Meetings are a conundrum: we need them; we loathe them.
At their best, they provide an opportunity to motivate, connect, inform and inspire our organization members, board members and volunteers.
At their worst, they leave us frustrated and bewildered.
I have been on both sides of the gavel. As a facilitator, I make it my business to seek and practice strategies to run results-oriented, motivational meetings. As a participant-observer, I have observed the things that leaders do to foster low attendance.
Here are some bad ideas:
Tell people they don’t need to come.
Start late – consistently.
Finish late – consistently.
Decide you don’t need an agenda.
Create an agenda and don’t follow it.
Allow discussions to run on forever.
Allow one person to dominate discussions – consistently.
Repeat information that participants already know.
Read or lecture to participants.
Fail to involve participants.
Close the meeting without restating accomplishments, actions, next steps and timelines.
So, what’s an organizational, nonprofit and/or volunteer leader to do?
You’re in luck. Running meetings is a learned skill and there are specific things that you can do to ensure that meetings are a success.
Here is the checklist to help you prepare for your next meeting:
#1: Re-think the purpose of meetings.
Meetings are about more than sharing information and reaching decisions. These outcomes are critical but there are a few other objectives that often get overlooked. What are the objectives of your meeting? Typical objectives may be to inform, discuss, approve, solicit, etc. Why not take your meeting to the next level by considering additional, non-printed objectives like to motivate, inspire, persuade, energize, etc.? Think broadly about what needs to be accomplished. Drive “purpose-full” meetings then create an agenda.
#2: Establish and communicate an agenda.
Know what you need to accomplish. What information (products, results and decisions) do you need to have when you leave the meeting? Every meeting - no matter how long or short - benefits from a formal or informal agenda. For formal meetings, distributing the agenda prior to the meeting is recommended. It’s also helpful for the leader to state the objective of the meeting and provide an overview (e.g., “Three topics are on the agenda today; the first two are quick updates and we hope to gain your input and reach a decision on item #3.") This best practice allows participants to share the vision for the meeting and help keep things on track.
#3: Incorporate conference calls and collaboration documents to save travel time.
Not everything requires an in-person meeting. Subcommittee meetings or shorter meetings can often be accomplished virtually. Sites like FreeConferenceCall.com allow you to host a phone conference with multiple lines at no cost. And you can enhance your virtual meeting by using a collaboration tool like Google Docs (create your agenda and scribe results in real-time like you might with a whiteboard or flipchart). If you use Google Docs, go ahead and add some creativity: have participants type their answer to an icebreaker question on the Google Doc while you wait for everyone to arrive. Another virtual timesaver is to share documents that are critical to your meeting using tools like trello.com or Dropbox. (For any of these options, be sure to set things up well in advance; not everyone is familiar with these tools and you may need to coach a few people on their use. When well utilized, the advantages are well worth the effort.)
#4: End strong – summarize accomplishments, next steps, timeframes and accountabilities.
Before leaving any meeting, make sure that you review 4 areas: accomplishments, next steps, timeframes and accountabilities. I have a checklist of these four items that I utilize for every meeting that I lead. People like to feel like they have accomplished something with their time and it is helpful to reiterate who is expected to do what by when.
#5: Set the tone and pace of the meeting.
As the leader, you are responsible for the energy in the room. Participant expectations are pretty low for meetings (they don’t expect much). Doing anything to positively influence the energy of the meeting will be greatly appreciated and will be remembered. There are a number of ways to influence meeting energy: music, food, a short video clip, an expression of thanks, a quick and purposeful icebreaker, a surprising opening comment, etc. If this area is not a strength for you, brainstorm with another person to generate ideas and/or implement them. Another way to influence meeting energy is to tell participants what is expected (e.g., prepare and submit a 2-3 minute report). I once heard a leader tell a committee chair, “You don’t need to prepare anything, just show up.” I know that the leader was trying to make it easy for his volunteer but the result was a slow and inefficient meeting. One of my favorite quotes sums it up: speed of the leader, speed of the gang (source unknown).
So the good news? Running an efficient and energizing meeting is a learned skill.
Find a tip here that you can integrate at your next meeting and surprise your volunteers. They will appreciate your creativity and your efforts to honor their time.
Have another tip? Share it with us. We’d love to hear from you.
© Kathy Sturgis, Ph.D. Kathy is founder of Refreshment Zone and is an organizational and personal development specialist with a doctorate in communication. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on motivational programs.