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Tips for Running Meetings

You can’t really have much of a political organization without meetings, which means that you need to make sure that the kind of meetings that you have serve the needs and purposes of your group or campaign.

But when it comes to typical “meetings”, (whether official group meetings, or project meetings), take time to do the things to make them more useful, (and not boring or a waste of time).

Here are some good tips for running meetings:

Have the Right Leader

Without having the right person to “run” a meeting, things can get off the rails pretty quickly and stay there. You need someone who can politely (but firmly) facilitate discussion to make things productive, and yet still keep it moving along. It’s not a job for just anybody who wants to “run” things.

Start on Time

Starting on time sets a professional tone and it’s respectful of those who show up on time. Meetings that are always starting late (because you’re late, or others are late), just encourages bad habits, and everyone will get used to never starting on time. And starting late usually means “finishing late”.

Have an Agenda

An agenda is the “plan” for the meeting, and you gotta’ have a plan. Make sure that there is an agenda, and that everyone has a copy – and that you follow it! Otherwise things will probably get off track, or you’ll spend too much time on one thing and not get everything done. Know what action items need to be resolved, (who, what, when, where). Repeat them to the group for clarification. Otherwise, you’re just meeting to meet, and what’s the point of that?

Don’t Over-stuff it

Don’t be so ambitious with how much goes into an agenda that it never gets done, or the meetings always run long and frustrate people. Remember, people like to talk, and most items usually take longer to cover than you may think. Make sure that you have enough time to do the things that need to get done.

Have Ground Rules

The most useful meetings are those where everyone participates but things stay focused, which is rare. Having some general ground rules that everyone agrees on can make things more productive. Things like: how much time you’ll spend talking about any issue; what subjects should comments be limited to; what’s off limits; and is what’s said supposed to be confidential? Try to get everyone to agree to whatever ground rules work for your group. You could even print them on the top of the agenda to keep them fresh in everyone’s mind.

Facilitate, Don’t Dictate

Part of the job of running a meeting is making sure that you involve and get good feedback from the people that are there. Otherwise you’re wasting an opportunity to get everyone’s collective minds focused on the job at hand. And how else can you know if people are getting what they want from the meetings or the group? Nobody has the market cornered on good ideas. Take advantage of the chance to do some brainstorming – just don’t let it drag on too long.

Review Action-items

It’s not very productive to meet and then have the people who are there not really know what was decided or what’s expected of them after the fact. Summarize and review what was decided and note any action items, (who, what, when, where).

End on Time

Ending on time goes hand in hand with starting on time. People have other things to do and plan their lives around, so respect their plans. If you think that a meeting will need to go long, let people know ahead of time. Just remember, “long” usually means “boring”. And boring kills!

Follow Up

Be sure to follow-up with people who need to be followed up on. Don’t let things go undone between meetings, or you miss one of the main points of having a meeting to begin with.

Remember, volunteers are at a premium.  If you’re going to take the time to meet, then you should take the time to get the most out of it.  Keep these tips in mind and meetings will be more productive – and the group will appreciate it.

HOW to Have Meetings that Matter

groupIt’s hard to have an organization without meetings, and you can’t have meetings without people. But meetings that aren’t organized or run well can be one of the quickest ways to kill interest and run people away from any organization.

As I have mentioned several times, “politics is people” – and if you can’t attract people to get involved to begin with and keep them involved, then you aren’t going to get much done. It’s hard enough to find people who are interested in having anything to do with grassroots politics to begin with, which makes it self-defeating when we subject them to long, boring meetings after we manage to get them into the room.

There are five key words to remember: Do – Not – Have – Boring – Meetings!

If you’re just getting involved and organizing something for the first time, then you’re probably less likely to have bad habits to break out of. But if you’re running a large, formal, preexisting organization, then you need to take a look and see if there are some old habits that may be holding the group back.

