result focused,
because it evokes a sense of accomplishment among participants,
is action oriented, and gets clear results. Individuals should
leave the meeting with a sense that the group has achieved the
objectives of the meeting. Everyone should be clear on the action
that has been taken (progress of the group) and what is needed
(action steps) after the meeting. Everyone must also be clear
on who is responsible for various tasks. This orientation towards
actions helps keep the group focused and fosters a sense of achievement
in even the smallest of successes.
Effective meetings motivate people
to take action and become involved in the projects and activities
that the committee undertakes. Effective meetings also motivate
people to come back to the next meeting. The bitter truth is that
volunteers will go to a meeting if they feel that it is worth
their time. This unit will share tips for making meetings more
This lesson contains practical information
on planning and conducting effective meetings. Topics covered
include preparing for the meeting, getting the meeting off to
a good start, creating an atmosphere for participation, moving
the meeting forward to get results, ending the meeting, and following
up after the meeting. Each topic highlights how to maximize meeting
productivity and effectiveness.
Topic 1: Preparing for the meeting
Leading a meeting requires thorough planning. Decide the purpose
of the meeting and put it in writing. It should be something you
can measure or document. Don't write, "We will discuss solutions
for production delays." Instead, be specific. "We will
develop a plan to document causes of production delays."
Give all participants something
to prepare for the meeting. This will make the meeting more significant
to each group member. For problem-solving meetings, have the group
read the background information necessary to get down to business
in the meeting. Ask each group member to think of one possible
solution to the problem to get everyone thinking about the meeting
topic. For less formal meetings or brainstorming sessions, ask
a trivia question related to the meeting topic and give the correct
answer in the first few minutes of the meeting. These tips are
sure-fire ways to warm up the group and direct participants' attention
to the meeting objectives.
Ask committee members for a good
meeting time. If the group is new, decisions about time, locations,
and dates will be made at their first meeting (see First Group
Meeting Decisions Handout). Arrange for a satisfactory meeting
place a room that is large enough, has sufficient seating, and
is conveniently located but isolated from excessive traffic, noise,
Once you have determined the time
and place, prepare a memo detailing the location and ending as
well as starting times. Include the purpose of the meeting and,
preferably, the agenda. Mention that people can call you to clarify
agenda items prior to the meeting.
When participants have the agenda
and access to background information before the meeting, it gives
them sufficient time to prepare for any discussions or decisions
that will occur during the meeting. This also saves time during
the meeting. If attendees come to the meeting prepared, less time
will be spent answering background information questions and more
time for discussing the important issues. When distributing the
agenda, remind participants that it's their responsibility to
come prepared to the meeting!
If special data or visuals are needed,
list them in the memo and clarify what each person should bring
or prepare. A few days later, follow up with a phone call or personal
contact to verify that your memo was received and the recipient
is able to prepare and attend.
Topic 2: Getting the meeting off to a good
Meetings must start precisely on
time so as not to punish those who are punctual. This also sets
the stage for how serious the chair is about making the meeting
effective. Open the meeting with introductions. Clarify who will
take minutes, prepare the action plan and deliver it to members
after the meeting, and be responsible for any other procedural
details that need attention.
State the purpose and review the
agenda. Assign approximate times to each agenda item if you have
not already done so. Explain that if the group gets off schedule,
members will need to decide whether to table discussions until
future meetings, refer the problem to a sub-group for study, agree
to disagree and move on, or set the agenda aside and deal with
the delay immediately. The chair may need to make decisions if
the group cannot agree.
Clarify the ground rules. There
are several effective ways to create ground rules. If time is
an issue it may be necessary for you to simply list the ground
rules for the group. Be sure to inquire whether the ground rules
A second way to create ground rules
is to list those rules you commonly use, then ask for additional
ground rules from the members. When somebody proposes a ground
rule, ask the other participants if they agree to it. If most
do, add it to the list.
The best way to create ground rules
is to allow the members to generate the entire list. Ask them
to think about what they, as individuals, need to ensure a safe
environment to discuss difficult and controversial issues.
Topic 3: Creating an atmosphere for participation
There are many critical decisions
that should occur at the first committee meeting. These decisions
help to clarify meeting logistics. Everyone should feel comfortable
in contributing to the decision-making process. Let's look at
some examples of key decisions that a committee should make during
their first meeting.
The chair is responsible for ensuring
participation, focusing discussion, summarizing decisions, resolving
conflict, and managing meeting dynamics. These techniques take
time to master. The decisions made by the group must be documented.
Participants also have a responsibility to promote cooperation
and mutual respect. The leader is instrumental in setting the
tone, but participants are responsible for maintaining it.
When creating an atmosphere of participation,
the chair should encourage group discussion to get all points
of view. Turn questions back to the group for their input. Ask
people to comment on something just said. Compliment people on
their ideas and thank them for their input. Ask open-ended questions.
The chair should engage everyone
into the decision making process. He or she may need to ask the
more quiet members for their thoughts, and tactfully interrupt
the longwinded ones to move the discussion along. Encourage people
who just want to agree with a previous speaker to say "Ditto"
rather than taking the time to repeat her/his point.
Facilitation is the key to not spend
too much time in non-productive discussions. If necessary, ask
the group to agree to a time limit on a discussion that might
take too long. You might want to agree to limit each speaker's
time, or say that no one can speak a second time until everyone
has spoken once. If the group is spinning its wheels and people
are only repeating themselves, restate and summarize the issues
and ask if there is at least the beginnings of consensus. If it
just doesn't seem that the group can make a good decision right
now, suggest tabling the matter until another time. You may want
to ask someone to bring back more information, or form a committee
to work on the issue.
