Productive public meetings are a project, with a process and a pattern, much like knitting a sweater. And while many of you may not be able to knit or understand the basics involved in knitting, you do understand the threads and complicated patterns involved in producing an effective and efficient public meeting. Yet, no matter how well you understand those processes, meetings can still get out of hand if not managed properly. Through my years as both a meeting attendee and as a meeting Chair, I have found the following tips helpful when knitting my meetings together…
1. Set meeting expectations and stick to them. At the start of the meeting, set ground rules (ex. five-minute public comment limit, etc.). This is especially important during meetings with hot-topic agenda items that bring large audiences. This is critical to maintaining decorum and providing fair treatment to all who want to be heard.
2. Be respectful. Be open to the opinions of others. You do not have to agree with them, but you must allow them to speak their mind and share that opinion. It is not a matter of right or wrong, it is simply looking at it from a different point of view.
3. Silence cell phones. Think of it like the movies, no one wants an important discussion to be interrupted mid-sentence by an annoying ringing or vibrating.
4. Only one person speaks at a time. Do not allow a meeting to get out of control, no matter how hot the topic may be. If there is a microphone or podium, this issue is more easily controlled. However, for smaller meetings, you must be direct and correct others who start to interrupt or talk over other attendees.
5. Be brief, but only make your point once. When making a point, be clear concise and to the point. Encourage others to do the same.
6. No sidebar conservations. Try to eliminate unnecessary background noise and tension created through sidebar conversations, not only are they disrespectful, but often they lead to misinformation being spread and meetings go longer trying to correct that information. Refer back to point 4 to address this issue and be direct, asking meeting attendees to hold side conversations until after the meeting.
For many of us, public meetings are a systematic occurrence. We all know how unpleasant they can be, but with the right best management practices, they don’t have to be. They can run smoother, be shorter, and more effective!
As an employee, you may not have a say in how a meeting is run but you can work with your elected officials, board members, and volunteer committees by providing training in meeting facilitation techniques. Take time to work with others with tips like the ones mentioned above and see how it works for your meetings. If you have other pointers to share with your peers, do it! Most of all be patient, be respectful, and be a leader!
As a knitter, it is easy for me to see the parallels between public meetings and knitting projects, and many of the tips above apply to both. I always set expectations at the beginning of a project and respect the pattern – this way I know what I am getting into and ensure a successful; end-product. Cell phones, sidebars, etc…ask any knitter who’s in the middle of counting stitches or rows, they will tell you why this is a deal breaker!