These tips may not apply to all meetings all the time, but they certainly work. Consider this list when preparing for your next rep council meeting or event a general membership meeting. If you need assistance in planning a meeting, reach out to your NJEA UniServ field representative.
BEFORE THE MEETING:
1. Advertise the meeting in a fun way. Create a fun top-ten list of the reasons people shouldn’t miss the meeting in addition to a fun top-ten list for why they should attend.
2. Have an agenda. To make meetings successful in everyone’s eyes, then everyone must engage in it; it’s all about give and take. Attempt to ensure that every attendee has something to contribute (give) and something useful to take away (take). Make sure that you have an agenda that attempts to cover everyone’s interests.
3. Improve energy levels. Hungry meeting participants can experience low energy levels resulting in fatigue and boredom. To boost energy, provide healthy, energy-boosting beverages and snacks such as water, juice, energy drinks, fruit, vegetables, trail mix and snack bars. Remove high-sugar beverages and foods such as soda and donuts from meetings, as sugary foods usually only provide a temporary boost in energy followed by a sharp decline and then fatigue.
4. If possible, arrange the room so that members face each other, i.e., a circle or semi-circle. For large groups, try U-shaped rows.
OPENING THE MEETING:
Open the meeting with something positive. Psychological experiments have shown that the way a meeting starts, sets the tone for the whole meeting. Start the meeting with complaints, problems and mutual blame, and that’s what you’ll get. But if you start out with something positive, the rest of the meeting is more likely to be more fun. Consider opening each meeting with a joke, story, inspirational quote, or startling statistic.
DURING THE MEETING:
1. Keep it as short as possible. There are two reasons for keeping meetings short. One, everyone is pressed for time and, two, attention spans wane as meetings drone on. Stick to your time frame. Start on time, get down to business, plan on time for questions and answers, and then wrap it up. If a few people have longer questions, invite them to meet with you later.
2. Review “homework” from the last meeting. Not only does it remind participants what happened last week, it holds attendees accountable.
3. Use a variety of tools such as presentation slides, a Smartboard, and videos. When possible, bring in expert speakers who are well known for presenting topics in fun ways.
4. Look for opportunities to create rituals and traditions at your meetings. Traditions become part of your association history, they help bond people together, and give attendees something to look forward to year after year as well as something to reminisce about. It might be a ritual to kick off the entire meeting, to end the meeting, to start or end each day, a ritual to introduce the new incoming president, or a ritual that welcomes the new attendees in a fun way.
5. Give verbal reinforcement: Use neutral phrases such as “Thank you,” “I’m pleased you brought that up” or “We’re off to a good start” when meeting participants speak up. This method reinforces their involvement, not the content of what they said. Resist the urge to add a judgment such as “great idea” or “excellent.” You run the risk of saying this only to some people. Those who don’t get your “high five” response may notice and stop participating.
6. Encourage participants to offer solution statements instead of problem / complaint statements. Things like, “How can we solve ____?” tend to work well.
7. Ask more open-ended questions. Open-ended questions usually can’t be answered with just a “yes” or “no.” They start with “what,” “how,” “tell me about,” or “explain” and elicit much more information. Try “What does this mean to you?” or “How would you implement that idea?”
8. When you make an important point during a meeting, ask for feedback. If no one comes forward, start calling on the most bored-looking person. “What do you think of this plan?” “Do you think it will work?” “How should we proceed?” They won’t just feel involved in the meeting — they’ll also be generating reactionary, spur-of-the-moment answers that can sometimes breed the best ideas.
9. Count to 10. Wait a full 10 seconds after asking your questions (counting one, one thousand; two, two thousand). If there is no response, rephrase or ask your question again. Manage your impulse to break the silence (this is hard to do and takes practice). Someone will feel compelled to speak, and then your discussion may take off.
10. Ask for their opinion. For it to be a real, all-inclusive meeting, then you must open up the discussion to everyone, and the best way to do this is to ask for opinion on matters arising. And here’s an important tip; never close anyone down in forming an opinion that you (or others in the group) disagree with. Rather than responding to and answering questions yourself, let the meeting participants offer their expertise. You could say: “What about it?” “What is important about having a standard way to follow up with our members?” or “What would be difficult about implementing this?” Then let the group decide as a whole which ideas they’ll use. If people have a hand in deciding policies or procedures, they have more of a stake in seeing them work.
11. Actively listen. Show that you’re listening to your members by eye contact, the occasional nod, and a confirmation that you have listened by repeating what you have understood. Use this as an opportunity to ensure there is clarity about what’s said.
12. Be open to challenge. If you’re just in “broadcast-mode,” then you’ll see expressions of glazed-over eyes. People stop listening if they can’t engage. If you want to effectively share information or influence, then you must allow your message to be discussed, challenged and disagreed with inside the room. If you don’t, it may be challenged, passively, outside of the room, and outside of your control.
13. Don’t use positional power. If you have to say something like “well I am the president, so that’s what we’re going to do. . .” then you’re on a slippery slope. Use of positional power, like this, is a raising of the shutters. Your members will disengage, and you’re then on your own. It’s much better to persuade to get buy-in. And if you can’t persuade, then is there something you’re not listening to?
14. Stop Being An “Air Hog.” Resist the temptation to lecture or to be the expert. Your job is to make sure that people are participating, not just listening to you. Everyone in the room has ideas and opinions they’d like to share, and keeping your personal airtime to 40% or less will give them the space to do so.
15. Allow your weaknesses to be exposed. It’s so tempting to think that, just because you’re the person running the meeting, that you’re always right (or have the power to close down opportunities that expose you being wrong). Don’t let ego rule. It’s important that a meeting is an open forum for discussion, and if it means you’re shown as wrong, then let it happen.
CLOSING THE MEETING:
For your meetings to be successful, members should want to be there. Approach each meeting like you would when inviting company to your home. You should want your members to enjoy themselves. This this end, how about closing each meeting with a round of good news from the audience? Encourage your members to report on just some of all the great things happening in your district's schools!
AFTER THE MEETING:
1. Never leave an issue without an action. A meeting mustn’t be a talking-shop. If there is an issue that concerns the group, then always ensure that the meeting closes only after the issues have been allocated an owner (someone who will take it away to progress) and a date by which the owner must report back to the team (and also how they will report back).
2. Provide a certificate to members that attend all meetings.