Module 6: Running a Meeting

I. Running a Meeting


Meetings are the vehicle to build your group. They help you recruit, train, and sustain a membership base. If you get the meetings right, your group will function well and achieve long term success.


Running a good meeting is simple. But most meetings are not well run. If you run good meetings, your group will be successful. People will keep coming (in fact, they will stop going to other meetings that are run less well!), and your membership will grow, as people talk favorably about your group. There are a number of tensions in running a good meeting:


Meetings need to be educational but also action oriented. People need to learn the issues, but they also need to feel that they are doing something that will lead to action and change.


You need to exert leadership, while at the same time giving others an opportunity to lead. Nobody wants to be on a rudderless ship. People need to know that somebody has a vision and is making sure that the organization is moving towards that vision. Here are my nine points to remember:


1. Depth With Meetings (Not Breadth): your goal is to recruit, train, and sustain a group of people who can raise awareness around an issue and then move people off-campus to create change. You do not need a lot of people. Group size: 5-10.


2. Breadth With Campaigns (Not Depth): campaigns and actions are the place where you want breadth. You want to effect the way hundreds of people think, know, and act.


3. Remember Why They Come: friendship, learning, conversation, and to make a difference. Add an educational component.


4. Always Be Planning and Always Assess: Always be planning a campaign.


5. Goal Setting: Set realistic goals for size and actions.


6. Agendas: have a good agenda. Let others help build it. Create structure.

   Educational Issue of the Week- 15 minutes

   Updates on Tasks- 5 minutes

   Brainstorming Planning For Upcoming Campaigns: 25 minutes

   New Issues or Problems: 10 minutes

   Delta Exercise: 5 minutes


7. Outside Resources: consider outside guests, including faculty and other students.


8. Tensions: manage the inherent tensions:

   too much leadership, not enough leadership

   keeping a pace, but letting people participate

   humor with progress

   education vs. action


Here are some additional random thoughts pulled from three other manuals:  


Serious is good. The work of your group needs to feel serious. However, you need to engage others and help them build their skills. One person cannot do it alone. People who do not feel important to the organization will simply stop coming.


Ask For Time But Respect it. Time is scarce but becomes more available if you ask for more of it. You need to respect peoples’ time. But, it will be easier to get, if you ask for more of it. For example: meetings need to be productive. Hence, they should not be too long. However, a meeting that is too short is worse than a meeting that is too long. A short meeting leaves the impression that nothing is getting done and that your group is not really serious.   


Thoughts For Developing Your Style. Everybody struggles with meetings. Basically, you need to find a style that works for you, that works for all your members, and that works for the time of the semester. This is hard and takes continual readjustment. You might want to print out these readings. They are great to come back to over the semester to get new ideas. We will also be sharing ideas that other coordinators have shared with us!


Do it in twos: Work in pairs. It improves the quality of communication, makes work less lonely, and ensures tasks get done.


Provide social time and activities: People are looking for social networks and social outlets. Turn routine tasks into social events; for example, stuff envelopes while sharing pizza. Some groups form a social committee to plan parties, dinners, and trips.


Provide skills training: Provide skill-building workshops and on-the-job training. Simply pairing experienced and inexperienced people will improve the skills of new members. Training in leadership, group facilitating and conflict resolution are important enough to warrant special weekend workshops.


Leading: Good leaders are the key to community organizing. They do not tell other people what to do, but help others to take charge. They do not grab the limelight, but nudge others into the limelight. They are not interested in being The Leader, but are interested in creating more leaders. They recognize that only by creating more leaders can an organizing effort expand.


Model the effective leader:


– Set realistic expectations. Nothing buoys a group more than tangible success. The smart leader will steer the group toward things it can easily accomplish. 


– Divide-up & delegate work. Divide-up tasks into bite-sized chunks, then discuss who will do each chunk. Make sure everyone has the ability to carry out their task, then let them carry it out in their own way. Have someone check on progress. People do not feel good about doing a job, if nobody cares whether it gets done.


– Show appreciation for work well done. Recognize people’s efforts in conversations, at meetings, in newsletters. Give thank you notes and other tokens of appreciation. Give certificates and awards for special efforts. Respect all contributions no matter how small.


