Pre-meeting information

A large part of what makes a meeting successful occurs in the preparation phase. Although it may vary by committee, department or unit, there are seven key responsibilities expected of chairs or team leaders before a meeting takes place. Each is explained in detail below.

1. Clarify purpose and aims. A clearly stated purpose or aim describes the key decisions that must be made or actions that must occur at the meeting. The purpose of a meeting should be stated at the top of the meeting agenda. Some example purpose statements might look something like:
• Share best practices in graduate recruitment and identify opportunities to recruit collaboratively
• Identify priority goals for next year
• Examine and update admission criteria
• Decide how to get feedback from faculty, staff and students
Everything else on the agenda including topics, times, and presenters are the activities that, taken together, will accomplish the aims. A weekly or monthly staff meeting may not require meeting aims beyond the agenda items.

2. Create an agenda. An agenda is a framework that guides and supports the meeting. Agendas are like roadmaps, blueprints, flight plans, and recipes. An agenda helps focus the group’s work toward achieving desired outcomes. Good agenda items provide focus and structure for a meeting. Some example agenda items might look something like:
• Report on fall enrollments
• Identify members for ad hoc space committee
• Generate list of possible solutions for the xyz problem with pros and cons of each

3. Schedule the meeting. Scheduling a meeting involves much more than just making a list of attendees. It requires identifying key people who must attend and either finding times that work for them or notifying them of the meeting’s time and location. Once an optimal date and time are agreed upon, a meeting location can be selected. (Choice meeting locations sometimes dictate meeting dates.) Other scheduling activities might include some of the following:
• Create a scheduling grid
• Create an electronic mailing list at the start
• Keep a sample E-mail handy to use as a double-check
• Draft the final meeting notification early on, with date, time and location added later.

4. Post and send out agenda. An agenda should be sent to participants ahead of time to help them prepare to participate. There are legal requirements for posting meeting notices.

5. Circulate supporting information. You should always circulate supporting materials to participants in advance of the meeting. However, deciding how much information to send in advance can present a conundrum. Some people won’t look at anything prior to the meeting and some will conscientiously read all the supporting information they can.

6. Make room arrangements. Ensure that room arrangements (including refreshments) are made. Room arrangements can make a big difference in how well a meeting goes or doesn’t go. Most important is that participants can see and hear each other. Although a “U” shape arrangement or open square is ideal for smaller groups of 20 or less, it is not usually a good choice for larger groups. The yawning hole in the middle makes communication difficult. A herring bone arrangement of tables is usually better for these larger groups. Room Arrangements for a Successful Meeting An important role for a committee chair or facilitator is to ensure that everyone present has the opportunity to participate in the deliberations. This means being able to see and hear each other. Some room arrangements facilitate communication and interaction more than others. For small groups, a “U” shape or open square arrangement is ideal – everyone can see everyone else and the shape by itself suggests interaction and equal participation. Those same shapes, however, can be deadly when groups get over 20 or so. Suddenly the huge empty space in the middle yawns. Each side of the “U” or square becomes so long that people are actually quite far from each other, making it difficult to hear and see others. Ironically, the same shape that creates such a warm atmosphere for small groups becomes counter-productive for larger groups For groups over 20, consider a herringbone arrangement of tables and chairs with 4 or 5 people at each. These arrangements enable people to easily see and interact with others, not only at their own table, but at the tables around them as well. Have as many tables as are required so that no one must sit at an uncomfortable angle to see what is happening at the front. Committee decisions often benefit by some small group discussion before the group as a whole makes a decision. Consider in advance whether separate breakout rooms are needed. If the room is large, participants can spread out by moving their chairs to various corners. If there is not room to spread out, the noise level can make it almost impossible for the groups to accomplish their work. This noise level is particularly uncomfortable for participants with hearing aids. Ironically, the same shape that creates such a warm atmosphere for small groups becomes counter-productive for larger groups. Breakout space doesn’t necessarily need to be another formal meeting room. In thinking of alternatives, consider having groups go outside to work, weather-permitting. There may be lounge areas or a lobby to which small groups could go for their working session. At one memorable meeting, a small group met in the lounge adjoining the ladies room! The point is to consider ahead of time what kind of space is required for the work to be done.

7. Arrange for a recorder. The recorder takes notes on paper, laptop or on flip charts. Meeting notes should be distributed as soon after the meeting as possible. The longer the lag, the less confidence the members have that their investment will result in action. For groups that meet regularly, the recorder is responsible for keeping previous meeting notes and agendas in one place where they can be referenced later such as from a notebook or shared network drive, etc.