What’s the best, but different, meeting format you’ve come across?

Orange empty seats - CC0 Public Domain
It’s fair to say that the format used for most Liberal Democrat meetings, such as fringe meetings at conferences, is pretty uniform and unimaginative, even with my chairing advice.

Line up several people on a panel (possibly all men), have them all talk for 90% of the time and then have much of the time for “questions” at the end eaten up by people who think asking a question means they should give a long speech.

They’re not all like that (including, I hope, the ones I’ve chaired…) but an awful lot are. Hence I’m trying to pull together some good examples of different formats that work well. What have you seen that works – whether at a Lib Dem event or at a completely different sort of event?

10 responses to “What’s the best, but different, meeting format you’ve come across?”

  1. A very good idea to explore this here from Mark.

    The best meeting is a longer one in afresh room.

    Most are not long but are in a stuffy one.

    Open all windows an inch or two at least. If there are no open windows, those which cannot , in other words , only air conditioning, check it is working, if not do not hire that room.

    Have time for panel and much time for audience.

    Deliver seminars not meetings.

    I have led the one , chaired the other.

    And participated in both and many.

    These conclusions are ongoing and reinforced every occasion.

  2. Different formats for meetings with different purpose. The example you give of a Fringe meeting, in my view is not even a meeting, it is a talking head presentation at worst or some sort of Forum.
    Best Forums are when there is a panel and some divergence of view or expertise among panel members, where qustions are handled by a chairperson so that no member of the audience is allowed to take over and spout their opinions.
    Meeting options are:
    1 meetings where there is a clear agreed purpose which is advertised to attendees. Best if there can be really neutral chairperson, but in any case the chairperson should remember their role which is to bring people in and to summarise when helpful, not use their central position to spout their opinions.
    2 Open space or world caafe style meetings which are about opening up thinking and bringing in the expertise in the audience and which can lead to engagin people around a theme to carry forward
    3 Thinking style meetings – appropriate for smaller groups derived from Nancy Klein’s Time to think.

  3. I think the framing of this has started from the wrong end. First, what are you trying to achieve from bringing people together, it’s only once you’ve fully understood the purpose can the form follow.

    Also party fringe events are a very peculiar animal with many (conflicting) objectives from the organisers (often multiple and not wholly aligned), participants and even the Party for whom it is an income stream. Given that it is hardly a surprise they can be frustrating events which leave all concerned just a little dissatisfied.

  4. you need to decide first what the objective of the event is, and then set the tone at the start and for the Chair to be focussed on achieving that. If the objective is to inform the audience about an issue then the speakers can have more time and the audience need to time to ask questions of clarification.
    If however you are wanting audience involvement in policy development, say, then you need a good stimulating speaker to speak briefly to kick off the thoughts of the audience, then spend most of the available time with contributions from the audience, with a strong chair drawing thoughts from the shy and limiting the verbose.
    Essential to getting thoughts going is to have some refreshment provided.

  5. Depends what the purpose is. If the purposes is to inform and answer questions, then the traditional is OK. And similarly if its to get a simple vote on a pre-set (or almost preset) proposal or options, though he who shouts loudest can dominate the questions swaying the result. But if its to get people’s opinions, then breakout into groups (eg simply the way we do in trainings) to get opinions and comments to feed back is really essential. Whether to give different groups different topics or allow each to cover all topics may depend on how comprehensive the experience of the audience is and how far the topics interact. But that won’t produce a majority, or necessarily coherent, view, so needs possibly two more sessions. One to look at deriving coherent overall proposals or options out of the feedback and a second session structured differently to present the options back, find tune them, and agree them.

  6. Well, there are good reasons why the stand-up ‘scrum’ style meeting has become the standard in the IT world. Obviously they are not really appropriate for longer meetings or discussion forums, but for short meetings where the purpose is simply to update a team with the current project status and determine any action points they are ideal.

  7. My philosophy when chairing panel discussions is that there are often people in the audience who know as much if not more about the topic under discussion than the people on the panel. The chair’s job is to maximize the value of the meeting by creating an environment where everyone with something to contribute can find their voice.
    Where a meeting begins with opening remarks from your panel, make sure they know well in advance what the time limit will be – preferably no more than 5 minutes apiece. They may feel this is too short, but I find it softens the blow if I say they’ll have a chance to expand on their initial comments when responding in the Q&A.
    Similarly, if necessary, impose a time limit on audience questions/comments. But if you’ve advertised Q&A I feel it’s wrong to short-change the audience. Allow at least a third to a half of the time for this part of the meeting. You won’t always get that many contributions, so the chair should have their own questions prepared, but be willing to abandon them if you’re getting lively participation. And if no one puts their hand up, liven up your own questions and ask again later.

  8. I have found that sitting in a circle is a good way to get everyone sharing their views. You can still have people leading the session and a chair but it’s less of a them and us format. Of course it depends on the size of the group as well as that of the room in which it’s held.

  9. There’s a lot of sound advice here. It’s interesting that the comments do not suggest any very different formats except the standing-up meeting. Well, that obviously can’t work for more than a handful of people and if it’s more than five or six, whoever is leading will struggle to see all the participants.

    Being clear about the purpose of the meeting is indeed essential. Then the Chair needs to be fair and ruthless – fair to make sure everyone with something to say gets to say it, or as near as possible; ruthless in cutting people short who are straying off the subject, going into excessive detail or overrunning their time.

    Most Liberal Democrat meetings will either be some sort of training, in which case the best advice is for the trainer to think hard about where the attendees will be at and what they will want from the event; or they’ll be a discussion. I find events advertised as a discussion or breakout group where five or six talking heads go on for 90% of the time extremely frustrating, especially if they repeat one another.

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