[IAEP] Fwd: Running good meetings

Marco Pesenti Gritti mpgritti at gmail.com
Tue Nov 11 11:37:24 EST 2008

Since each team is running meetings now, I thought I'd forward these
notes from Mel. I think they contain a bunch of concrete advises on
how make them better!

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Mel Chua <mel at melchua.com>
Date: Fri, Nov 7, 2008 at 6:42 AM
Subject: Running good meetings
To: Marco Pesenti Gritti <mpgritti at gmail.com>

(Note that I don't always do all of these because I forget stuff
sometimes, but as I think through my "if I was actually
super-disciplined about running meetings correctly, here's what I'd
do" list, here's what I came up with.)

These are notes specifically applicable to running IRC meetings with
meetbot using using Mediawiki (with Semantic Mediawiki) as a
note-taking system, but the general principles apply to running any
sort of meeting.

Before the meeting:

0. Make it really easy to take/manage meeting notes. See
http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Community_testing_meetings for an example -
Skierpage was awesome and made the "How to add a meeting" button +
semantic mediawiki stuff, which pulls from this template:
http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Template:New_community_testing_meeting (But
for the really cool stuff, check out the source on for
for SMW-fu).

Basically, I asked Skierpage to help me make a system that I would
*not* be too lazy to use. ;) See
for this discussion.

1. Have a draft agenda on a wiki page, using the system from #0.
Pre-filling the page with a template stub (the "How to add a meeting"
button + http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Template:New_community_testing_meeting
template) helps a lot to decrease gruntwork.
is an example of pre-meeting notes - note that there's one section per
agenda item, with short notes arrayed below.

When there's a lot of background information, or when somebody wants
to voice their opinion before the meeting, or can't make the meeting
and wants to put their thoughts forth for consideration, link to it.
For example: http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Community_testing_meetings/2008-11-06/Prioritizing_activities_to_test

2. Send out reminder emails about the meeting - mention it (with a
link to the draft agenda) when you send out the minutes from the
previous meeting, and send a reminder the day before or the day of the
meeting itself (also with the draft agenda link).

3. Invite people personally to the meeting over email, in IRC, when
you see them... anything. Try to bring up specific things that they
might be interested in, or that you would like them to come talk
about. "Hey Mel, we're going to talk about cheese - I remember you
were telling me about this wonderful cheddar that you had last week
and thought you might enjoy coming and speaking about that..."

4. Remind people to come to the meeting right before it starts. You'll
see me poking my head into offices, walking by people's desks, or at
the very least sitting at mine and suddenly hollering "Hey guys!
Community test meeting in 5 minutes in the #olpc-meeting channel!"

5. As people file into the meeting room, greet and welcome them and
thank them for coming in a bit early / on time. This is important! It
confirms to them that there's a meeting on, gives you a good sense of
who's present (for a virtual meeting), and makes it clear that being
on time is Awesome.

6. A minute or so before the meeting starts, look around and say
something like "it's almost time to start, is everybody ready?" to
remind people that the actual get-down-to-business time is coming up.

During the meeting:

7. Begin the meeting. (Meetbot command: #startmeeting) This should be
*exactly* on time, if at all humanly possible, and it should be
incredibly obvious to everyone that the meeting has started. Pound a
gavel, wave your arms, say "Time to focus!" or "The meeting has
started!" or... well, I'm sure you can think of wittier things to say.

8. Thank everyone for coming, again.

9. If you haven't taken attendance some other way, ask for a roll call
or otherwise figure out who's present, who's lurking, who's doing
something else but can be poked to chime in on something (remember,
when you call on them, that it usually takes them a couple minutes to
realize you're trying to get their attention, so if you can tell them
"your topic is coming up soon" a few minutes in advance, you usually
get better results.)

Ideally, though, the vast majority of your attendees will be present
and focused on the meeting and only on the meeting. (If this isn't the
case, try to figure out how you can work things out for the next
meeting so that they are. Meetings with everyone half-present tend to
drag on and be painful because nobody's really thinking.)

