We’ve all been there. Sitting in a meeting, looking at your watch only to find out that it’s been just 90 seconds since you last checked the time. No one wants to attend meetings like that, and certainly no one wants to be known for holding meetings where participants felt as if they wasted their time.
As a student leader, I have been to many meetings for different organizations and have seen different strategies that executive boards use to make their meetings successful.
The first thing that I have noticed at each of the meetings I have attended is that the president conducts the meeting, calling it to order, introducing topics/speakers, and adjourning it upon the completion of all business. It is important to have one person in charge of keeping the meeting on track, and it seems logical to leave that job to the organization president.
Usually, the president will be working off of a pre-determined agenda, but the agenda is not always printed or displayed for all to see. For one organization that I belong to, the president and other executive board members do know what topics each of the members plans to address because of an executive board meeting held prior, but there is no communication regarding the agenda to the general chapter members. Additionally, without the existence of a formal agenda, there is no set order that the reports are given in. In this case, the executive board is sitting at a front table (more on room structure later) and they give their reports from left to right or vice versa.
This can be confusing to members, making it difficult for them to follow along. I’ve noticed that when no agenda is displayed to the general population of the meeting, members are forced to ask that things be repeated several times because there is an information overload happening in their minds. Although tedious to create, agendas really do help members stay focused on the topics at hand.
The way that a room is set up can do a lot for the atmosphere of a meeting, both positive and negative. It is the first thing that people will notice when entering the room, and it can have a lasting impression.
It is important to plan seating around the type of the meeting that will be taking place. If the sole purpose of the meeting is to alert members about upcoming events and call them to action, it is appropriate to have the executive board seated in front of the room facing the general members.
If the meeting is meant to be discussion based, it is a better idea to have the members and executive board in a circular or hollow square set up, so people can see each other easily and comfortably. This type of atmosphere encourages conversation between members. Since one of the organizations that I am part of switched to this set up for our meetings that rely heavily on discussion, we have noticed a jump in participation from the constituency who are sometimes shy about sharing ideas. We’ve learned that if it looks and feels like the members are an audience being spoken at, they are less inclined to participate in a discussion just as a student may be hesitant to participate in class.
When planning a meeting, it is important to remember that the use of an agenda and the room set up are crucial to the effectiveness of delivering the business at hand. Attendees will want to avoid confusion or information overload by having an agenda to reference and will feel most comfortable sharing their ideas in an atmosphere that is conducive to conversation. If you feel as though your organization’s meetings are lacking efficiency, it might be time to evaluate the set up and make a few changes.