It doesn’t matter if your group is five people or five-hundred, BORING kills. Don’t let the necessity of meetings get you in a process that drains interest and frustrates the overall purposes of the group.

All Meetings Are Not Created Equally

Different types of meetings serve different purposes, and you have different purposes that you need to accomplish in order to succeed. You need to attract people, you need to inform people, you need to involve people and you need to organize people and conduct business. And all of those different purposes work better with differently structured meetings.

So what do you do? Before you decide what “type” of meeting to have, know what the objective is. Determine that, then build the meeting and the agenda around it.

And remember that each type of purpose as well as each type of meeting format attracts different types of people. All people don’t like all types of meetings. Everyone doesn’t want to listen to speeches. Everyone doesn’t want to sit through “Roberts Rules” style business meetings. Everyone doesn’t want to do social time.

The point is that you need to make an effort to be sure that the type of meetings that you hold are as diverse as the people that you are trying to attract.

The usual format of: prayer, pledge, minutes from last time, treasurer’s report, chairman’s report, new business, old business, then a speech from someone political is NOT the way to go about attracting new people into an organization. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have it’s place, but the problem is that too many of us typically run ALL meetings that way.

Rotate the types of meetings you have. Do you have regular monthly meetings? What about alternating “business” meetings with “social” meetings/events? Or holding shorter business meetings just before larger social events or meal. Or maybe a quick business meeting, then a meal, then a larger, more public social/informational/recruitment style event?

Remember, make your meeting formats serve the purposes of the group, not the other way around.

Different Meetings Serve Different Purposes:

Have Meetings that RECRUIT

Remember, one of the most important aspects of politics is to recruit other people to the cause. If you don’t attract people to your group or project to begin with, then you won’t get things off of the ground. Have social events. Think dinners, a Saturday breakfast, mixers, pig-pickins, oyster roasts, bands, etc. Throw a big-name politician in the mix if you can to attract more people. Think of it as a sales pitch that describes the problem, your group’s solution and the organization that you want to build.

And don’t forget to focus on doing something to attract young people. Remember, they’re a critical part of the farm team.

Have Meetings that INFORM

You need to have meetings that “new” people can attend and get their feet wet and decide how they want to fit in, without getting bored not bothering to come back to another meeting. Larger “general” informational meetings that describe what the group is about, what you’re trying to do and why, and what you’re trying to find volunteers to help accomplish. Talk about the jobs people can fill. Make the pitch about all the different types of opportunities people have to get involved.

Have Meetings that ORGANIZE

Once people have been recruited and informed, you still can’t really have an “organization” without getting organized. At the most basic level, this is simply a matter of sketching out what areas need to be covered and what needs to get done and then playing a glorified game of “fill in the blank”. Have meetings that focus on fleshing out the organization. Then there’s also the regular “business” meetings that you need in order to keep things organized. Just note that this is only ONE of many types of meetings, so don’t overdo it.

Have Meetings that INVOLVE

Remember the axiom, “good projects build good organization”. So think “project” meetings where everyone knows ahead of time what the point of the meeting is and comes prepared to work or with ideas to contribute. The list of possibilities is as long as the list of things that the group needs to get done in order to be effective:

Activist identification and recruitment efforts to grow the group; updates from elected officials; organizing the group’s grassroots lobbying infrastructure and plugging members into the effort to speak out on important issues when necessary; communications and media outreach, (such as letters-to-the-editor to op-eds); activists training seminars geared around hands-on training from experienced hands on specific needs; candidate recruitment meetings focusing on identifying candidates to run for specific offices and convincing them to run; voter registration project planning; candidate forums; get-out-the-vote strategy planning… The list goes on and on.

Identify the things that the group needs to do, then plan meetings around those specific items.

Remember, volunteers are at a premium, so don’t run them off. Keep your meeting topics and formats centered around the purposes of the group.

Have meetings that matter.  Do. Not. Have. Boring. Meetings.