by Ardis Bazyn

Our recent ACB Membership Focus call covered the topic “How can we complete our business during meetings and committee meetings more efficiently?” Participants had many great answers that would benefit presidents or committee chairs in conducting meetings that accomplish the necessary work in a short time. We appreciated all those who shared their experiences.

The first and most important answer to conducting business more efficiently was for the person in charge, whether president or chair, to have an agenda prepared in advance and circulated to the appropriate members (board or committee members). Even chapter presidents could request items for an agenda in advance if a standard agenda is not followed. Time-sensitive matters would need to be placed at the top of the list of priorities. In board and committee meetings specifically, the agenda should be written with priorities listed first and those items not as important listed at the end, in case time doesn't permit. When the allotted time for the meeting is over, the topics that were not covered could be placed at the top of the next agenda.

In order to finish the agenda items on each call or at a given meeting, the leader needs to set forth some ground rules for those attending the meeting. Some recommendations were: to allow each person to speak only once on any motion or topic unless more input is needed; only allow two to five minutes on any given topic or motion; to allow only relevant conversation on the topic at hand; and to move to a vote or another topic as soon as it is adequately covered. Sometimes the chair or president will have to ask those who make inappropriate interruptions to wait until the end of the meeting. When rules are made at the beginning of a meeting, it is easier to keep the meeting moving.

Written reports from committee chairs should be prepared ahead of time. Board members could read these in advance of the meeting. Then, only the items in the report that need board action would need to be discussed. In addition, recommendations could be made ahead of time, leaving more time to make the necessary decisions.

The next suggestion was timely notices of meetings. Board members and committee members need to receive notices well in advance of the meetings, so as many members as possible can attend. Most participants on the call felt it was best to have meetings scheduled at previous meetings or notices given at least two weeks in advance of the meetings. For board meetings, it would be best to have regularly scheduled meetings each month or quarter if possible, with emergency meetings planned when needed. Meeting notices should be placed on your affiliate web site and in your newsletters whenever possible. Chapter meetings should be scheduled for the same day and time each month if possible, e.g., the first Saturday at 11 a.m. or the second Tuesday at 2 p.m., etc. It would be advantageous to send out reminders close to the meeting date.

Notices need to be sent via e-mail, and phone reminders need to be made for those not using e-mail. If a board member or committee member has not responded to e-mail, that member needs a friendly reminder by phone. E-mail is not foolproof. Also, members should not be chosen for committees or boards based on whether they have e-mail.

The next suggestion was to have time limitations established in advance of meetings. Most felt that one to two hours are the best time frames for conference call meetings. If they are longer than that, members get frustrated or lose focus. Members on the phone may start pushing items through rather than effectively dealing with the topic. In-person committee or board meetings could be longer, especially when much travel is needed to participate. You could plan a four- to six-hour time frame with lunch in between for a board meeting or two to three hours for committee meetings. Since in-person meetings might accomplish more, it might be advisable to hold them whenever possible. The time limit should be made clear in advance. If lower priority items need to be moved to another meeting, everyone will understand.

Most participants felt it was important to have open board meetings in person at least during conventions, so everyone can observe how the board is functioning. The membership likes to know what is happening and feel more involved in the chapter or affiliate. Most also thought that conference call board meetings should be held on an open call so all members can observe. When sensitive legal or personnel items need to be handled, a separate closed executive session of the board can be held.

Presidents need to use the gavel when side noise occurs. If observers or board members are having their own side conversations, they need to be told they will not be tolerated. Ask all participants to shut off cell phones. On conference calls, ask those with background noise to mute their phones. At chapter meetings, give meeting responsibilities to members who interrupt or talk often.

The final topic discussed was the importance of having committees that consist of a diverse set of participants, i.e., those who are computer literate, those who do not use computers, and those who are deaf-blind. In order to accomplish this, committees need to use accessible phone systems that allow everyone to use them. Chapters and affiliates can use Skype, accessible phone systems, and web systems to allow those without transportation to attend various meetings. If they cannot use the system in your state, someone must be designated to contact those who cannot participate.

The next focus call will be held April 11, 2010, at 8 p.m. Eastern (5 p.m. Pacific). Our topic will be fund-raising for ACB activities. To join us on the call, dial (712) 775-7000, and use access code 640009#.

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