Posted by: Del Suggs – Saltwatermusic.com
“I hate meetings!” Does that sound like your board members? Unfortunately, meetings
are a necessity. It’s how we get things done. It’s how we make things happen. It’s how
we consolidate our individual efforts into a more powerful force. If your campus activity
board members hate to meet, then it’s time to do something altogether different.
Most people get put in charge of an organization with very little training other than their
own personal experience. That means it’s hard to be a good chair yourself, even if you’ve
experienced meetings with an effective chair. Meeting management skills must be
developed and practiced. This month, I thought I would share with you a number of
techniques for more effective meetings.
Before the Meeting
Begin by “defining” the meeting. There are basically five purposes for any meeting:
1. To Exchange Information
2. To Make Decisions
3. To Solve Problems
4. To Explain Issues
5. To Share Concerns
Note that these are all “action” statements. Meetings are for action.
It is important for your members to know why they are meeting. If they don’t know the
purpose of the meeting, then they may skip it. Or, they may attend because they are
required, but not really participate. Make sure your meeting has a purpose, and explain
that purpose to your members.
Schedule the best time and place for the meeting. If you’re in charge, it can be tempting
to set the meeting time when it’s the most convenient for you. But one major function of
any meeting is to bring your members together. So make sure that it’s a time and place
that is best for the majority. If there is not a single convenient time for every one, then
rotate meetings so that the most members can attend the most meetings.
Set the beginning and ending time for your meeting. Your members are busy people.
Their time is important. You will have more success with both attendance and
participation if your members know how long the meeting will be. And here’s a hint– if
you keep your meetings to one hour or less, you’ll find them both more efficient and better
Create and distribute your agenda in advance. Everyone attending should have a copy of
the agenda well before the meeting. If you are handing out agendas to members when
they arrive, you’ve missed any opportunity for any real preparation.
Have a “consent agenda.” Reports from standing committees, minutes from previous
meetings, treasurers’ reports, and should be included in the consent agenda. Then, for the
sake of brevity, you can simply move and second the consent agenda. There is rarely a
reason to read the previous minutes aloud, or to present a verbal financial report, when
the members can be expected to review the material in advance. Of course, members can
ask that an item be removed from the consent agenda for discussion, if necessary. Then
you can move on to the important items on the agenda.
List an anticipated action for each agenda item. That explains why the item is on the
agenda, and what you expect from your board members. For example, don’t just list an
agenda item as “Spring Formal.” State the action you expect: “Spring Formal: form
committee of 5 members.” Or, “Spring Fling Band: make final selection.” You can have
discussion or information items: “Create new Coffeehouse Program for Fall Semester:
information and discussion.” Having an anticipated action explains why these items are on
During the Meeting
Take useful and pertinent minutes. Don’t get sidetracked trying to document every single
word spoken at your meetings. Make sure your secretary, recording secretary, staff
member, or whoever is in charge of minutes captures the main ideas and tangents that
occur. You must also record any actions (such as motions, seconds, and votes) to
demonstrate that proper procedures were followed. It’s also important to include any
items which will be discussed or resolved at a future meeting, and any assignments that are
Follow your agenda strictly. Don’t allow new business to supersede the original reasons
for the meeting. Don’t let members interrupt the meeting with questions or information
that is unrelated to the item at hand. Your members all received the agenda in advance.
They should be familiar with the business to be accomplished. Therefore, you can move
forward and call for the anticipated action with each item.
Adjourn on time, or agree to stay later. For example, twenty minutes before the scheduled
end of the meeting, the Chair might say: “If continue to discuss the bands we are
considering for the Spring Fling, we will need to stay an additional fifteen minutes to
select the CAB members to attend the APCA National Convention. Can everyone stay
that long, or should we end this discussion and move to that one immediately?”
Make sure that each member says at least one thing at every board meeting. While this is
primarily the Chair’s responsibility, everyone can help make this happen. For example:
“Brittany, you haven’t said a word on this. Who do you think should be the first
performer in the new coffeehouse?”
Encourage “dumb” questions, respectful dissent, and authentic disagreements. We gain
more from defending our positions than we do from simple agreement. Find a chance to
be encouraging at every meeting: “Chip, that’s not a dumb question– I didn’t know the
answer, either.” Remember, too, that compromise is important, and that you will
generally get a better program by combining ideas from different sources than just
accepting the first concept on the table.
Set the time and place for the next meeting. If your organization doesn’t meet regularly,
then you’ll need to set each subsequent meeting at the current one. While selecting the
day, time and place for your next meeting, don’t forget the members who are absent at this
meeting. If some members can’t meet on certain days and times, then find a way to
include them at the next meeting.
After The Meeting
Prepare the minutes promptly. It is important to capture both the facts and the spirit of
the meeting as quickly as possible. That way, if the secretary has a question it will still be
fresh in the minds of others who attended. It the minutes aren’t written immediately you
run the chance of missing not only the essence of the business, but the actions that were
taken as well.
Review and evaluate the meeting. How did it go? Did certain members dominate the
discussion? If so, you may need to find a way to limit their input. Were there distractions
from the agenda? Then find a way to keep your members focused and on task. Did the
meeting run too long? Pacing is vital to keeping a meeting flowing, but remember to keep
your agenda realistic. Trying to force too much content into a meeting can be a recipe for
There is more to an effective meeting than just the above items. Those attending the
meeting must demonstrate civility and consideration. Showing respect and courtesy is
vital in today’s world. As our actions rub against each other, manners serve as a social
lubricant to smooth the friction of our lives.
Let me offer these suggestions to those who attend meetings. They are simple and
obvious– and therefore frequently overlooked.
Be prompt. That means arrive early or on time, but don’t be late. Latecomers delay the
meeting, create confusion and interfere with the flow of business. Make it a point to be on
Avoid interruptions. Turn off your cell phone or pager, don’t log on and check your
email, put away the gameboy. You need to be paying attention to the business before you.
Be cognizant of time. You should certainly say what you want, and participate in the
meeting, but not to the extent that others can’t get the floor. Don’t dominate the
Refrain from distractions. Avoid whispering those humorous or obnoxious comments
to your neighbor. Don’t shuffle your papers, or use the meeting to sort your files and
clean out your notebook. Don’t pass notes and giggle.
Stay for the entire meeting. Don’t slip out early. Important information is often
announced during the last few minutes of a meeting. In fact, holding some items until last
can be a good strategy by the Chair to keep members focused and present.
Show courtesy and respect for your fellow members, for the Chair, and for the
organization you represent. And, while not everyone can learn to love a meeting, you can
certainly make them more efficient and more effective. What’s not to love about that?