Make Your Meetings Fun and Engaging

Dave Kelly

~America’s Student Leadership Trainer

Running effective meetings is one of the most important aspects of leading a club or organization, student government, programming board, fraternity, sorority, or any other type of group on campus. Unfortunately, many of the meetings that students run are boring or unproductive. When I present this topic on campus or at conferences, I ask students what makes meetings boring or unproductive. Here are some of the responses:

  • Lack of participation
  • One person doing all the talking, in a monotone or boring voice
  • No agenda
  • Talking about the same things, over and over again
  • Does not start or end on time
  • NOT FUN!

These are all legitimate complaints. Continue reading to learn how you can combat these issues while making your meetings productive!

The most important thing that you can do to prepare for a meeting is to create an agenda that includes a lot of opportunities for participation. “But, Dave, I don’t know what should go into an agenda!” You are in luck because I have run more than 1,000 meetings in my lifetime. Here are the basic elements:

Call to Order: This is essentially an announcement that the meeting is starting. You should do this as close as possible to the scheduled meeting start time, whether you are virtual or in-person. If you consistently start five or ten minutes late, then your members will expect that and show up later and later every time. However, if they know they can count on you to start on time then, hopefully, they will make the effort to get there by the time the meeting starts. You can simply say, “I call this meeting to order.” You may want to simultaneously hit a gavel or gong, or ring a small bell, to emphasize that the meeting has been called to order.

Check for Quorum: Quorum is the number of members that must be in attendance to conduct business. Your constitution or bylaws should spell this out but if it doesn’t, a quorum generally consists of half of your members. If you do not have a quorum, then you cannot take votes or make decisions. However, you can still talk about upcoming events and discuss any pending business to try to build consensus for a vote at a future meeting. What happens if you start the meeting with quorum, but lose it during the meeting? Then you must immediately adjourn the meeting. You may continue to discuss things as outlined above, but no formal business can take place. Anything you did before the loss of quorum still counts, but nothing after.

Approval of the Minutes: The minutes are the record of your meetings. It is not a word-for-word transcript, but should include a list of the members, advisors, and guests in attendance and any actions taken, such as motions and votes. You can distribute the minutes electronically or post them to a page that members have access to in lieu of handing out copies. When it is time to review the minutes from the previous meeting, ask if there are any changes or corrections to the minutes. If not, the Chair of the meeting can either ask to approve the minutes as submitted by unanimous consent or request a motion and second, followed by a vote. If there are changes and/or corrections, make them, and then follow the same procedure for approval.

Officer Reports: Each officer reports on their area of responsibility. This is where you begin getting more participation with different voices. You may also ask your Advisor to make a report.

Committee Reports: Now you are really increasing the participation in the meeting. Have your committees report on their activities, upcoming events and projects, and pass around sign-up sheets. It is OK if they say they have nothing to report, so put them at ease about that. Of course, if they have nothing to report meeting after meeting, then you may need to have talk with them!

Old Business: This is where you discuss anything that has been brought up at a previous meeting that has not had a decision or vote made on it.

New Business: New items or ideas of discussion can be brought up here and voted on if your members want to make a decision on the topic. These items can also be deferred to a future meeting where they will be brought up as Old Business.

Announcements: Just as it sounds! Let members announce upcoming things happening, even if they may not be something the group is planning. It could be another club they belong to, something SGA is doing, or even just something great happening for them.

Adjournment: This is the end of the meeting and can be accomplished in one of three different ways: either by someone making a motion and another person seconding to adjourn (not debatable) followed by a vote on adjourning; by the Chair observing that there is no other business to be considered and declaring the meeting to be adjourned; or by reaching a preset time for adjournment. Always try to end on time because people are busy with lots of things on their plate. If you go too far past the scheduled time for the meeting to adjourn (if it is not a preset, automatic adjournment), then you will start to lose their focus and attention and make them upset that you are going over time.

“Okay, that covers some of the issues you mentioned above, what about ways to make the meeting fun or get participation from members that are not officers or committee chairs?”

Glad you asked. Here are some of my favorite ideas:

Play music: Have upbeat, energetic music playing as people are coming into the meeting. This gets people excited and avoids that awkward silence before the meeting when everyone is looking at their phones. Check to make sure that the tunes are the radio-friendly versions, so you don’t risk offending anyone.

Assign greeters: Ask a couple of members to greet members as they come into the meeting or join the virtual call. I suggest asking new members to do this. It gets them involved, they get to meet other members, and it gives them a reason to show up. You can rotate this responsibility or make it an ongoing role.

Have icebreakers: These are great to get people to interact with others that they do not know and an awesome way to bring new members into the fold. Mix it up with some that require moving around, just answering a question, or asking your members for ideas from other groups they belong to, camps they have gone to, etc.

Record the meeting: This is easy to do if you are virtual or hybrid by using the recording option in the platform. If you are fully in-person, I suggest that you continue to record your meetings for members who cannot make it to campus or have a conflict that keeps them from attending live. You don’t have to get fancy – a cell phone recording will help to keep them engaged. You could also have a second meeting later in the week, possibly at another time, and do it virtually for these members. This is a great responsibility to assign to the vice-president as they many times do not have clearly defined duties.

Invocation, funny story, this day in history: Depending upon the makeup of your group, you may want to do these before you get into the business of the meeting. An invocation is a prayer, a funny story that could come from a source such as “Chicken Soup for the Soul”, or you could go to the History Channel website to find interesting things that happened on that day in history. You could do all of these or use other ideas. Ask non-officers to do this to increase the engagement of all members.

Celebrate birthdays or big accomplishments: People love when a big deal is made for their birthday, an award they may have won, or some other recognition. What do you do for birthdays that happen when school is not in session? Celebrate those at the first meeting when you come back from a break or observe half-birthdays. I have an August birthday, and in high school, my friends would celebrate the half-way date in February.

Do service projects: Meetings are a great place to engage members in doing community service! Try simple, easy to do things such as craft projects, making doggie tug toys, assembly projects (such as toiletry kits or sandwiches), or writing notes, cards, and letters to military service people, first responders, or nursing home residents. “So, we can do other stuff than the basic agenda and what is in parliamentary procedure?” Absolutely! This is your meeting. It is a student-run organization, and it should be fun. As long as you are not violating school policy (such as hazing) or breaking laws, you can make your meeting reflect your group’s personality and customs. Use parliamentary procedure to keep things on track, to save you from redundant discussions, and for when you must take serious actions, such as spending money or even removing someone from office. Make the meetings so enjoyable that members are afraid to miss them!

Your meetings are going to be the place where most of your members will engage with your group. Make them as fun and engaging as possible, while still getting things done, and you will have a great group of satisfied members that you are able to keep through the whole year!

APCA Members, get your free copy of the newly released Spring 2022 CLT HERE.