Guide to Meetings 2013/14
imperialcollegeunion.org Meeting advice
Students attending meetings - Before
Students attending meetings - During
Students attending meetings - After
Students chairing meetings - Before
Students chairing meetings - At the start
Students chairing meetings - During
Students chairing meetings - At the end
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imperialcollegeunion.org/academicreps All information correct at the time of going to print (22/09/13)
Introduction Whether you are an experienced Academic Representative or new to the role this guide will arm you with the tools to get the most out of any meeting. No matter which Academic Representative role you occupy you will need to attend and contribute to meetings on a regular basis, whether as an attendee or as a chair. The principles outlined are applicable to both formal and informal meetings. We hope that you find them useful.
Students attending meetings Before each meeting An agenda will be distributed (a document outlining the topics to be discussed and proceedings within each meeting) usually at least a week before the meeting is due to take place. Make sure you read this and let the organiser know ahead of the meeting if there are any issues you’d like to discuss that aren’t included already. If you’re unsure about the meaning of an item ask the meetings’ organiser for clarification. Make sure you consult the students you represent about the topics to be discussed in the meeting. You will be expected to outline their opinions and to defend their interests. Without this knowledge your contribution to the meeting is severely limited.
During the meeting A minute-taker (typically a member of staff) will write the minutes – documenting and summarising everything that happens during the meeting. They may occasionally ask the group for clarification of an issue. Minutes are a formal, factual account of everything that happened during the meeting in the order it happened. Discussions will be summarised, outcomes noted and actions (where a specific goal has been agreed e.g. Tom C. to investigate into ‘X’) allocated. The Chair (a member of staff or a student) controls the meeting and should remain impartial throughout. Their role is to prevent individuals dominating a discussion, stop the meeting overrunning and ensure people stay on-topic. They will begin the meeting and should let you know that they will be chairing. Don’t be afraid to be heard! It’s natural to be nervous about speaking, especially if you haven’t attended a formal meeting before. Some top tips: Remember that you have just as much a right as anyone else attending the meeting (including senior staff) to speak – that’s why you were invited! If it helps, remember that you have a responsibility as a representative of your year/department/faculty to speak on their behalf. If you’re concerned about what others might think about your points, phrasing it as ‘my department thinks…’ or ‘students I’ve heard from say…’ can take the pressure off you. It’s also a good idea to note down any points you have before, or even during, the meeting to ensure you don’t forget any of your points when it’s your turn to speak. If someone in the meeting is dominating and preventing others or you from contributing ask the chair for permission to add some points “Can I just add a few things to what X is saying?” This will give you permission to make your point and ensure the meeting is a discussion rather than a one-sided monologue. Some general principles to bear in mind when contributing to meetings: A good tactic is to get your points out at the beginning of the discussion, when it tends to be less animated and there’s enough time for your point to be heard (there’s nothing as off-putting as being rushed). To make the most impact use a few clear and articulate points e.g. “I’ve got three points to make…” This focuses people’s attention and will make your contribution more digestible. Repetition helps you get your point across. Elaborate on a point to ensure everyone has understood but avoid rambling. This is a technique to be used sparingly!
After the meeting Minutes written during the meeting will be distributed by email. These serve as a reminder of what happened during the meeting, as well as any actions which have been agreed (particularly if they are to be done by you). Make sure you read them as you’ll be asked to attest to their accuracy later on. When you receive the minutes, note any actions you are responsible for in the SMART goals facility on e-Activities. This will help you track and plan your work. Actions allocated to you should be completed, or started as soon as possible. Typically deadlines are given to actions e.g. Tom C. to investigate into ‘X’ by the next meeting. Don’t forget to update the students you represent about any decisions made, or even that the issue is still on-going. More meeting tips are available on the Academic Representation Network website, including guidance for those who chair meetings.
Students chairing meetings This guide is intended for students chairing Staff-Student committee meetings and for informal meetings. The chair’s role is to make sure a meeting is efficient and effective. You’ve most likely been in meetings where nothing is decided, the meeting is lengthy and everyone gets frustrated. A good chair will help prevent this. There a few issues to bear in mind with meetings attended by students. Students may not have attended formal meetings before, and therefore might not be confident about speaking and how things work. As chair you need to encourage such students to participate in the meeting, and ensure they know what’s going on. As Academic Representatives, students are giving up their free time to attend meetings, and unless we make these worthwhile, time efficient and avoid boring them they won’t be inclined to attend in future. As a chair you need to ensure meetings start and finish on time (by reining in over-zealous speakers), are productive (by encouraging members to make a decision where possible) and as enjoyable as possible (by ensuring members treat each other with respect and meetings are kept under control).
Before the meeting Know the purpose of the meeting, and the purpose of the committee. This helps the meeting stay ‘on-track’ as you’ll know when discussions are straying beyond your remit. Ensure you have a good level of knowledge about the topics to be discussed within the meeting and are able to answer any questions. When constructing an agenda it’s a good idea to place an easy item at the very start of the meeting (to ease people in) and then move onto the most challenging item (while people are still fresh and awake). Consider listing a suggested period of time to be spent on each agenda item helps focus people’s attention. Let people know why they have been invited to the meeting. What do you want them to contribute? Are they there to make a decision, to be updated? One method of encouraging attendance is to leave 15 minutes at the start of each meeting, advertised beforehand as being for refreshments. This will allow those who want to socialise to do so, and should mean that the meetings begin on time.
At the start of the meeting Welcome and acknowledge everyone. Begin the meeting by introducing yourself and letting them know that you will act as the chair. Request any apologies for absence from the secretary. Where possible introduce an exercise to make everyone speak at the start of the meeting (e.g. by introducing themselves and which department or year they represent). This gets participants’ nerves about public speaking out of the way and encourages them to speak later on in the meeting, as well as ensuring people understand one another’s roles within the meeting.
During the meeting Introduce each item, summarise the current situation or background, outline people’s opinions (if necessary), potential actions and finally encourage participants to make a decision. Make it clear when you close one agenda item and move on to the next. Encourage quiet members and those who may not be confident at speaking. A good way of doing this is to ask “What does your department/course think about that?” Allowing them to express their department’s views rather than their own removes some pressure, and allows you to directly request that they contribute to the discussion.
Stop individuals from dominating the discussion or waffling. Ask students who are waffling if they can summarise their views in 3 points or fewer. Remind them that ‘time is against us’. A polite way to do this is to say: “we’ve heard a lot from some people, and not much from others. Would any of the rest of you like to add anything?” Pro-actively explain and clarify issues or jargon. Throughout the meeting try to anticipate if anyone might not know a term, have received the latest information about the issue or heard about the issue in the first place. Ensure people stay on-topic, and work towards the end goal (e.g. making a decision). If the group is stuck on one item with little progress being made, give the group an option – do they wish to continue discussing this item (remind them that this will mean other agenda items may have to be missed due to time constraints) or would they rather move on to another item? This is a professional and democratic method of getting them to move on. You might want to remind the group what they have been tasked with discussing, and the end-goal. Discussions and decisions should be explicitly summarised throughout the meeting as appropriate. This helps focus people’s minds to the matter in hand, and is a useful tool for ensuring discussions move along.
At the end of the meeting Summarise what’s gone on (e.g. decisions made) and any actions agreed at the end of every meeting. This makes people feel that the meeting was productive and worth their while. If you can, let people know when the next meeting will be held. Thank people for their time and contribution. More meeting tips are available on the Academic Representation Network website, including guidance for those who chair meetings.
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Published on Jan 13, 2014