– Welcome criticism. Accepting criticism may be difficult for some leaders, but members need to feel they can be critical without being attacked. Help people to believe in themselves. A leader builds people’s confidence that they can accomplish what they have never accomplished before. The unflagging optimism of a good leader energizes everyone.


– Herald a higher purpose. People often volunteer to serve some higher purpose. A leader should be able to articulate this purpose, to hold it up as a glowing beacon whenever the occasion demands. A good leader will celebrate every grassroots victory as an example of what can happen when people work together for a common good.


– Convince others they can lead. Make the practice of leading transparent. Invite others to lead. Don’t try to run the whole show, or do most of the work. Others will become less involved. And you will burn out.


– Listen to others. Do not interrupt. Ask clarifying questions. Welcome new ideas. Do not allow personal attacks. Treat every contribution as valuable.


– Develop a friendly culture. Encourage humor. Provide food and drink, or meet in a restaurant. Allow for social time.


– Facilitating. The facilitator’s role is to help a group make progress. Good facilitating keeps a meeting on track and moving forward.


– Watch group vibes. If people seem bored or inattentive, you may have to speed up the pace of the meeting. If people seem tense because of unvoiced disagreements, you may have to bring concerns out into the open.


– Ask open ended questions. For instance, “We seem to be having trouble resolving the matter. What do you think we should do?”


– Summarize what others say. For instance, you might begin, “It seems we agree that . . .”


– Make sure everyone gets a chance to speak. One way of ensuring quiet people get a chance to speak is to initiate a round. In a round you move around the table with everyone getting a few minutes to present their views.


– Inject humor. There are few better ways of overcoming cranky, niggling or petty behavior.


Learn to deal with difficult behavior


– Flare-ups. When two members get into a heated discussion summarize the points made by each, then turn the discussion back to the group.


– Grand standing. Interrupt the one-man show with a statement that gives him credit for his contribution, but ask him to reserve his other points for later. Alternatively, interrupt with, “You have brought up a great many points. Would anyone like to take up one of these points?”


– Broken recording. When someone keeps repeating the same point, assure them their point has been heard. If necessary ask the group if they want to allow the person to finish making their point.


– Interrupting. Step in immediately with, “Hold on, let X finish what they have to say.” If necessary, ask the person who tends to interrupt to act as the recorder for the meeting.


– Continual criticizing. Legitimize negative feelings on difficult issues. You might say, “Yes, it will be tough to reduce traffic congestion on Marguerite, but there are successful models we can look at.” If necessary, ask the critical person to take on an achievable task. 


A key to a good meeting is a workable agenda. Without an agenda, the discussion is likely to be unfocused and prevent progress. It is difficult to make decisions if your group’s “train of thought” is interrupted. You may also run out of time, leaving individuals making decisions which ought to be made by the group. An agenda should be created by several people; and it is best if planning occurs near the end of the previous meeting, when your group is thinking about its future needs. By planning ahead, you can advertise the main attraction of the meeting and win new members, especially if it will be a video, faculty presentation, speaker, free food, etc.


Here are some desirable characteristics to consider when designing a group structure. Your group, and its meetings, should be conducted in a way that will:


– Get things done.  

– Be fun.

– Welcome involvement of new members.

– Welcome involvement from people with varying levels of commitment, and various points of view.

– Make all people feel comfortable to speak up, propose new ideas and projects.

– Respond creatively to new issues and situations. Encourage and empower people to become confident, powerful activists.


II. Thoughts For Developing Your Own Style


Thinking about what you have read, write up a couple pages of notes for yourself using the following guides to plan your first meeting:


– Things that make a good meeting.

– Things that make a bad meeting.

– Things I want to do at my meetings.

– Things I want to avoid.

– Things I want people to say about our meetings.

– Things I don’t want people to say about our meetings.


Your Democracy Matters staff link will be talking to you each week about these issues. Ask her or him any questions you may have about making meetings better.


Next – Module #7: Developing Campaigns

Back – Module #5: Organizing a Core Group

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