As a species we have built buildings as tall as mountains, gizmos that orbit our planet and armies of robots.
There is just one thing we have yet to master: how to run an effective meeting.
If you think it gets better once college is over you are in for a rude awakening. Few seem to know the art of holding meetings that are concise, meaningful and engaging. I know your chapter meetings are rough, your executive board meetings run long and your members don’t seem to remember what was said at either, but we’ll get through it together. Here are five simple tips that may help move things along. They are independent of one another, so try any at your leisure and see how it works!
1. Coordinate your content
Before any movie is made, a storyboard is created. Storyboards are basically a way to outline scenes in a movie to aid in the filming process. Movies can have dozens of characters, several sub-stories and hundreds of explosions, but good ones wrap all of that content into a neatly themed package. Your meetings should be no different.
Part of why your chapter zones out may be because you are throwing too many things their way. Humans tend to remember things in twos and threes; that’s basic psychology and marketing. Grouping many items into neat categories helps us remember and causes less fatigue when trying to pay attention. You need to build a storyboard for each of your meetings. Sure it feels nice when every executive board member and chairman has something to say at a meeting, but if Johnny talks service, Vinny is planning a social and Kyle goes on a tirade about how the younger guys need to “step it up,” then we are just confusing our members.
Group your content into 1-3 themes and stick to that for the whole meeting. Group your reports by content or with a general lesson. A service event and a formal both involve interacting with other people in public. Focus that chapter meeting on why we do these events and how we act at them.
More importantly, designate special meetings for long or difficult conversations. Your chapter members should know what they are getting into ahead of time. If you know a tough conversation is going to take place, be courteous enough to plan ahead and separate the conversation from the reporting. Your chapter meetings are times of business, close the meeting and then take 30 minutes to get through Big Important Conversation. No one likes mid-chapter surprises.
2. Think “Sermon”
Can’t think of a theme for your meetings? Here’s an easy one: Ritual.
Why do people meet weekly for their religion? They can pray at home. They can watch sermons on TV. They won’t even get fined! People attend these services because it connects them to their beliefs. If you are not religious, relate this to a political affiliation or just visit a church or synagogue and observe. Not only do those who preside over these meetings theme their content well, there’s usually some sort of lesson to be learned, heavy uses of symbolism, time for reflection and engaging rituals.
Greeks have their own Easter; our church follows a different calendar than most. It’s my favorite holiday – We walk around the church singing, we play a simple game involving hard-boiled eggs, and we eat lots of lamb. Those rituals symbolize new life, rebirth and forgiveness, but also connect Greeks here in America with their heritage. You don’t need to live in Athens to experience what you love. In much the same way, you don’t need to be your fraternity’s alpha chapter to enjoy and connect with the fraternity experience.
Incorporate elements of your ritual or simple traditions into your meetings to make your points stick. Start your meeting with your creed, make the symbols of your fraternity or sorority visible throughout the meeting or share a story about your founders or organization. The more we can mimic the addictive qualities of a sermon, the less you’ll have to worry about whether people will show up and whether they’ll be engaged. Remember that humans are visual creatures; the greatest leaders in history combined a heavy dose of symbolism, ritual and principled beliefs to excite their followers.
3. Capitalize On Brotherhood/Sisterhood Opportunities
You will find that even if the content of your reports or your capacity to incorporate ritual into your meetings is limited, people will still show up. Chapter is the one time a week where everyone gets together to meet. It’s probably that “one meeting, one hour a week” that we all tell potential members will be the only thing they have to do once they join. Much like a weekly religious meeting, your chapter meeting is a time to learn and to socialize.
We need to capitalize on this unique opportunity to have everyone in one place to talk about fraternity. That doesn’t happen at a service event or social; it happens at “chapter.” Only in these meetings can we do a fun “pass the gavel” to hear what brothers did throughout the week. Only here can a brother of the week give a thrilling, and brief, power point presentation describing his life. Only here can we pick a topic to discuss and have an opportunity to hear from any of our brothers. This stuff can happen anywhere, but keeping it exclusively to a chapter meeting gives people something to show up for.
