Meeting Basics/The Meeting
So the meeting comes. What are you going to do? Here it is:
Participants with Special Roles
Two participants have special roles in a meeting, the Chairman and the Secretary. Other participants my have importance during the meeting, however these two roles are consistent across many different types of meetings. Together these two roles form the motor of the meeting.
The chairman takes care of an orderly progression of the meeting, sees that procedures are followed and that every participant gets a chance to play his or her role. In meetings regarding multi-sided discussion, this person is typically a facilitator of discussion rather than a strong proponent of one side or another.
The secretary is a person who supports the chairman and is also responsible for taking the minutes. This person is usually tasked with preparing and sending out the agenda, however in some organizations this can fall in the chairman's responsibilities.
Speaking and Listening
An important part of participating in a group meeting is that all points of discussion and opinions be heard. It is the chairman's role to ensure that no one voice be louder than the rest, and that no voices go unheard. As a meeting facilitator, the chairman's authority must be respected by all participants, otherwise an imbalance of input can occur.
It is important that all participants adhere to the guidelines agreed upon at the onset of the meeting. If the chairman notices that one person is speaking out of turn or is speaking more forcefully than any others, it is the chairman's right and responsibility to direct the over-talking person to remain quiet while opposing viewpoints are heard.
One method for ensuring that all participants are able to follow the flow of the meeting is to ask for feed back during the course of the meeting. While it's not always practical to ask for feedback continually, the appropriate point to ask this question would be when the end of an agenda item is about to be reached, or the beginning of a new agenda item is about to be started. By asking for feedback at these points rather than all at the end of a meeting, it allows the topic to remain fresh in all participant's minds.
Introducing an Agenda Point
When introducing an agenda point, the person who knows the most about this point should be given the opportunity to summarize it without interruption. Questions and comments should be left until the topic has been fully outlined by the presenter. This allows for all participants to be provided with the same basic understanding of an agenda point, which allows discussion to be productive and informative.
Several methods for allocating speaking time are provided below.
Formal Structures for Allocating Speaking Time
There are several methods that a Chairman might utilize regarding allocation of speaking time. Some have more effectiveness with different types of people and there is no catch-all method to ensure every meeting runs smoothly.
The more people are involved in a meeting, the greater importance it is that everyone be given the same respect and opportunity to speak. Interruption while another person is speaking is counter-productive and can increase the meeting times beyond the desired limit. It is the chairman's responsibility to ensure that interruption is not tolerated.
In this method for allocating speaking time, the facilitator of the current agenda item (typically the chairman, but sometimes another participant) presents the complete overview of the agenda point as well as any extra details. Once the facilitator has finished presenting the relevant information, questions and feedback are opened up sequentially (such as clockwise from the chairman). Each person is given an opportunity to speak without interruption before two-way discussion commences.
This method is lengthy but allows every person to have an opportunity to speak.
There are other methods that a chairman might utilize.
Adding an Agenda Item during a meeting
There will be times when the prepared agenda does not cover all topics that need to be discussed. In this case, during an appropriate pause, a participant might suggest adding a new agenda item to the end of the meeting. This might fall under a catch-all agenda item of other business or discussion near the end of a meeting. It is usually not appropriate to discuss the item until the appointed time, so even if it is a hot-ticket topic, discussion should be postponed until its appointed time.
When the new agenda item is given time in the meeting, the person who requested the item be added to the agenda should be given a moment to speak about the topic before it is dismissed from discussion. If a meeting is running long, it is usually appropriate to set these impromptu agenda items to a future meeting's previous business agenda item.
Quotations on communication: (contributed by Vividh firstname.lastname@example.org)
- "It is better to keep quiet and let people think that you are a fool than to open your mouth and clear all doubt."
- "We have two ears and one mouth that we may listen more and speak less."
- "Learn to listen and listen to learn".
Minutes are a written record of what transpired at the meeting. Minutes can be of two types: Minutes of resolutions wherein only the resolutions taken at the meeting are recorded; or Minutes of discussions wherein the entire discussion that led to the decision is recorded. Minutes of discussion help us to understand the reasoning behind a certain resolution/decision while minutes of resolution can help the person who was instrumental in initiating a certain decision to remain in the background. If meetings are not properly conducted we may say that "meetings are places where minutes are kept but hours are wasted"!