Topic 4: Moving the meeting forward
to get results
It's the chair's responsibility
to keep the meeting on track. This means steering the meeting
discussion in a way that fulfills the meeting objectives. If you
have difficult personalities in the room or opposing views, this
can be challenging! Try using sentences such as, "That's
a valid point, but doesn't directly apply to this discussion.
Perhaps we should schedule a separate meeting to address it fully."
Or, "It's obvious there are some opposing views surrounding
this issue. Perhaps our time would be best spent working towards
a compromise. Any suggestions?" If a meeting becomes
particularly heated, it's best to address what's possible in the
meeting but consider hiring a professional facilitator for the
next meeting - a neutral leader who's trained to deal with high-pressure,
Topic 5: Ending the meeting
Every meeting should conclude with
a summary of work completed, a clear action plan for outstanding
tasks, and a decision about subsequent meetings. The summary should
relate directly to the purpose: What was the goal? Was it achieved?
What remains to be done?
The action plan should list specific
tasks, the person(s) responsible, and the completion date for
each. Resolve any confusion and adjust the plan as needed. Get
the next meeting on the schedule while everyone is present. Check
with participants in a few days to make sure they can complete
follow-up tasks. The time you spend in preparation and follow-up
will pay off with meetings that begin and end well.
An evaluation of the meeting should
follow the session, even if the meeting continues longer than
expected. Post-meeting evaluations provide immediate feedback
to the facilitator and indicate the effectiveness and efficiency
of the meeting relevant to its objectives. Take a few moments
at the end of the meeting to discuss what the group did well during
the meeting and which areas need improving.
At the end of the meeting, the leader
should review the action items, who's responsible and by when.
This way, everyone has a clear picture of who's responsible for
what when the meeting's over.
Once the meeting objective has been
accomplished, adjourn the meeting. Even if it's thirty minutes
earlier than expected! Don't continue meeting simply because that's
what the schedule dictates. Let's look at more specific strategies
for ending a meeting.
Topic 6: Follow-up after the
Timely follow-up is critical for
continued productivity. After the meeting is over, send the meeting
information to all the participants. Make sure that the secretary
or individual who took the minutes makes legible copies for the
entire committee. Whether you provide the notes by e-mail or photocopied
handouts, sharing this meeting information is vital for proper
follow-up. Let's look at a sample letter to use when sending follow-up
information for a meeting.
It's also a good idea to include
a summary of all the action items assigned during the meeting.
This acts as a reminder to all participants of who's responsible
for what and by when. A written account of all assignments increases
the obligation and urgency to complete the task.
six people to role play "Meeting of the Marching Magnificent
Magnolias". Distribute the index cards with their character's
description and ask them to pretend to be the character they've
been assigned. Do not reveal who is assigned to which character.
Once everyone involved in role play knows their part, distribute
Attachment A "List of Meeting Characters" to everyone
else in attendance. Ask the group to read the attachment to
see what these characters are like, see if they can guess
the characters during the role play and think about what could
be done to plan and implement an effective meeting that takes
into account each type of character.
Conduct the role play using the script.
the role play, encourage the group to reflect on what happened
by using the following questions:
- Think about what happened
when a Conflict Causer or Meeting Killer was at work.
Think about how the other committee members handled
the situation. If you were in this similar situation,
what else would you have done? What can be done to minimize
the conflict that these characters create?
about how having a Meeting Maker, Meeting Minder,
and Meeting Mover helped make this meeting more effective.
Think about people you have on your committee or would
like to have on your committee who could serve in
those roles. How would you work with those different
types of people to make the meeting more effective?
What can you do to keep these types of characters
involved in your meetings?
- Are there other characters
that you might know that attend meetings on a regular
basis that "need to be recognized, acknowledged
and dealt with" to move your meetings forward to
get the best results? If so, think about how to work
with those different types of people.
About the Characters: All of the characters are fictitious,
but there are people who have some of these characteristics in almost
every group. The object of this exercise is to have fun exploring
An alternative to this exercise
would be to let each person read the script silently. Break up
the audience into groups of 4-6 and ask them to discuss the reflection
questions. One person from each of the small groups can then report
back to the larger group strategies that they recommend to help
deal with the different types of characters.
the lesson by asking and discussing the following questions:
that the purpose of this lesson is to look at meetings in
a general context and see how we might be able to effectively
plan and " move" our meetings forward to get the
results that members desire.
the following handouts in the order presented and discuss
each handout using the information you read in the Background
section. As you go through each handout ask the group
to share their best or worst experiences with each topic.
This fosters group interaction and acknowledges their personal
experiences and expertise.
a copy of the following handouts: Advisory Committee Meeting
Planning Checklist (Attachment B), Formal Advisory Committee
Meeting Agenda (Attachment C) and Non-formal Advisory Committee
Meeting Agenda (Attachment D).
a copy of the handout entitled Meeting Ground Rules for Success
(Attachment E). Ask committee members to volunteer to share
which ground rule they feel is the most important and why.
and discuss the handout entitled First Meeting Group Decisions
a copy of the handout entitled How to End Meetings and Get
Results. (Attachment G). Ask members to share their experiences
with good or bad meeting endings.
Distribute a copy of the handout entitled Sample Follow-Up
Letter for Absent Members (Attachment H).
"Meeting Jeopardy" based on the six main topics
of the lesson.
Divide the group into 2-3 teams or let individuals answer
Ask a volunteer to keep score. Offer a prize to the winning
team or individual.
Emphasize the rules:
the Game using the diagram you prepared earlier and the questions
found in the Meeting Jeopardy attachment. Once a dollar amount
is selected, mark it out on the board.
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