Is your committee on mute?

silently_200Meetings are almost universally despised. For most people, unless they absolutely have to be there (the committee chair, for example), they either attend grudgingly or find a reason to skip out. Unless a meeting is compelling and productive – and participants are engaged in the process – you might as well go home.

So how do you slog through the routine of a monthly committee meeting without causing your committee members to “check out” and put you on mute?

With people saying they’d prefer almost anything to sitting through a boring meeting – eight percent reportedly would rather have a root canal than endure a litany of boring status updates – it’s vitally important to engage your participants so they can share the essence of their knowledge. And being a volunteer organization, we can’t compel them to attend, like your employer can, so we need to make them want to attend.

  • Most of your meeting should involve tasks in which participants are dependent on each other to advance the outcome. If only one or two people are involved, the rest of the attendees will either be sitting there silently watching the clock or contributing in ways that may not be helpful.
  • If your meeting has no purpose or agenda, you’re doomed to waste your participants’ time. They don’t know what to expect…and you don’t know where you are going next – or even why you’re there.
  • Expect a solution to arise out of the discussion. Don’t make a habit of putting off topics until the next meeting. Make it a priority to resolve issues and make assignments. The old adage applies: Nothing gets done in meetings – the action takes place when everyone leaves the table.
  • Everyone attending should have a stake. Anyone who leaves without something to do probably shouldn’t have attended in the first place.

Here’s how to tell if your meeting should have been an e-mail or a separate discussion:

  • The item under consideration only involves one other person or function. An example might be reviewing individual training records or making an appointment to have the trailer tires rotated. If there’s no need to involve the entire committee in the discussion, talk about it offline and, if necessary, e-mail a summary so people can decide whether and when to read it.
  • Be careful, though, when using e-mail to conduct the discussion. While facts can be conveyed, it lacks the immediacy of collaborative discussion. You’ll want to judge whether a phone call, Skype connection or face-to-face meeting is needed to work something out, or if e-mail can be used to exchange facts and status updates.
  • If, on the other hand, a topic requires input from multiple stakeholders, give it a spot on the agenda. Say your Scouts are planning a community visibility event like a campout and demonstration at your church’s carnival. You’ll need input from your treasurer, equipment coordinator, camping coordinator, secretary, publicity coordinator, photographer, and certainly the chartered organization representative. The details are probably best worked out at a separate meeting, but you may want to do the high-level planning at the committee meeting.
  • But be sure that those stakeholders know what is coming and what they’re expected to contribute. It’s an extreme disservice to ambush your committee members by not telling them in advance. Distribute the agenda at least a couple days before the meeting, but give people as much notice as possible about what they need to bring to the table.

Other advice we’ve shared before:

  • Start the meeting on time. You’re disrespecting those who arrive on time if you wait for stragglers. Latecomers will get the message.
  • Likewise, end on time. Your committee members deserve to see the light at the end of the tunnel and to know they’re not being held hostage.
  • KISMIF – Keep It Simple, Make It Fun – works for adults and youth alike. It’s not always simple, but you can promote good feelings by keeping a light attitude and promoting progress. And if your schedule permits, fellowship after the meeting can give participants something to look forward to.

There are many ways to engage your committee in the business at hand without causing them to tune out. Follow these tips – and add your own in the comments – to keep your meetings on point and productive.

Image: stockimages /

This post first appeared on Bobwhite Blather.
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