Attending meetings (of other groups)

Element Descriptor

Meetings are generally a self-soothing and self-aggrandising effort by failing and flailing groupuscules. Not always, obvs. And they attract people desperate for human connection, who get given information instead. Attending these and being useful to yourself and others is a key skill. Without it you will lose the plot and possibly hurt your group’s prospects.

Level descriptors

NovicePractitionerExpertNinja
You can, with mental rehearsal and preparation, attend an ordinary and ordinarily bad meeting of another group, make constructive comments and suggestions and interact positively with other folks,, keeping your despair and anger under wraps.You can, with little preparation and while in a strop, attend a somewhat-worse-than-usual meeting – undesigned, poorly facilitated, dominated by idiocy – and emerge, sanity and serenity intact, with the contact details of a couple of people who were impressed by your compassion, humour and gentle nudges of the process.You can attend very very bad meetings that are wrecking the momentum of an issue/group/morale of the shiny-faced newbies who’ve arrived with high hopes, and through incisive but compassionate action signal the seriousness and worth of your group, galvanising folks to contact you afterwards, without seeming like a vanguardist twat. Your postmortem, delivered to the organisers in a sensitive tone and manner, helps them to do less awfully next time around.You can wander into excruciating shitshows which would drive even seasoned optimistic activists to despair, and somehow keep it together, while helping a diverse number of people -old and new- realise that there is, despite all evidence, life after this meeting, and importance in being part of effective organisations. Your blog post, perfectly pitched, goes viral among those who swear ‘never again’ (to either attending another meeting, or organising such a bad one).

Element Overview Essay

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Attending other people’s meetings? Well, the first question you have to ask yourself is why are you doing this? Because let’s be frank, most meetings are poorly conceived, poorly designed, and the execution of whatever plan there is, is indifferent at best. So what are you going for? What are you trying to achieve? What are you trying to find out? If you can’t give good answers to those questions, is it worth your time? 

Now, one good answer is just to catch up with friends and acquaintances. That’s fine. But you know, maybe there’s better ways to do that anyway. How many birds do you need to kill with one stone? The next thing to say  now of course, is that maybe that the old2 7:30pm start meeting in a city centre at the Friends Meeting House or Methodist Hall” never comes back. Who wants to sit for 90 minutes in an enclosed space with a bunch of other people, all of whom will presumably hopefully be wearing masks, wearing a mask, listening to predictable speeches and finding out things that you could have found out 10 times more quickly via an email bulletin or a YouTube video?

So, face-to-face meetings may not come back. If they do,my advice would be take a notepad, take a book, have something that you’re working on, whether it’s your next meeting, or you know, a blog post or part of a campaign. So that during the inevitably, inevitable boring bits and there will be, you can feel that your time is not being wasted. The other thing to do, of course, is to make sure that you make yourself known to other people in the meeting, who might be interested in your campaign. So you might be wearing a T shirt, you might be handing out flyers (problematic)

In the initial go round –  hopefully there’s an initial go round – you have something short, punchy, pithy and friendly to say. It can be rehearsed, that’s fine. During a normal set piece, you know, speakers followed by q&a meeting. What I often try and do is get in early with a question and make sure that it’s real short and really good, and that you mentioned both your name and the name of your organisation. But you can do all that in three sentences. “Hi, I’m Jonathan from Jonathans against the War. I liked your presentation. I have one question.” 

 Right. sticking around to the bitter end of face-to-face meeting. Well, they call it the bitter end for a reason – you don’t have to do that. It may be that, you know, you’ve come to the attention of two or three people who might contact you, and in order to save your sanity, just like it. 

So nowadays, we have lots more online meetings and life is a lot easier attending these because of course, you can have your video on mute I’m lucky I have a steam powered laptop. So I have a ready-made excuse. You can have your audio on mute. And you can be listening with one ear to the boring bits, obviously, listen with full attention to the bits that are important. And you can be doing other tasks. 

But within the online meeting, if it’s a Zoom call where they’ve actually enabled you to chat with individual other people, you can chat with individual other people, and I’d recommend that the thing around q&a remains the same. Keep it short. Keep it pointed, keep it pithy, and who knows what will happen. Include your email in the chat function or in the Q&A section so that other people can see and then follow up. 

Now the last thing I’d say is, there are some groups which are rusted on and have no interest in innovating or learning because they’re holding meetings to deliver The Truth, capital T, capital T. Don’t waste your breath trying to help them. However, there are other groups where the people are new. And they’re genuinely sincerely wanting their meetings to be included in the name, meetings, spaces and places and times where people meet. And so you could approach these people gently and privately and call them useless fucking turd. No, I’m just kidding. 
And say to them, “hey, next time you hold a meeting, how about doing this?  because then people can mingle with each other, talk with each other, connect with each other.” And obviously the best way to get the best way to improve matters is to set a good example. So when you are holding meetings, make sure that they are places that people can meet. The clue was in the name.

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