Tips for Holding a Meeting
First, be sure you have prepared well for the meeting.
Setting up the Space
Plan to have one or two people arrive early to prepare for the meeting. Their duties should include the following:
- Chairs should be set up in a way that is comfortable. If you know how many people are planning to attend, set out that number of chairs, plus one or two extras. If you aren’t sure how many people are coming, make your best guess. Try not to put lots of extra chairs out; unfilled seats send a message that you were expecting a lot more people and could send the message that the meeting is a flop.
- If the location is unfamiliar to even one participant, put up signs so individuals can easily locate the meeting.
- If possible, try to avoid podiums and platforms, as both can deter participation. (An exception, of course, is a lecture or a meeting that includes a performance.)
- Prepare and lay out the beverages, food, cups, cutlery, and so on.
- The greeter and others should welcome people as they arrive.
You may wish to make a flip chart showing the meeting flow for all participants to see. A typical flow for a meeting can take the following form:
- Connecting and opening.
- Addressing quick items.
- Discussing major or complex items.
- Presenting minor or straightforward items.
- Recapping decisions and actions.
- Reflecting and evaluating.
Try to encourage a culture where people arrive and begin on time. Setting good boundaries preserves people’s energy and shows them respect. However, if the meeting starts at 7:00 p.m. and only three of eight participants are present, consider—with the group’s consent—waiting a few minutes before beginning.
Connecting and opening a meeting provides an important bridge from the day that was to the meeting that is. It offers an opportunity to release frustration or share successes of the day, and it sometimes can identify concerns and challenges the group may face together. In our congregations, connecting and opening often includes a chalice lighting and reading, and if the group is fewer than ten people, an individual check-in. The check-in could be a response to “Say something about your day,” but it’s great if your focus question for checking in relates to the topic or theme of the meeting. If the group is large, you may use other check-in techniques, or use exploring and intentional questioning in small groups. This is also a time to review the group’s covenant of right relations or to develop some basic ground rules for gathering. See Maximizing Participation for more suggestions.
The flow of agenda items from quick to major to minor gives participants a chance to start by getting a few things sorted out quickly. The middle part then deals with the more complicated issues, and the meeting ends on an upbeat note by accomplishing some things. Although you may delay the beginning of a meeting by a few minutes, always try to end when you said you would.
Near the end of the meeting, recap any actions and decisions that were made. Clearly breaking down actions can help to ensure that they will be carried out. The recapping should include the following:
- What is the action or decision?
- Who will carry it out?
- Who else needs to be informed?
- When must the action be completed?
- How will progress be reported back?
The reflecting and evaluating time is an opportunity to intentionally ponder the meaning of the meeting: Did we achieve the rational and experiential objectives we had established at the outset? How did the meeting connect to our mission?
Include a brief evaluation process as part of each meeting. This reinforces that the congregation and this group are learning communities. This process can be as simple as asking two or three of the following questions at the end of a meeting:
- What are key accomplishments from today (or this evening)?
- What worked well?
- Where did we struggle, individually or as a group?
- What things did we do that helped us overcome challenges?
- How did our work connect to our group’s mission?
- What improvements do you suggest for the next time we hold a meeting?
This is also the time when the faith reflectors can offer comments about how the meeting went from their perspective.
At an ongoing meeting, such as a standing committee meeting, you may want to have a more indepth, formal evaluation once or twice a year.
Close the meeting with a reading or a song.
After the meeting, send the minutes or notes from the meeting to each participant. It can be very useful if the chair of the meeting or other key person connects with participants between meetings. This action is an opportunity to follow up with anyone who is responsible for completing tasks before the next meeting. It also conveys that the members’ participation is important and their contribution is valued. In touching bases, you can also determine if a person needs assistance, more information, or both in carrying out any tasks that were assigned to her or him.
From Meetings that Work: Make Them Meaningful and Productive (PDF)
New Congregation and Growth Resources
UUA Congregational Life Staff Group (2005)