There are a few types of meetings you will preside over as chair. The major meetings are at the Midwinter and Annual conferences, and those should be a high priority for you. But most of the work that you do will take place in between those meetings, and you should plan to have a few additional meeting times throughout the year virtually.
Virtual discussions benefit from clear planning and facilitation, which might feel over the top in in-person discussions. This document provides tips on facilitating virtual committee meetings. Note that it does not refer to The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure (aka Sturgis) rules of order, which is often too formal for most committee meetings. However, those rules of order can be easily integrated with the tips below.
Other Helpful Documents
For suggestions on which video platforms to use, click here.
For tips on document management, click here.
For information on building consensus, click here.
For information on virtual engagement, click here.
Before the Meeting
- Schedule the meeting.
- For tips on scheduling a meeting, click here.
- Once you have scheduled the meeting, be open to adjusting the meeting time as necessary. Always look at your agenda in advance to determine if the meeting is still necessary and the time is still appropriate. Postpone a meeting if an essential stakeholder is not available.
- Schedule the meeting.
- Send out the pre-work.
- Use pre-work for data gathering and information sharing that doesn’t require real-time interaction. Provide information to be reviewed and commented upon ahead of time. Solicit information from participants in advance so you can focus the meeting agenda and determine who needs to be involved when. Prework launches you right into a productive conversation so that the time together can be efficient, productive, and engaging.
- Plan a detailed agenda
- It can be useful for this agenda to be in a Google Doc that can also double as a space for meeting notes. Ensure permissions on the Google Doc are set so that all participants can view (and possibly edit) the document.
- Have well-defined, concrete outcomes for the meeting, and write these into the agenda. What will success look like? What specific questions do you need answered?
- Consider what each person in the meeting will be doing at any given time. How is each person actively participating? If they will simply be listening the entire time, the information may be better conveyed through an email or other form of asynchronous communication.
- Plan in advance how long you’ll spend on each agenda item. This will ensure you cover everything in time. While you may need to adjust on the fly, it’s good to think about how you want the meeting to flow.
- Allow time at the beginning for introductions and building community, and at the end to review outcomes and clarify action steps.
- Build time for quiet reflection or writing, if necessary. This keeps certain people from dominating discussions over those who need to think first.
- Send the agenda out in advance as part of the pre-work, so people know what to expect and can add items if needed.
- Announce the meeting.
- Notify committee members of the date, time, place, and agenda of meeting, and goals to be achieved. Post this on the committee mailing list and Connect page.
- Remember that ALA has an Open Meetings Policy. Send a message to the LITA-L listserv stating the time and place of the meeting and mention that participation is welcome. Determine in advance of the meeting what virtual participation will be possible and publicize this as well.
- Practice with and plan for the technology.
- What will you do if the technology fails (e.g., someone can’t get into the meeting or their microphone fails)? Plan this in advance.
- In your agenda, you may need to allot time for people to troubleshoot and learn the technology, particularly if it’s the first time they’ve used it.
- Assign roles.
- Assign a notetaker to take notes during the meeting; it is difficult for the facilitator to also take notes.
- You may also want to designate a timekeeper.
- For a larger group discussion, you may want to assign someone else to ensure questions from the chat window are getting addressed in the discussion.
During the Meeting
- Be there early. You want to show up before members, to give you time to make sure technology is working and so members aren’t confused by showing up to an empty meeting.
- Encourage participants to use their microphone and share their video, if possible. This makes everyone feel more connected and engaged, and allows you to see and gauge facial expressions. It also discourages people from getting distracted or multi-tasking.
- Spend time at the beginning of the meeting building connections.
- Greet people as they arrive, and encourage casual chit chat until the start time.
- At the beginning of the meeting, give everyone a chance to go around and share what is going on in their lives/workplaces. Depending on the group, you may prefer to ask a specific “Community Builder” question (e.g., Which season is your favorite, and why?).
- Establish norms at the beginning of at least your first meeting with the group. Example norms:
- Watch your “air time” – Ensure that you are sharing your opinions, but don’t hog the conversation.
- Stay present – Don’t multitask or walk away without explanation.
- Muting – Should people keep their microphones muted?
- Pros: Reduces background noise
- Cons: Discourages natural verbal back-and-forth; makes the meeting more impersonal.
- Chat – How should people use the chat?
- Chatting takes longer; for in-depth, small-group discussions, it’s generally better for people to speak verbally.
- The chat can be good for quick comments and questions, particularly with larger groups.
- Encourage people to generally stay on topic in the chat; side comments may be fine, but side discussions generally should be avoided.
- Make sure all questions and directions are crystal clear. If possible, these can be planned out in advance and written on the agenda document.
- Encourage engagement from all participants.
- Keep track of who is talking or participating.
- Provide quiet/wait time to allow people to think (and to discourage the same few people from dominating the conversation).
- Call on people often in an engaging and conversational way. This helps ensure that everyone gets a chance to participate, and encourages them to stay engaged.
- With larger meetings, consider having everyone write their thoughts in a Google Spreadsheet or a Google Doc, as people can do this simultaneously and you don’t have to save the chat or transcribe notes later. Set up these documents in advance to save time.
- For quicker questions, use the “hand raise” feature or polling feature to gather opinions.
- Avoid sharing your desktop unless it is necessary. It takes up a lot of screen space (making it more difficult to see faces) and makes it more difficult for participants to have the agenda or other collaboration spaces open.
- If you do share your screen, avoid excessive scrolling or sudden movements, as these can be disorienting.
- As an alternative, consider using a Google doc or sharing links, and having everyone open up those pages on their own computers.
- Keep the pace moving and the discussions on topic.
- Don’t let discussions drag on. Keep an on-screen, visible “parking lot” for off-agenda topics.
- Use lazy consensus; move forward even if you don’t have 100% of people verbally agree. For more tips on building consensus, see here.
- Stick to the promised agenda and timing – preferably finish the meeting early.
- At the end of the meeting, summarize decisions and next steps. Ensure all outstanding tasks have owners and deadlines.
After the Meeting
- Send out brief meeting notes to your committee and ask for corrections
- Post meeting documents on ALA Connect. As soon as possible after the meeting. If there are particular members of LITA staff or the board who need to be consulted, send the information to them.
- Follow up on items people are responsible for.
- Seek feedback from participants to help engage them in making sure the next meeting is even more successful
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