This time last year we all pivoted from in-person meetings to Zoom and Teams meetings to protect each other during the early days of the pandemic. Shortly after that, the Social Impact Architects’ team wrote a blog on best practices for online meetings to help nonprofit leaders make the most of this format, which was new to many of us. Now, with the world opening up again, in-person meetings are returning. As a refresher, we want to share our best practices for energizing your social sector meetings, whether in person or online.
Dave Barry said it best: “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’” Yet, meetings (and now virtual meetings and calls) remain an effective tool to make progress and build momentum for your cause, especially in the social sector. However, meetings are only useful when they are well-run. In our effort to promote self-care this year, we wanted to share our team’s best practices and tips on how to run not just an effective meeting, but an energizing meeting – one where people walk away thinking, “That was a good use of my time and energy!”
The first step is to determine whether a meeting is the best way to handle your needs. Meetings are not just information exchanges – they are also “relationship-building” sessions. If one-way information dissemination is all you need, an e-mail or brief report asking for feedback may be more effective than a meeting. By definition, meetings are about two-way information sharing, which is then used to make decisions, build support and take action together.
To that end, our team has developed the 6 C’s of an Energizing Meeting:
Clarity – How many of us show up at meetings not knowing what they are about or what might be needed? This is a common issue. Successful meetings start with an agenda, key objectives sent out in advance and proper planning to ensure that the right people attend so they can make the best decisions. In addition, I personally like sending brief pre-reads, so you can immediately dive into conversation rather than taking valuable time to bring everyone up to speed. This is also helpful for introverts and planners who prefer to come to meetings prepared with ideas and options.
Compelling – People get invited to 2-3 times more meetings than they can actually attend. As technology evolves and attention spans shorten, it is even more important to make your meeting compelling to those invited – both when they are deciding whether to attend and during the meeting so they actively participate. When you start, be sure to re-state your purpose and the goals you hope to accomplish. (Example: We are here today to talk about X and come to a decision on Y. You have received the background in the pre-read. The goal for today is to discuss this information, share ideas and decide what action we plan to take on Y.)
Camaraderie – People prefer to come to meetings when they are enjoyable. Research suggests that attention starts to wane 11 minutes into a meeting. Find ways to make your meetings interesting. When you make introductions, add an element of interest and relevance to the meeting. For example, ask each participant to briefly state their name, organization, plans for the weekend and what they can best contribute to the conversation. I think name tags and tents are a great way for people to get to know one another. When you have agenda items, ask participants to take the lead on them. If your meeting is longer, take a quick break to refresh people and give them a chance to network. And, if all else fails, use food as an enticement.
Consistency – As the meeting planner, think about structuring an efficient meeting. Start and end on time. Set timeframes on the agenda and stick with them. This allows for every topic to be covered consistently. If you struggle with this, ask someone to be a timekeeper to help you enforce this policy.
Conversation – People prefer meetings where the vast majority of the agenda is a two-way conversation. Creating an opportunity for a dialogue will allow for questions and clarifications, which leads to greater buy-in. If the meeting (or retreat) is longer than an hour, you may want to set ground rules so participants can equally participate and set their own rules. My favorite ground rule is the “ditto rule” – when someone says something you are thinking or planned to say, say “ditto” so you can reduce repetitive comments and help build consensus around an idea.
Check Out – End the meeting effectively by closing with next steps and a chance for each participant to “check out” with their a-ha moments and any final thoughts. I like sending out a brief email within 24 hours with key action items and next steps – it helps with increased accountability and informs those who could not participate due to scheduling conflicts. Finally, don’t forget to ask for feedback on your meetings to improve next time.
So, as you plan your meetings this spring, remember that 47% of colleagues think meetings are a waste of time. As you develop your agenda and meeting plan, prove them wrong. Show them that meetings can be a great tool to build relationships, collective support and momentum for your cause or organization. We welcome your ideas – large and small – on how you create more energizing meetings (both online and in-person) in the social sector.