29. Effective Meetings
Description and Purpose:
Tips on effective meetings
Consider the following tips how to schedule and prepare for meetings, meet and follow-up, and try to incorporate any approaches that are suitable for your national situation.
- Find out all you can about your target. See the following tools for guidance:
- 4. The ‘Context, Evidence, Links’ Policy Framework
- 5. Decision and Influence Mapping
- 6. Allies and Opponents Matrix Also check whether they have made any speeches/ written articles, documents on the issue.
- Decide what it is you want from this meeting – it is unlikely you will achieve all your objectives in one meeting – so choose a first step.
- Plan tactics based on what you want to achieve.
- Prepare a presentation that speaks directly to the interests and priorities of the policy-maker.
- Make a note of ’key points’ that must be made
- Agree who is going to the meeting from your side (if it is a formal meeting its best not to go alone) and who will say what.
- Be clear about what your position is and what your bottom line is. Rehearse your arguments.
- Anticipate and prepare answers to potential questions (e.g. about why they should support you, and responses to common opposition arguments).
- Prepare material to leave with decision-makers (e.g. a letter or position paper). This should briefly explain the issues and aims of the campaign clearly and concisely, and include a clear request for action.
Scheduling a Meeting
- If it is to be an informal meeting, find out their schedule so you can meet them ‘by chance’.
- If it is to be a formal meeting, they have to agree to meet you. This may involve a lengthy process of ‘phone calls, letters, or e-mails. Do not become disheartened.
- To schedule a meeting, contact the office of the policy-maker by letter, e-mail or ‘phone, or through someone with a personal connection. Explain who you are, what organization or coalition you are representing (and its size/representation), and why your issue is important and urgent enough to justify a meeting.
- If you do not receive a response to written enquiries, telephone or visit the office personally.
- If you still do not receive a response, correspond with (or meet with) an aide to make arrangements.
- Alternatively, try different approaches first e.g. meeting researchers, economists or statisticians to pave the way for a policy meeting.
- Do not be worried if you are told to meet an aide (or junior colleague) – some aides can be very influential, and you will learn important background information (that you miss if you meet directly with the policy-maker).
- Once the meeting has been agreed, clarify who will attend, how long it will last, and what the expected agenda is.
- Call about one week beforehand to confirm the meeting and the policy-makers availability.
- Dress professionally.
- Bring business cards (and give these out at the beginning of the meeting).
- Arrive on time and establish a rapport. Ensure everyone is introduced clearly and that it is clear which organization they represent.
- Briefly present your case – do not take too long, as your target probably knows your position already.
- Always thank or praise them for constructive work on your issue.
- Every meeting will be different, but bear in mind that the meeting is about dialogue – so you need to listen to them – and watch non-verbal signals - as well as speaking (active listening will enable you to learn valuable intelligence about their position).
- Ask for more details if you don’t understand their arguments.
- Discuss the issue from the policy-maker’s perspective.
- Take and leave appropriate reports, position statements etc. briefings etc. Also papers to show popular support (e.g. copy media reports, opinion poll surveys, petition results etc., and information on coalition members).
- Remember you are not trying to win an argument; you are trying to influence them and reach agreement.
- Try to respond to their objections, but keep to your agenda – do not allow yourself to be distracted. Concentrate on your priorities and what you want them to do.
- Focus on positive solutions. Pick up on any openings or compromises they offer you.
- Above all – remain calm and pleasant.
- Avoid criticisms of past actions or inactions. Attacks can alienate and cause decision-makers to withdraw potential support for the campaign.
- If you can, take notes of everything that is said.
- Offer to provide more information (it keeps doors open).
- Make sure something is agreed before the meeting ends.
- Establish on-going dialogue e.g. a second meeting, a promise to review the issue or an agreement to attend a more in-depth workshop on the issue etc.
- At the end of the meeting, sum up what has been agreed and any action points.
- Thank them for the meeting.
- Hold a debrief meeting with all members of your delegation straight afterwards.
- Review what was said and discuss the potential for further movement. Plan your next steps.
- Write up your notes and circulate them to your organization, partners/coalition members as appropriate.
- Write to the people you met, thanking them for the meeting and confirming the points covered by the meeting and what was agreed - so that the agreement is on paper (making it harder for them to back out). Re-send your summary and provide an update on the situation, if appropriate, as well.
- If you agreed to do something at the meeting do it promptly & do it well. Always provide any requested material or information. This will encourage them to do the same.
- Plan the next meeting.
If action is agreed:
- Remember to thank everyone who had anything to do with bringing about the policy change - even those who were reluctant collaborators: you may need their help again in the future.
- Suggest a coalition working group be established to monitor the implementation of the proposed change.
- Offer your organization's services to assist the person or team responsible for implementing change.
- If formal contacts are refused, still monitor implementation and maintain contact on this.
You can use similar principles for larger meetings, such as: seminars, workshops, conferences, and even public meetings. It is necessary to prepare thoroughly, target your interventions to the issue and audience, prepare brief, targeted written supporting materials, anticipate possible arguments and questions, use the principles of effective presentation and negotiation (see below), where applicable, use every opportunity to develop personal relationships when there, and follow-up appropriately. Too many advocates – and policymakers! - attend meetings, and forget about them the moment they leave the venue.