Effective meetings lead to effective campus campaigns, and ultimately victories. They are a cornerstone of any campus organization. At face value, they seem pretty self-explanatory. What’s so hard about getting a bunch of people together and talking about activism?
If you aren’t careful, meetings can ruin your organization. Too many meetings, with too little action, can break an organization. Long, haphazard meetings can discourage new members and burn out activists.
If you have regular meetings, they should be held on the same day and time on a regular interval (weekly, biweekly, monthly). Some groups call meetings as they need them (this works best with small, close-knit groups). It just depends on what works best with the size and level of commitment of your group.
Before you plan a meeting, ask yourself a few questions:
How many people (do you hope) will be there? It’s better to have a room that’s a little too small (it makes the meeting seem larger and more energetic).
Do you want movable chairs (so you can form a circle)?
Do you need a blackboard? Overhead? TV?
Think about these things, and then go to CCI (4th floor of the SSB). This is where you reserve rooms in all campus buildings, except the Texas Union. You’ll need to fill out a form, listing dates, times and room preferences. There is a list available that details what rooms are open for reservations, and what features each room has (TV/VCR, moveable chairs). Take ten minutes and go check out a few of the rooms (it’s worth your time). Then list your preferences. Once you submit the form, it takes a few days to get confirmation, so plan ahead.
Reservations for all facilities at the Texas Union are made at the Union Reservations Office (room 4.300B) call 475-6677 for more information.
Before the Meeting
Put as much effort into preparing for the meeting as you do in the meeting itself. Before the meeting, talk with a few core group members about what needs to be accomplished, and plan an agenda that will meet those goals.
Post fliers around campus, and list the meeting in the “around campus” segment of the Daily Texan (free). [The Daily Texan is in the basement of the Texas Student Publications building, across from the CMA].
Ask sympathetic professors if you can announce the meeting/group in class. This is a great way to generate interest. Be prepared to make a quick, punchy announcement that catches everyone’s attention and leaves them wanting to know more.
Arrange the chairs in a circle so people can see each other.
Think about bringing food (vegan, of course) to entice new people to attend.
Set up a table at the meeting with pamphlets, articles and zines relevant to your group (to give to newcomers).
An agenda is meant to be a sort of framework for the meeting. It gives
everyone an idea of what needs to be accomplished, and in which order. Before
writing an agenda, be clear about the meeting's purpose. Is it to make
decisions? Share important information? Divide the group's workload? Build
morale? If your group is notorious for spending too much time on each topic,
agree on certain time limits at first. If the time runs out, and no progress has
been made, decide as a group if you should discuss it longer, or return to it at
a later date. This way, there is the possibility of completing the other items
on the agenda.
During the Meeting
If your meetings are long, unorganized and non-participatory, don’t expect to get people back for the next one. Here are some things to think about:
Start on time.
Pass around a signup sheet for names, email addresses and phone numbers.
Follow the agenda. Introduce each topic with a brief background statement and let the group know what type of action needs to be taken and how much time you will spend on each item.
Don’t lecture! There is a big difference between being a leader and a dictator.
Keep the meeting moving. Focus on the matter on hand and keep the discussion on track. Get everyone to participate by asking questions of people who aren’t contributing so that they’ll be brought into the meeting.
Make sure newcomers are included.
For each item on the agenda, write down all ideas on a chalkboard. This serves as a “group memory” of what has been discussed, and helps the meeting stay focused.
After brainstorming, pick a smaller number of priority goals on which the group agrees. Choose tangible, realizable goals such as planning a table.
What will be done?
When will each task be completed?
How will it be done?
Who will do it?
Announce when and where all upcoming events will be.
Make sure each person leaves the meeting with something to do. People drop out if they don’t feel like they’re doing something. Create a sense of commitment to the group.
End the meeting on positive tone.
Stick around to answer questions.
Consensus is a method of planning, typically associated with anarchist collectives, that is used to eliminate some of the hierarchies that emerge in organizations. It is used to make sure all voices are represented, and that no one is pressured into “just going along.”
Before beginning a discussion, some groups ask everyone to agree to certain things (like not interrupting anyone, or not speaking twice until everyone has spoken). After that, it’s just a normal discussion. If a lot of people want to speak at the same time, someone needs to volunteer to keep a “stack.” A stack is just a list of everyone who wants to speak, in the order they raised their hands. This is meant to keep the discussion flowing smoothly, and allow everyone to speak uninterrupted.
If a specific decision needs to be made, the group must have consensus (hence, the name of the process). This can be done by saying “agreed” or by making a gesture (like raising your hand).
This is a very, very brief description of a complicated, and often difficult, process. Our only advice is to experiment with consensus and find what works (if anything) for your collective. It is hard to reach consensus with a large group, but at the same time it allows everyone to speak in an organized way. At some points, consensus can be very frustrating. At other points, it is extremely rewarding to find out you have worked through a difficult decision, and have the support of the entire group. If the method of consensus we have described here does not work for your group, alter it or create a new method.
If your group is having a very difficult time using consensus, ask yourself some questions. What is being lost by focusing so much on the process of consensus? Are animals dying in a university lab? Is a professor about to be fired? At the same time, what would be lost by abandoning consensus? Would the group lose solidarity? Would the campaign ultimately suffer? In other words, don’t lose sight of your goal. Don’t let consensus bind you, but be aware of what you are sacrificing if you abandon it.