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Make sure your group attends
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Good attendance for meetings is certain when members are properly informed, when there is a purpose for the meeting and when members are aware their presence is important and will be noticed. To inform the group, an announcement may be by memo, mail, phone, fax or e-mail--just be sure to state the purpose, day and date, time and location; be clear, concise and complete. If the meetings are to be held regularly, setting a specific day, time and length for the duration of the meetings will give a sense of stability to the group. For example, staff meetings might be held on the third Thursday of each month from 3 P.M. to 5 P.M. from September through May.
Whether or not meetings are always regular, a call to remind or confirm is of great value. This job can be done by the program committee or through rotation among the group. The call lets the members know the importance of their attendance and lets the leaders know who to expect and why members who can't attend will be absent. If a message is left, it can be made so that a return call is necessary only if the member will not be able to attend.
Another way to show that attendance is important and noticed is to have a printed sign-in sheet, pencil and name tags (if people are not well known to each other). The sign-in sheet should be handled by one person who makes sure all sign in and that the sheet is ultimately given to the secretary or leader in charge of the group. If name tags are used, names should be printed or written legibly with correct spelling and accurate titles. People enjoy wearing their names when they are presented attractively. The self-esteem of the group is enhanced when logistical details are handled efficiently and professionally.
If accurate attendance records are important, an attendance record form will keep members appraised of their commitment and accountability. It can be passed out at every meeting with or on the back of the agenda. This kind of information lets all know the commitment of the members. A list of members names, addresses, day and evening phone numbers can give a sense of connection to the group and should be passed out at least once a year.
When attendance is vital to the success of an organization, the "Alternate Method" works effectively. Each member is required to name an alternate who may or may not need to be approved by the members. The alternate may come to all meetings and must come to any meeting the regular member cannot attend. Alternates do not vote; their duty is to inform the regular member of the events of the meeting and to deliver any written materials to the member.
Alternates also make good candidates to replace regular members who must resign.
II. Be totally prepared | Back to Top
No matter whether the meeting is a regularly scheduled staff meeting or a first and one time event, the person or persons in charge should arrive sufficiently in advance of the other participants to be totally prepared to start on time, whether that be fifteen minutes or three hours. The leaders are responsible for setting the meeting tone and atmosphere and their advance preparation and performance result in the success or failure of the meeting. If technical equipment will be used, it should be tested in advance. The formality of the meeting should dictate the setup of the room, the degree of structure and even the dress of the leaders. Whatever the form, however, a functional meeting always starts and ends on time, has a purpose and written agenda.
Organizations that meet regularly and have a secretary or executive director should make sure that the meeting book is at each meeting containing the past minutes, correspondence, by-laws, names and addresses of members and any current information that may need to be discussed or shared with the group. If there is only one person in charge, then s/he is responsible for maintaining and bringing this information to each meeting. The chair or facilitator is responsible for any equipment s/he needs to facilitate, including a gavel and time clock.
Scheduled meetings are well attended when care and recognition are given to the members. If the president, chair or membership chairperson greets the members personally as they arrive, a comfortable atmosphere is created. A feeling of warmth and camaraderie is beneficial under any meeting circumstance. The leader of the group should make certain that this function is delegated if s/he is not able to do it.
The physical comfort of the group is important to the ultimate success of a meeting. The time of the meeting will dictate the type of food or refreshment needed. At the least, coffee, tea and water should be available and, if possible, snacks or food should be offered.
III. Come to order on time
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Yes, even if there are only two present at the appointed time. The meetings that wait for those who are late acknowledge those who did not keep their word, penalize those who did and ignore their own word regarding the starting time. Good meetings begin at the appointed hour by thanking those who are there for keeping their word. Those who are present can be rewarded by beginning with an "IRA".
People like to talk and our favorite subject is ourselves. Open every meeting by giving those who arrive on time an opportunity to share their IRA (Issues/ideas, Requests/responses, Announcements/activities). Depending on the length of the agenda and the number of people involved, a period of thirty seconds to five minutes can be allotted to each person to share the information they would like with the group. Networking and communication skills are enhanced when people are given the opportunity to express themselves. By limiting the time (use a timer) members are learning to be concise and aware of the value of meeting time. Those who arrive after the agenda has begun are not asked for their IRA. Soon all members arrive on time or early.
At the first meeting, a specific IRA can be suggested by the leader which would reveal each persons' interest in the group and their potential contribution. The chair might request that each member introduce themselves and state an issue that concerns them about the organization and how they would like to work on it.
When people are concerned, they are more apt to take some responsibility and to select an area that uses their strengths or expertise. Once a member has accepted a responsibility, some system of reporting or accountability needs to be established. If the member has agreed to chair a committee, for example, that committee report should be added to the next agenda. The secretary or scribe must be diligent in noting actions and decisions. Motions that pass can be written by the maker and passed to the scribe. Results are only possible when we know what we said we would do, when we said we would do it and who would be responsible.