10. Post the link to the draft agenda, and then post the abbreviated
version of the agenda - I copy-paste the Table of Contents from the
wiki agenda page. Again, see
as an example.

Note that last-minute rearranging of the agenda wiki page before
sending this link is totally okay. ;) I mean, it's not ideal. But it's
okay. (Although this could also be my excuse for doing this All The

11. Ask for comments on the agenda or any last-minute decisions. This
is important because once you lock in the agenda, you want to stick to

12. Phrase your questions with default answers whenever you can - for
instance, instead of "Any additions to the agenda?" say "Any additions
to the agenda? If not, we'll start with the first item, which is: What
Type Of Cheese Should We Get For Tomorrow's Fondue?"

13. If your questions don't get answered within 20-40 seconds, say
something like "Anybody?" or "I'll take that response as a yes," or
"All right, moving on..." or some other "I am warning you that we are
making a transition to a different topic!" phrase, wait a few more
seconds, and then switch topics. (To your first agenda item. Remember,
you're going through *only* your agenda items. This is absolutely
firm. Ideally you'll go through them in order, though this is not so

14. Discuss the agenda item at hand, and only the agenda item at hand.
If people drift off topic, but what they say is close enough that it
can be re-steered into the conversation, say something like "That's a
great point, how can we apply it to Thursday's fondue cheese selection
(or whatever the topic is)?" Find some way to gently re-fold it into
the conversation topic.

If the point they bring up can be folded into a later agenda item,
tell them to bring it up when that agenda item comes up. "We're going
to talk about chocolate in a few minutes, would you mind bringing this
up again then?"

If their point can't be folded into any agenda item but is on-topic
for that kind of meeting, ask if they would like to lead a discussion
on that during the next meeting, and then tell them to put it as an
agenda item, led by them, on the next meeting's draft agenda.
"Actually, that would be a great thing to talk about at our next
meeting. Do you think you could lead a discussion on that next week?
You can? Thanks! Can you put it on next week's meeting agenda
wikipage, and put your name there so I remember that you'll be leading
that discussion? The link is..."

If their point is totally off topic for the meeting or the group, tell
them so; if you can, point them towards the proper venue for it.
"Actually, salad selection is outside the domain of the fondue group,
but the Appetizers Committee is meeting on Friday, and Marco runs that
meeting; you should ask him if you can talk about it then."

15. #14 relies mainly on one thing - that at any given time, it should
be clear what the agenda item/topic is. Give reminders occasionally if
needed. Reference back to the notes on the draft wiki page. That's why
you put them there beforehand - in addition to being useful
pre-reading, they also give you things to use to steer the
conversation back on topic. "Actually, let's look at what Marco said
earlier about Muenster cheese - if you read this email that he wrote,
you'll see that..."

16. Oh, yes. If new people come in, welcome them, thank them for
coming, send them the agenda, and tell them what agenda item you're
discussing. "Hi, Mel! Glad you could make it. The agenda is at... and
we're talking about item 5, 'should we have bread or crackers?' right

17. It helps to have commonly-accessed URLs (where you can get a
meeting transcript, the draft agenda, the previous meeting's minutes,
next week's meeting agenda...) in a text document or somewhere else
you can rapidly copy-paste them from.

(Ideally, something like meetbot would store those URLs beforehand and
then you could call them out as needed, but that feature isn't there
yet. Something like "Hi, Mel! Glad you could make it. Here are the
logs so far - meetbot: #logs" and then meetbot would spit out the
appropriate URL, which you told it beforehand.)

18. If things are too quiet, call on people individually for thoughts
and comments. "Greg, do you know if we have any vegans coming to the
party who can't eat cheese? Chris, do you know if the bread we're
planning on using is vegetarian? Brian, you used to cook for somebody
with food allergies - what should we avoid?"

19. If things are too noisy, step back and rephrase them as topics in
a linear order, and then go through that order. "Okay, I think we have
several conversations going on here - Kim, why don't you talk about
why we should use French bread first, and then Frances can make her
case for crackers, and then I want to make sure we hear Joe's
suggestions on how to slice the vegetables for dipping."

...wow, this is longer than I thought it would be. More to come later.

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