Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Meeting Format

This section deals with both formal and informal meeting styles and how each member can best assist the group in making decisions and accomplishing goals during and between meetings.


The style or method or rules you use are your choice. Each group will react and interact differently requiring a variety of processes. One thing remains constant. however: all groups need some form of organization to hold successful and productive meetings. Here are a few of the essentials for group meetings:

  1. All members must know about the meeting
  2. An agenda must be prepared and circulated
  3. The meeting place must be properly arranged
  4. Objectives must be clearly stated
  5. Some basic rules of conduct must be followed

Everyone must know why the meeting is being held - the PURPOSE of the meeting. Every discussion and resulting decision must have a related ACTION to be taken. Members must be encouraged to contribute and be aware of their powers, responsibilities and authority, as well as the limits of this power. Every meeting should end with definite plans and duties to be carried out by the members within a set time frame.

Anyone who has attended any meeting knows that there must be order if there are to be accomplishments. Time can be so easily wasted and interest can fade so quickly when members lose sight of the PLAN. If the answer to the question "What are we doing here?" is "I don't know..." the group is in trouble. Enthusiasm and dedication can die rapidly if the process becomes confused if the PLAN is not clear.


Each meeting set over a given term will have its own unique objectives, discussions. even its own atmosphere, but all meetings have some things in common.

The group and its members must:

  • Know where they fit in the working of the school as outlined in their constitution and bylaws
  • " Be familiar with the goals and objectives of the organization and work toward them in all activities "
  • Set consistent meeting times. dates and places suited to the work to be done
  • Allow all members to contribute to the agenda and to the discussion during meetings
  • Accept views and ideas from all sides of an issue without personal criticism
  • Keep accurate records including minutes and actions to be taken between meetings
  • Agree to certain specific desired outcomes from the meeting
  • Make the meeting a positive use of each other's time
  • Constantly evaluate progress to measure effectiveness

Things we know already but need to be told again:

  1. Find a quiet room that can be used regularly.
  2. Keep your own supplies (paper, pens, a calendar, a stapler. etc.) in the room or nearby to be brought for meetings.
  3. Make a list of all members. staff advisors, administrators, janitors. and other people and their phone numbers.
  4. Set chairs or desks in a circular or rectangular arrangement so everyone can see everyone (and so it's not like a typical classroom)
  5. Start the meeting on time. Do this the first time and make it a priority. Everyone's time is valuable.
  6. Follow some rules. Decide on a process and stick to it.
  7. Always have an agenda for everyone present. Main items should be announced prior to the meeting. Before getting into the meeting process more, some of the common problems which occur in the planning and implementation of meetings should be mentioned. Not all of these problems occur during any one meeting (hopefully) but several have been encountered simultaneously in the past.
  1. Here are a few:
  • incorrect information (rumors and "everyone says that ....")
  • apathy (can be related to many other problems)
  • no variety (stagnation)
  • no purpose or direction
  • incomplete or missing agenda
  • poor attendance delays inaccurate recording of meeting
  • nondirectional discussion " failure to allow input from all members "
  • poor participation
  • no follow-up on assigned duties
Add as many as you like, but you get the idea. Problems are plentiful. Many problems may be avoided by following an efficient process and a well-prepared agenda is vital to this process.


The agenda is the order of business to be dealt with at the meeting. Many outlines exist to help inexperienced leaders get started. Agendas all have common attributes which help ensure that important items are dealt with, that time is not wasted on trivial matters, and that decisions are arrived at efficiently. An agenda must be flexible enough to accommodate changes agreed upon by all members but consistent enough so members become familiar with the routine.

Sample agenda

  • call to order
  • attendance
  • reading and approval of minutes
  • reports from treasurer, committees, directors
  • unfinished business (from last meeting)
  • new business announcements adjournment
Some suggestions to help you get more mileage out of an agenda:
  • Leave enough space for members to take notes during meetings.
  • Supply binders to hold all agendas as a notebook for each member.
  • Include a section for members to record their responsibilities to be carried out by a given date.
  • Include main items of unfinished and new business on a handout for members prior to meetings.
  • Keep agendas short and act on ALL agenda items.

Most groups use some variation of parliamentary procedure to carry out formal business. Very small groups often use more informal means of arriving at decisions. These interfactional discussions can be of several types. Some examples are: roundtable discussions, panel discussions, symposiums, co-operative investigation, brainstorming, open forums, lecture-presentation, buzz groups, and informal conferences.

Many forms of interfactional discussion are used for specific purposes by larger groups also; A change of style can stimulate ideas and discussion an difficult topics. Groups are encouraged to experiment with a variety of styles throughout the term of office.

Regardless of which process or procedure is chosen, groups inefficiently set rules of conduct to facilitate decision-making. These are referred to as "House Rules" and can range from simple common sense issues to very strict conduct controls.