Members who are given responsibility are more apt to show up and contribute. Allowing members to have complete responsibility for whatever area they have been elected or appointed will empower them to real productivity. The chair's job is to communicate regularly with those who have jobs to help them stay on track and complete the task by the stated date. Then, when members have done good work for the group, they need to be acknowledged at the meetings, in the organization's newsletter or even in special events.
IV. Give the purpose and guidelines
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After the introduction and IRA, the chair or facilitator should state the mission of the organization and the purpose for the meeting. Procedural guidelines need to be established or a reminder given as to how the meeting is run. Will it be run by consensus or by Robert's Rules? Who can vote? Will there be time limits on reports? These questions or others from the group should be decided and communicated up front. Small groups can be run very efficiently by consensus. When the chair senses that the group is heading a certain direction, that can be stated and the action can be decided without the need to call for a motion and vote. Larger groups usually find that the more structured "Robert's Rules of Order" works best to facilitate a smooth meeting. In that case, a copy of the book and a parliamentarian can be of great service to the group.
V. Keep it moving
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Limiting the time on committee reports and discussion helps the presenters to focus and communicate more effectively. The best way is to ask those on the agenda to estimate the amount of time needed and make sure they are willing to abide by their decision. With the use of a meeting timer, (a clock that can be set to beep at the end of the allotted time) no one can take it personally when the bell announces that their time is up.
It is the chair’s responsibility to keep track of those who request to speak and to make sure they speak on the subject at hand. The chair withholds her/his opinion unless s/he steps out of the facilitator's position. The use of tact, humor and consistent rules enables the chair to be respected and followed. A chair who loses control of the group will cause a meeting to flounder and fail. A chair who has honed his/her skills can be credited for meetings that are well attended and productive.
When the meeting time is over, end the meeting. It is no more fair to end late than it is to start late. People who contribute are busy people. Their lives are scheduled and a meeting that does not end on time can make a member late for a subsequent event. If a meeting's agenda is completed prior to the scheduled time to end, most members are delighted to be excused early or have the opportunity to spend some time in free conversation with the group. Continuing to meet just because there is time to do so is boring and unprofessional.
VI. Learn the process and practice
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There is a process that is very useful to know when emotional subjects must be discussed. It is easily remembered as "FEED". The F stands for FACTS. Ask the group to relate the facts that can be agreed upon. When all the facts are on the table, let everyone state their EMOTION (how they feel about the facts). If the group is small, it will be helpful to call on each person to assure that all have the chance to air their feelings. Keep the group on the right track and don't let them jump to a decision yet. When all the feelings have been discussed, move to the EVALUATION of those facts and emotions --what do they mean? Finally, when the group has made their evaluation, a DECISION is usually readily reached.
Another process that promotes teamwork is to ask a question of the entire group and then break the group into smaller segments to discuss the issue. A spokesperson from each of the smaller groups then reports to the whole group. Since some people are more willing to share their feelings in a smaller group, this process helps to bring their ideas and concerns out.
At sometime we all need to facilitate some kind of meeting. If you find yourself in the position of having to chair a meeting, get excited about the opportunity. Turn yourself on with the knowledge of what you will learn and what you can accomplish. Use lots of positive self-talk. Affirm your enthusiasm, clarity and ability. Practice speaking loudly (projecting your voice) or using a microphone. Speak with a clipped rate, sit or stand erect. Don't worry about your gestures; those that work come naturally and are not planned in advance.
Be sure to look into the eyes of your audience and to listen carefully to what is being said. When you listen attentively, you are focused outside of yourself, you are totally present, that is, not thinking about what you should say or do next or how you look. And speaking of how you look, your appearance needs to reflect the group and your position in the group. Dress with them in mind and with great attention to your grooming. If you are comfortable and feel as though you have done your best to present yourself appropriately, you will not be worrying about "looking right". If you begin to feel nervous, notice where you are focusing your attention (on yourself), then move it to where it belongs--your audience.
Enjoy yourself. Decide to have fun with your group, to acknowledge any mix-ups that may happen and to do the best job you can do after thoroughly preparing for your meeting. If you can secure the support of another member or friend, do so. You will enjoy the meeting more knowing that you don't have to do it all by yourself.
Some decisions about leadership can be made before your meeting. These decisions work for all of us whatever role we play in life. Leaders demonstrate certain traits. They tell their truth; they are fair, polite, sensitive and accountable. By practicing these traits, you will feel good about yourself and your group will appreciate your efforts whether or not your skills are fully developed.
Whether you facilitate meetings or attend them, you have an opportunity to assist in the meeting result by arriving on time, staying the whole time, participating and being willing to speak your truth. People who can be counted upon to "show up" are trusted, respected and appreciated.
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