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How to Run a Meeting

Every meeting needs a facilitator! The facilitator is responsible for helping a group of people achieve their objectives for a meeting or call, and for making the meeting inclusive and rewarding for everyone.

Good facilitation requires planning. As you plan the agenda for your meeting, there are two things you should know for each topic:

  • Desired outcomes: What is the purpose of the agenda item? Review/approve a document? Brainstorm ideas for an action? Provide updates on a project?
  • Driver: who is driving the agenda topic? You will likely hand over the reins to others for presentations or to lead discussion on a topic they know more about.

Two key written tools will help you plan the content, communicate it to participants, keep your meeting on time, and ensure discussion translates into action:

  • Create an agenda. Confirm each speaker before you circulate it.
  • Track action items and key decisions, even if you do not take full notes!

Sample Actions and Decisions

Meeting with Partners

  • Action: Ask Regina for the slides and circulate them to the group - Rima
  • Decision: Participants agreed that the potential partner’s objectives align with ours and that we can share information and coordinate activities

Plan Event

  • Action: Prepare questions for the MOC and distribute them - Anya
  • Action: Record video - Wilfredo

There are three main types of discussion:

  • Briefing: a one-way transfer of information (may include Q & A).
  • Brainstorming: an open discussion to generate ideas.
  • Decision-making: a directed conversation to reach a decision. Agree to the requirements for decisions first, such as reaching consensus or a majority vote.

It’s important to consider the size of your group. Unfortunately, both brainstorming and decision-making are difficult with groups that are larger than twenty. If you want to brainstorm or make collaborative decisions, try break-out groups.

Although one facilitator can run most meetings, if you expect a difficult agenda or you want to ensure things run smoothly, there are three roles you might invite people to fill:

  • Facilitator: introduces/closes, keeps in scope/on time, draws out participation
  • Scribe: writes or types notes to distribute later
  • Troubleshooting: handles logistical problems so facilitator can remain focused

Be an active ally to participants who are more likely to be marginalized:

  • Defer to people from communities that are most directly affected by racism, xenophobia, transphobia, homophobia, ageism, ableism, and antipathy toward the poor. Give time and leadership during the meeting to them.
  • If self-identified members of those communities aren’t attending your meetings, think about what might be getting in their way and what you can do to change it (e.g., is the building ADA-compliant?).
  • Statements by people from marginalized groups may gain more recognition if repeated by someone of a more privileged background. Watch for this and credit the originator (“Jack, it sounds like you’re agreeing with the point Adeola made earlier that…”).
  • If conversations are being dominated by a small number of people, encourage participants to Step Up and Step Back: ask those who talk a lot to step back and ask for opinions from those who don’t.

Use a “Parking Lot” to keep your discussion on track:

  • Have a “parking lot” for good ideas that are out of scope. If someone expresses concern about whether the location is accessible to low-income people while you are planning an action for the next day, put it in the parking lot.
  • If a participant makes a point that isn’t gaining traction, but the person is not letting it go, repeat the point back so the they feel heard and add to it to the parking lot or suggest they organize a targeted meeting to discuss it further.

Additional Resources