What is the best way to begin and end meetings?

Use meeting openers and closers to help participants get to know each other better, encourage participation and review decisions and personal commitments.

Meeting openers are activities that help people feel welcome and comfortable in discussion with others, and help to focus on the purpose or content of the meeting. Meeting closers can help summarize what was accomplished, review decisions and commitments for next steps, and to provide feedback on the actual session, according to “Developing Community Leadership, a guide for MSU Extension”, Michigan State University Extension LeadNet and Community Development AoE Team, 2005.

Having each of the participants introduce themselves is a typical way to open a meeting, but don’t stop with simply stating your name. Have participants also share something that is relevant to the meeting. Examples include:

  • How long have you been part of this organization, and why is it important that you continue?
  • What accomplishments are you most proud of?
  • What do you hear others saying about your organization/community?
  • What do you hope the group accomplishes by the end of the session?
  • What do you hope to learn today?

“Extension Shuffle” is another meeting opener, used to encourage participants to talk with one another, meet new people and share ideas about pertinent topics.

In advance, write three questions on a flip chart, and then cover the questions. The first should be something easy, like “Where did you grow up?” The remaining questions should be connected with the content of the meeting, but easy enough to answer in a few minutes. Examples include:

  • What is the most important contribution our organization makes to our community?
  • If you could change one thing about your organization/community, what would it be?
  • What is one way that we could be more effective?
  • What is one barrier to success?                  

Tell participants that they will answer a series of questions with a different person each time. On your signal, they should find a new partner and continue to answer the same question. Tell them to begin with someone that they don’t know well, and introduce themselves. Uncover the first question, give them a few minutes to share, then signal to change partners and uncover the second question. Have them answer the 2nd and 3rd question as many times as possible within the time allowed.

Debrief by asking for volunteers to share what they heard; write those responses on a flip chart. Refer back to these answers when that topic is reached in the meeting. This generates a lot of energy and participants are primed to actively participate in the rest of the meeting.

Ending a meeting well is as important as beginning it well. This is where the “closer” comes into play. Meetings should end with a review of what was accomplished or decided, who will do what by when and what needs to happen at the next meeting. Educational workshops should end with a review of what was covered, and what participants plan to do differently as a result of what they learned.

Before the meeting, label flip chart sheets with titles of “Decisions/Accomplishments”, “Commitments” and “Next Time”. Draw three columns on the “Commitments” sheet with titles of: WHAT, WHO, BY WHEN.

In fact, uncover the “Decisions” sheet early on, so that as decisions are made they can be listed. About 15-30 minutes prior to the end time, focus on the “Decisions/Accomplishments” sheet and ask the group what else should be recorded. Do the same with the other two sheets. Then ask participants (in round-robin fashion) for each to share how they feel about the direction of the group.

This process is taught as part of the Michigan State University Extension Facilitative Leadership program, a three-day experiential workshop designed to build and strengthen the skills and personal confidence necessary to lead and facilitate productive meetings. The MSU Extension Leadership and Community Engagement team offers educational programs in several leadership areas, including communicating through conflict, volunteer board development, meeting management and facilitation skills development, and organizational strategic visioning and planning. 

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