Meetings and conferences are being held all the time in every public organization /economic, business, military etc./, aimed to collective decision making on a particular matter /past, current or future/ or to analyze events, facts and phenomena and to set measures to eliminate their negative impact on the overall operation of the organization.
The success or failure of a meeting or conference largely depends on the person presiding it (chairperson). To guarantee the success of the meeting or conference, the presiding person should:
First: Define the goal of the meeting or conference. According to C. Parkinson and M. Rustomji „What the manager should mostly think about when calling or attending a meeting is: „What should this meeting add?” „Is it only to make noise or it is useful for something?» .
Second: Before the meeting or conference, the person, who shall preside it, has to check whether it was properly organized, whether it is legitimate, were all participants notified and are they prepared to actively participate in it as they are expected to do. Design the agenda so its items to be arranged in a logical sequence. It is necessary to prepare appropriate materials (references, regulations, evidences etc.) in order to improve the organization of the meeting or conference, to provide the relevant advance information, to reduce the time for discussion of details or to enhance the factual aspect of the topic.
Third: During the meeting or conference itself, the chairperson shall:
- state from the very beginning the goal and a schedule they should stick all the time to;
- observe whether each item of the agenda is exhausted and whether a decision is reached and recorded;
- start the discussion on each item by concise introduction, insist for answers to specific questions (which were prepared in advance) or give the floor to someone of the participants, who should make introductory statement he/she has prepared in advance;
- invite all attendees to speak out their opinion and watch that not only some and same people are involved in the discussion;
- remind the speaker what is the topic if they are straying away of it;
- intervene with questions and short comments from time to time without dominating the discussion;
- encourage the expression of different opinions, not denying directly any irrational comments;
- if the discussion becomes too animated or prolonged, the chairperson shall remind that they all have gathered to reach a decision; timely intervene in case of serious disagreements in order to prevent any conflict;
- summarize in the appropriate moment during discussions the conclusions made and state the temporary and final solution of the issue; if everybody agree, the conclusions are articulated and itemized as final and are then recorded in the minutes;
- determine the persons responsible and the deadlines for implementing the tasks.
Fourth: At the end of the meeting or conference the chairperson shall make a summary, linking conclusions to the introduction and shall clearly formulate the forthcoming tasks.
The effective participation of people attending meetings and conferences depends not only on the good organization and the rhetorical skills of the chairperson, but also on the ability of the participants to listen and to hear out, because good speakers are numerous, but „good listeners are too little”. Most of us are keen to hear what we want to hear and we do not listen so much of what we are told. „People — writes M. Armstrong — do not listen effectively, because:
- they can not concentrate for most various reasons;
- they are too busy with themselves;
- they are more interested in their own words;
- they are not sure what or why they are listening;
- they are unable to follow the thesis and argumentation of the speaker;
- they are just not interested in the topic».
People, who have no idea of how important it is to have good hearing interaction with the audience and the chairperson of the meeting or conference, are not that small number. Good communication skills include also the ability to listen and to hear out .
Several scientists have found out that the process of listening and understanding consists of four stages:
- Perception of the information — receiving it by way of hearing.
- Interpretation of the information — entering it in the brain „computer” for processing.
- Assessment of the information — to understand how what was said refers to you and how it fits your way of thinking.
- Reaction (attitude) – emotional, intellectual and physical reaction to what was said.
To improve our ability for active listening during meetings and conferences, we recommend:
- adopting active form (posture) of listening — maintaining visual contact, slightly inclined forward, nodding from time to time so the chairperson feels he/she is understood;
- avoiding habits that might disturb the speaking person — knocking with a pen, drumming your fingers on the table, reading newspaper or other irrelevant materials, commenting what was said with your neighbour etc.;
- controlling everybody’s emotions; although it is good to have some emotional response, there should be no overreaction;
- not rushing to conclusions; it would be lack of respect for the speaking person to finish his/her thought instead of them.
