Managing Large Meetings
Large meetings can be very unsatisfactory when people compete to talk and stop listening. The following notes describe a controlled and supportive process for handling a large gathering. This method provides the efficiency of large meetings and the effective interaction of small ones.
These meetings need only take one and a half to two hours, and time is money.
I first learned this approach from Jef Mason of JMA. He developed it from earlier work by Barry Schuttler, a leading manager of local participation projects in the USA. Barry Schuttler called his approach “Charette”. “Charette” is a series of activities involving people in decision-making about their environment. The procedure below is like those used in “Charette” for passing information and gathering reactions.
A senior manager or expert gives essential information to a large group. The group can be up to 150 people or more with an excellent public address system and overhead slides. It can work on Zoom or equivalent too.
Divide the whole group into groups of eight to ten. Each group member lists questions that they require answers to understand the information. An outsider or a group member lists these on a flip chart. The group prioritises them, and an expert answers the most important ones. Keep the charts to refer to later.
Small groups meet as in (2) above. People now list their reactions, comments and feelings about the information now they have understood it. The prioritised comments are collected from each group and responded to publicly by the Senior Manager.
4 Manager’s comments
The manager must not be defensive. Some comments will be challenging to handle. If no answer is possible, say so. It helps to say we don’t know yet. The manager should anticipate some comments and practice responding to them in a win/win way.
5 Resources and skills required
The listing on flip charts must be accurate and careful with time given for everyone to formulate questions and comments. A quiet inarticulate person may have valuable things to say. The Senior Manager must express the information clearly. Equally, they must be prepared to listen to and acknowledge responses that might sometimes be unexpected. People value genuineness highly. Experts require patience and the ability to put things in simple language respectfully. One person should act as the ‘Process Manager’ or MC. This person moves people from one section to the other and keeps the programme on time.
This method creates rapid two-way communication about crucial issues. It is lively, fun and motivating. It builds closer and more open relationships because it encourages trust and listening. The process helped a car company manage change. It helped a company gain staff commitment to a profit-sharing scheme. The method could help any organisation increase the involvement and energy of its staff.