What? Another meeting? Let’s face it. Meetings are not always fun, effective or productive. Yet some meetings leave you abuzz when they close. You’re informed, energized, motivated, spurred into action. If only all meetings could go this way. It requires thought and skill to run a good meeting. Whether you coach students, have horse business employees, participate as part of a volunteer activity, or meet with your professional horse association, you can develop and add to your meeting facilitation skills. Let’s take a look at the basics of running meetings that sizzle rather than sag.

First, determine what you are looking for as your meeting outcomes. Do you want decisions made? Are you looking for shared information? Or will you be looking for both?

Then, set your agenda, meeting time and length. Send these ahead of time if possible to the meeting attendees. During the meeting opening allow for a means for people to get to know who the others are. This can be accomplished with name tags or by allowing time for each individual to state their name, affiliation, or purpose for being at the meeting. The size of the group may impact your choice here. As the meeting opens get agreement from all that are there that these are the items to be taken up, and that the time frame is acceptable. After you have agreement, test the meeting outcomes. Propose that "We’ll do this.. so that…" Getting agreement from the meeting attendees turns them into meeting participants.

Keeping everyone involved is easier to accomplish if you use flip charts throughout the meeting. The agenda would be on one, and posted in an easily seen spot. Two other sheets will be needed: one for assigning tasks, or a "to do" list; the other for items that need to be handled at some other time in the future, or "parking lot" list. Ask someone to be a recorder. This person will take the notes on the flip charts as the meeting progresses. . As the meeting moves through each agenda item, the group will decide if an action is to be taken, who will take the action, and in what time frame. This is all recorded on the To Do chart. If an action is determined, but the time frame is not right, there is no one to take responsibility, or it isn’t a high priority, it goes on the Parking Lot list. When actions are recorded so that all can see them, there is much less room for misunderstanding. It is also clear to all who will be responsible for what actions following the meeting.

The decision-making process is very important when working with groups. Be sure to get agreement on each agenda outcome before you move on. This can sometimes be difficult due to competing ideas or competing personalities. The bottom line is to ask the question " Can everybody live with this decision?" That doesn’t mean that everyone thinks it is absolutely the best decision. It means that they can live with it, that it may have an area of compromise for them personally, but that by-and-large it is a good decision. As previously mentioned, the meeting facilitator will be dealing with a variety of people, and must be ready to react to the actions of different personalities. This is not an easy task, but preparation strengthens your abilities here. Remember that everyone has something to contribute, but it may require active listening, drawing the kernel out, and checking your own hot buttons before and during the meeting. The following list gives some basic ideas to help with this.

The aggressor is someone who is intimidating, hostile and likes to threaten. The best approach to this individual is to listen to everything the person has to say. Avoid arguments and be formal, calling the person by name. Be concise and clear with your reactions.

The underminer takes pride in criticism and is frequently sarcastic and devious. Don’t overreact to this person. Focus on the issues and don’t acknowledge the sarcasm.

The unresponsive person sits quietly, doesn’t reveal his/her ideas, and is difficult to talk to. Ask open-ended questions, and learn to be silent and wait for the person to say something. Be patient and friendly. You may need to request that others also extend this courtesy.

The egotist is the one who knows it all, and often feels and acts superior. The best action here is to know the facts. Ask questions and listen, and agree when possible. Disagree only when you know the facts are on your side. Closing a meeting well is also an art. If this group meets regularly agree on three meeting outcomes to talk about back "out on the streets". There is a lot of information presented at most meetings, often with a lot of subsequent dialogue, and decisions based on all the input. Choosing three outcomes to talk about sends a unified to those that ask how things went. It also minimizes the opportunity for misunderstanding, misinformation and topics taken out of context.

Include enough time during the closing to ask for feedback from those attending. Ask each person to state one positive thing about the meeting, and one thing that could be done better next time. Record all of these on a flip chart also.

To further enhance the meeting effectiveness, remember these tips:

  • Start on time and end on time.
  • Don’t compete with the group members. Give their ideas precedence over yours.
  • Listen to everyone. Paraphrase or restate what they’ve said, but don’t judge.
  • Assume that all ideas have value. Don’t put anyone on the defensive.
  • Dominant personalities need to be controlled, not alienated.
  • Remember that your interest, energy, and enthusiasm are contagious.
  • Provide reminders to all participants about where they are on the agenda and what’s expected of them.
  • Check with the person who owns the problem to see if the proposed solution is one he/she can live with.
  • Give others a turn a running the meetings. Those who learn to lead also learn how to participate.

Contributed By: Lisa Derby Oden

Lisa Derby Oden has been providing business development, marketing, and association consulting services to the horse industry since 1995. Oden is author of Growing Your Horse Business and Bang for Your Buck: Making $ense of Marketing for Your Horse Business. She is the 1999 AHC Van Ness Award recipient for outstanding service to the horse industry. She can be reached at (603) 878-1694. Visit her website at www.horseconsulting.com