- ask questions for clarification and further precision thus giving the speaking person an opportunity to further elaborate their thought and also stimulating the ongoing dialogue;
- every participant should be focused, i.e. to concentrate their attention on the target, which is difficult to achieve, but necessary in order to follow the thought of the speaking person (if your eyes are wandering, restore the visual and face contact).
Being a good listener is essential for achieving beneficial discussion during meetings and conferences.
Despite having a clear goal and tasks, in practice meetings and conferences are often denied and criticized, because:
- in most cases meetings and conferences are waste of working time; they are necessary where good organization is missing, because people either speak or work; an organization where everybody is at some meeting most of their working time is a place where little work is done; therefore meetings and conferences should be rather an exception than a routine; time is not stretching: we all have the same quantity of it; wasted time is never recovered;
- they do not lead to solutions, but are sometimes annoying, untimely, sluggish – too much people speaking too long while the active listeners gradually decrease, i.e. the interest of the audience decreases and it turns into a congregation of passive listeners; furthermore, when a meeting is attended by lot of people (over 20), only information is provided and then discussions and debates are launched without achieving something valuable – an agreement or decision;
- constant interruptions have disturbing, irritating and time-wasting effect; it is essential during such a gathering to have no interruptions; frequent phone calls, for instance, mean the work and thinking have to be repeated again; and this makes it necessary for the operator or secretary to have control over the telephone, to precise the calls and to react case by case;
- a gathering should not last more than a hour and half, because this is the span for the concentration capacity of most ordinary people;
- at the meetings only few strong individuals usually impose and decision-making is encouraged where certain interests would prevail due to exerted pressure or lobbying;
- their recommendations are based on the least common denominator, i.e. looking for a solution that would satisfy more or less those, who are present, which is however not the best or optimal one, but a compromise;
- they blur responsibility — most meetings show that the work which has to be done at once or by one single unit (department) of the organization, is then split among several places; this way responsibility is scattered and information does not reach those it was intended to;
- they are targeted to most banal, but comprehensible things and do not come to the major topics.
Hence, large part of the critical reproofs to meetings and conferences are made not because of their actual expedience, but because of their poor organization or on their appropriate use .
A well organized meeting, having its appropriate topic and held in the appropriate moment, has several advantages, some more important of which being:
- they provide for a thorough discussion of important matters by all stakeholders;
- they provide conditions for sharing different opinions, because the participants state in an open and clear way their standpoints to the other attending people;
- they are means for information exchange;
- time is spared when many people are gathered in one place to find collective solution for a particular issue;
- group result is achieved that is beyond the powers of individual actors – this process is characterized by synergies (the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts).
The above discussed aspects are important for the training process as they embrace topics of special consideration in the work with people in the strive to provide / gain knowledge [4-6].
In summary of the foregoing, we should outline that the successful holding of meetings and conferences depends on:
- their proper organization;
- their good presiding (chairpersons);
- the active participation of the attending people, at the roots of which lays our ability to listen and to hear out.
1.Dimitrov D., Communication processes in management, Varna, 1982
2.Parkinson C., Rustomji R., Excellence in management, S., 1991
3.Peters T., Waterman R., In search of excellence, S., 1987
4.Sotirov, B., Terziev, V. 2016. Challenges and perspectives to the training in technological subjects, Proceedings of the First International Scientific Conference “Sustainability Challenges in Modern Organizations — Knowledge & Innovation in Management & Operation”, pp. 197-207.
5.Terziev, V. 2016. Competence-based training in public employment services, Tenth International Scientific Conference THE POWER OF KNOWLEDGE, 7-9 October 2016, Agia Triada, Republic of Greece. Knowledge International Journal Scientific papers Vol. 14.1, pp. 33-48.
6.Terziev, Venelin, Intercompany training as a technology for company management staff development. Proceedings of the International Conference on Manufacturing Systems ICMaS, Bucharest, Romania 5-6 November 2009. Vol.4, pp. 389-392.