My favorite moments in chapter were when my brothers said unexpectedly awesome things or when we all seemed to be in agreement after a deep-zone conversation. Create opportunities for people to have conversations and share. Break out into small groups for 10 minutes and allow everyone to talk about fraternity, ritual, service, or how to be the fraternity that treats women with respect, not like objects. This will allow you to talk about things you want the chapter to talk about, it’ll encourage more people to share and it’ll get people excited about the idea of coming to chapter to see and hear from their brothers.
4. Crack the whip
Meetings aren’t always happy-go-lucky, and some of your brothers may not give a hoot about seeing each other or talking about how great we can be. Sometimes Johnny-Six-Pack won’t stop cussing or Jimmy-Jorts-Jenkins doesn’t seem to get what “business casual attire” means. Get serious with the rules of your chapter. Give each member two strikes (not three, why should someone be allowed to be an idiot twice before being removed?) and kick them out. Set a dress code and require members to be presentable at every meeting. It’s embarrassing to have someone present to a room full of guys in sweats. I don’t care if it’s Sunday; you are always representing your letters.
Be careful when implementing anything on this list, but be particularly careful when implementing rules. Remember the “two to three” thing? It works when offering choices as well. Rather than determine what attire is appropriate at a meeting, give your members three options to choose from. You will be comfortable no matter what the ultimate decision is, but it helps your members feel less like something is being imposed on them and more like they’ve made a decision as a group to be a little more appropriate.
At the same time, shy away from carrots and sticks. It is perfectly acceptable to fine or refer to a standards/honor board someone who was removed from a chapter meeting for being an idiot. That said, if people don’t want to show up, let them miss out. Most guys and gals who miss chapter meetings don’t care what the chapter is doing, will not offer anything to better the meeting or will purposefully rile chapter members up against the executive board. You’re better without them, and should use your energy instead to create your storyboard and conversation topics.
Eventually, as the people who want to be there recruit more people like them, attendance won’t be an issue. Your problem is not apathy, it’s that you sold the wrong fraternity or sorority experience to losers who can’t even make it to a meeting.
5. Recap with action items
At the start of every chapter meeting we’d ask, “Is there a motion to waive the reading of the minutes,” to which a person who missed the last chapter meeting, is generally unaccountable or knows exactly what the chapter is doing because he planned it all says, “YES!” . . . anything to get out a little earlier right?
You don’t need to read the minutes from the prior meeting at the start of every meeting, but there is a simple way to make sure that information flows from one chapter to the next and to make sure that everyone leaving the room knows what happened. At the end of every meeting ask, “What have we decided upon today?” and, if decisions were made, “How are we communicating/moving forward with that?”
Ask your members to recap what was discussed or decided upon during the meeting. Then ask what action items were mentioned or how we will communicate those decisions to the outside world or other members. Example:
Q: What have we decided upon today?
A: We are having our service project next Wednesday at 7pm
Q: How are we moving forward with that?
A: It’ll be posted on the calendar by the secretary and in the minutes sent to all the brothers. Everyone shows up at the playground at 6pm to drive over and we’ll plan who is riding with whom at our next chapter meeting.
Simple right? Netflix’s management team uses this practice to ensure that everyone leaves with the same understanding of how things are going down. Lord knows your executive board and chairmen are not master orators; give your chapter a chance to demonstrate that they’ve listened and to hear it all again before adjournment.
So, what did we discuss? Group the content of your meetings to make it easy to remember. Incorporate rituals and lessons into your chapter meetings. Capitalize on having everyone together by creating chapter-exclusive bonding traditions. Follow the rules; treat your meetings with respect. Finally, always remember to recap and end a meeting with directives.
For ideas head to your local religious building, watch TED Talks to inspire conversation or peruse LinkedIn’s contributor posts for more/better ideas.