Getting Schooled: Hosting a Meeting

Learn how to host effective meetings that people will actually want to attend.

By: Katia Bannister

Say there is an issue impacting watershed health in your community. Something that you want to tackle in a concrete way. An issue that you are really passionate about. And maybe you even know of a few other members of your community that are passionate about it too.

So what then? Where do you go from there?

How do you start bringing people together to have thoughtful, insightful and actionable conversations on the issues that matter most? What is the first step to take?

Well, you can start by hosting a meeting. Meetings are a way to swap and build up ideas. They are spaces — physical or otherwise — that allow for us to connect and collaborate. They are opportunities for inciting tangible action.

But in order to unlock the full potential impact of hosting a meeting, that meeting needs to be hosted well. In a way that creates the best possible chance of hosting a meeting rooted in inclusion, collaboration, community, action and longevity.

But how is it done?

Well… one way you can get there is by following our six-step guide for hosting a successful meeting! You can watch the video version of this online volunteer resource, or keep scrolling to read through the steps in our blog below..

Step 1: Make your meetings accessible

One of the very first things you need to think about in order to host a successful meeting should begin before you really even decide exactly what will be talked about at said meeting.

First and foremost, it is essential that you decide on an appropriate and inclusive time and venue for your meeting. Evaluating the inclusivity and accessibility of the meetings we host means taking a critical look at whether or not you are choosing to host your meeting at a time and in a place that allows all relevant stakeholders — people who influence and are influenced by an issue — and other interested parties to be in attendance.

It is important to consider things like whether hopeful meeting attendees have access to the transportation they need to attend a physical meeting, or a device they can access a virtual meeting app with.

With regard to timing, it is key to think about whether meeting attendee hopefuls are restricted due to commitments to work or school that need to rightly take precedence over community meetings and volunteer commitments.

Additionally, it’s important to map out who all the stakeholders at the meeting you want to host are, how to invite them and how to make sure that they would feel welcome in the meeting space. Whether that space is physical or virtual. When doing this mapping exercise, you must always ask the question: Who isn't here that needs to be? And until they can be represented, how can we hold space for their opinions and perspectives until they can be there?

Step 2: Connection comes first

At the meeting itself, it is hugely important to remember that people who show up — the stakeholders in the conversation — will come for the content, and stay for the connections they make. So it’s crucial to start meetings by beginning to build the connections that will keep people coming back. Creating connections can be extremely simple, even just creating a purposeful meeting check-in for all the participants can stimulate huge gains in terms of connections.

Step 3: Build a culture of collective community care

Step three, building a culture of collective community care connects to step two, in that step two builds connections that strengthen community. Through encouraging and facilitating community care in your meeting spaces, whether it be through language that doesn't exclude the perspectives of your stakeholders, wellness check-ins, or anything else, you are positively reinforcing the supportive and collaborative culture of your meeting spaces.

This in turn lets the people occupying your meeting spaces know that they are cared about in that shared space, creating greater community connections, and a greater capacity to incite and inspire change.

Step 4: Hold space circularly

Another important tool for hosting a good meeting is practicing circular leadership during meetings and in meeting spaces. These include: Every person in the meeting space getting a turn to share, an attentive audience and a welcoming space they feel comfortable speaking in; there being ample opportunity for them to speak, but no pressure; and even the quietest person in the room having a chance to speak, and being invited to do so. When practicing circular leadership and holding space circularly, you are strengthening community values.

Step 5: Be prepared

Being prepared might sound like a no-brainer but even though it is one of the most tangible steps detailed here, it can often be overlooked, or not invested in with enough effort or enthusiasm. There are three main components to step five. They are:

  • Having a designated facilitator to keep the meeting on track.
  • Preparing a meeting agenda that is created in a way so that others can access it and add to it if they so need.
  • Taking meeting notes to be sent out to all meeting invitees afterwards so that people can reference them later. This is especially important if some people are not able to come to all meetings. And not only that but it reinforces the community and connection you are trying to cultivate!

Step 6: Foster longevity

So you’ve finally hosted your first meeting, and it was a huge success, but what comes next? How do you keep the momentum going?

One great way to carry momentum from an initial meeting — and even consecutive meetings — forward is by having and delegating action items. Small and doable asks, tasks or follow-up actions for group members to take on, and feel proud in their completion of. These types of actions help to build longevity, connection and capacity within the group. And not only that but they help to accomplish things that need to be done before the next meeting, to grow capacity and to push important conversations in your community forward.

And there you have it! How to host a successful meeting in six easy steps.

Next up - Getting Schooled: Best Practices for Organizing volunteers in the Field

The team here at the Canadian Freshwater Alliance wishes you the best of luck in your meeting hosting exploits as you seek to create change around freshwater issues in your community, but wants you to know that you are not alone in your organizing efforts! You can always connect with us for additional organizing support, or visit our resources to find more tips and tricks!