Meetings are the means of communicating, making decisions, setting goals, discussing problems, planning action, strengthening the group, selecting officers, and establishing committees.
Try some of these suggestions as you plan your next meeting:
- Make certain a meeting is necessary to achieve the desired objectives. Don't call a meeting if the same results can be obtained by contacting one or more individuals, making a telephone call, or leaving a note.
- Develop an agenda and send it out in advance. The agenda generally tells participants why they are requested to attend the meeting. Knowing the topics to be discussed at the meeting will encourage participants to develop their arguments, understand their expected role, and to participate.
- Start the meeting on time. Meetings must start on time so that participants and members get the idea that they are expected to be there on time. While the meeting should start exactly on time, it is probably wise to schedule some initial activity which is not critical to the meeting, such as announcements, dates to remember, upcoming events, etc. This practice allows latecomers to catch up.
- Give the meeting your individual attention. Meetings should be held where distractions and interruptions can be held to a minimum. This will assist in keeping your meeting on track toward the goals that have been established.
- Be prepared. There are no substitutes for adequate preparation on the part of the person leading the meeting. Know what is to be accomplished and prepare so that all information is available. Anticipate questions and issues which may arise.
- Create a climate in which suggestions and opinions of other group members will be adequately heard. An open and trusting atmosphere will encourage member participation and increase the effectiveness of the meeting. The chairperson must be prepared to ask the right questions to stimulate discussion, encourage everyone to get involved, and control the meeting. While each organization usually attracts one or more vocal members, do not permit them to monopolize the conversation.
- Keep to the agenda. It is a function of the chairperson to hold discussion within the topical areas of the agenda. Permitting the membership to wander off the subject or waste time with long-winded and irrelevant discussion tends to discourage others from participating in the discussion and will encourage boredom.
- Conclude the meeting by summarizing the highlights. It is beneficial to all members attending a meeting to hear a summary of the actions taken at the meeting. Such summaries are easily remembered and provide the individual with a vivid picture of the meeting and the actions and work completed. Each meeting should be followed by a set of accurate and detailed minutes distributed to the membership.
How to promote new ideas and diverse viewpoints:
- The leader should promote an atmosphere in which members feel free to disagree. Minority viewpoints should be given careful consideration, and members should be encouraged to play devil's advocate. Silence should not be mistaken for agreement.
- Legitimizing disagreement encourages diversity of viewpoints and helps to point out hidden risks and unrecognized assets.
- Problem-solving necessitates open discussion of pros and cons. This forces oscillation from one side of the issue to the other and encourages creativity.
Christian H. Sachs, Director of Student Activities/Warren Campus Center, James Madison University