Meetings can be very productive and satisfying for all members if each person takes responsibility for certain actions and prepares consciencously for every meeting. Here are some guidelines to increase the chances of success for meetings:

All Members Must:

  • take part in setting the group goals and know them well
  • work constantly at his job
  • seek out and bring new ideas to the group
  • know the agenda and contribute to it
  • have all necessary materials at the meeting
  • be on time and attend all meetings
  • listen actively help the group to stay on topic
  • allow others to speak without being critical of them personally evaluate individual progress and group progress constantly.
  • Ask "Have we accomplished what we wanted to'!"
  • keep a written record of actions to be carried out
  • do the jobs volunteered for or assigned ON TIME
  • inform the people you represent of your group's progress and plans
This is a long list and probably more than most members expected when they signed their nomination form. The job is demanding. It will be hard work for the entire term. If a serious commitment is made to contribute at meetings and to work between meetings, the rewards will be worth the work.

Some Alternatives to Parliamentary Procedure

Informational Conferences

An informational conference is a scheduled meeting at which all participants share their personal knowledge or experience to make both the group and the individuals composing it more efficient in their work.

The informational conference differs from the problem-solving conference in that its goal is to produce information only, not to isolate, examine, and solve a problem. It may, however, increase group knowledge about a problem.

Roundtable Discussion

"Roundtable" refers to a closed discussion with an informal organization. It is used by groups that are trying to achieve a specific goal or solve a problem. Members meet, with or without a chairman, and start talking. Their discussion may be structured, with an introduction and a conclusion, or it may be hit-or-miss. There are no auditors or observers.

Panel Discussion

A panel of from three to eight participants is selected to carry on a discussion in front of, and partially for the benefit of, an audience. Their method is a sort of structured conversation. usually, though not necessarily, led by a designated chairman. The audience may be allowed to ask questions or enter into the discussion while it is under way or after the panel has finished.


A number of people, often experts in some aspect of the subject under consideration. are each invited to make short speeches. When all have spoken. participants may ask questions or make statements in regard to what another has said. The audience may be invited to join in.

Buzz Groups

After a general presentation or discussion (or even prior to a program), the large group is divided into groups of six or eight persons. Each of these buzz groups is asked to consider a specific question. All of the small groups may be answering the same question. or each may examine a different question, and each group selects a leader and/or recorder.

At the end of the allotted period, the leader of each buzz group presents the group's report to the whole assembly. In this way, every individual rakes an active role in deliberation, even though his or her contribution is filtered through the reporter of the buzz unit.

Member satisfaction is increased by this process, and there is usually a noticeable increase in interaction following a buzz session. The success of this method depends largely on the quality of questions assigned to each small group. The time allowed for the discussion questions in the buzz group should be as short as possible to create a sense of urgency and importance.

Co-operative Investigations

The procedure for this type of group is more formal, as its purpose is more sharply focused. It is designed for situations in which group members have little information about the topic, and no expert is available to lecture on what they need to know.

There are usually eight steps to this "do it yourself' exercise.

  • The group meets in advance to elect a leader and to divide the subject into a number of subtopics.
  • So that members can know what each has accomplished, the leader calls one or more advance meetings to review assignments and make final plans.
  • At the beginning of the discussion meeting, the leader analyzes and defines the problem.
  • Each member then presents his or her information in a brief report. The report contains only information, no argument.
  • When the reports are finished, the leader calls for any additional information.
  • The leader concludes the first portion of the meeting by summarizing the fresh pool of information, and then opens the second half by inviting discussion in light of the facts presented.
  • Finally, if the nature of the problem permits, ways and means for putting an agreed-upon solution into operation are discussed.
  • At the conclusion of the discussion, the leader may want to summarize the points of agreement, identify any problems that still need attention, and evaluate the process by which the group reached its understanding.


The unique purpose of brainstorming is to encourage the creation and expression of original ideas for the solution of a difficult problem.

Since the emphasis is on the quantity and not quality. the ideas are not evaluated during the brainstorming session. By taking the pressure of judgment off the group, imaginations can be stirred to move outside well-worn pathways and look for previously unimagined possibilities.

The following ground rules should be strictly enforced in brainstorming:

  • Every person is encouraged to offer as many ideas as possible.
  • Ideas that "hitchhike" on those already offered by someone else are encouraged.
  • No criticism or any kind of adverse reaction to any idea offered is permitted.
  • No evaluations are made at this meeting.

House Rules Using house rules is an informal way to structure a meeting. House rules are usually 5 or 20 rules of courtesy and procedure that are determined by the group for its own use. This method provides a simple. flexible framework for groups whose members want an alternative to strict parliamentary procedure.

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