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How to encourage discussion and openness in planning meetings

Meetings are held for a wide variety of reasons. Some are held to implement a new system, while others are held to discuss finances. Planning a meeting that is effective for whatever reason can be stressful. There are steps that can be taken even before the meeting begins to reduce stress and help you have an effective meeting.

Before the meeting begins:
1. Have a clear understanding of the purpose of meeting. What do you hope to accomplish from the meeting? When you define the purpose and what you hope to accomplish, you are better able to develop an agenda.
2. Plan a meeting agenda. If others will be participating in the planning of the meeting, ask for their thoughts and opinions on developing an agenda.
3. Before the meeting, distribute the agenda and other documents or materials to members. This will help members be prepared and aware of the purpose of the meeting. This will also help them to be more involved and ready to discuss the subject or purpose.
4. Try to select the most appropriate meeting time so that everyone can attend. Let members know approximately how long the meeting will last. Plan for the meeting to be as short as possible. Set a beginning time and an ending time and try to stick to it.

5. Be sure the location of the meeting is suitable for the number of people that will be attending. If the room is too small, it may feel stuffy and create tension. A larger room is often more comfortable and may lessen tension.
6. Try to arrange the room so that members face each other. For small to medium sized groups, try arranging the seating in a circle or semi-circle. For larger groups, try U-shaped rows, if possible.
7. Try to use plenty of visual aids, such as posters and diagrams. Visual aids often help spark interest. Be sure to post the meeting agenda so that members can refer to it, if needed.
8. Make sure to let everyone know where and when the meeting will be held. If possible, hold the meeting in different places to accommodate different members, but be sure everyone has a clear understanding when and where the meeting will take place.

During the meeting:
1. Be sure to begin the meeting on time. Stick to the schedule; begin on time and end on time.
2. Make members feel welcome by greeting them. Serve refreshments, if possible. This may help members feel more comfortable and at ease.
3. Be sure to review the agenda and the reasons for the meeting and what you hope to accomplish.
4. Encourage members to give feedback, opinions and ideas that are related to the meeting agenda. Listen carefully, do not interrupt members when they are voicing their opinions and ideas. Be sure to thank members for any feedback that is given.
5. Keep the discussion focused on the subject or topic of the meeting. Encourage group discussion to get everyone's view point and opinion but do not let the group lose focus.
6. End the meeting on a positive note. Thank members for taking the time to participate in the meeting. Also, set the date, time and place for the next meeting, if needed.

When the meeting is over:
1. Discuss any problems or issues with others that planned the meeting. Discuss any solutions to these problems or issues.
2. Be sure to follow up on decisions that were made during the meeting. Also, make sure all members understand any responsibilities that they may now have.
3. If there is unfinished business that needs to be discussed be sure it is on the agenda for the next meeting.

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