How to get your timings right

It appears there is a general consensus amongst NWR members that long meetings are less enjoyable, or at least those that are ‘too long’ are less enjoyable! But how long is too long, and how do groups get the best out of their time together and now that face-to-face meetings are possible?

Cath Heslop, NWR’s Central Region Membership Officer, has been discussing this with LOs in her region and has some great ideas to share.

Everyone is different, and a meeting length that suits some members may not suit others. For both large and small groups, meetings going on beyond their time limit can be a problem, particularly when everyone wants to share the fascinating research they have done! It’s best to ensure that meeting lengths fit the meeting activity, due courtesy is shown to the meeting host, and meeting start and finish times are clear.

Consider changing the structure of the meeting

  • Set time limits. A simple way to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to talk is to allocate a set amount of time to each speaker and ring a bell when their time is up. You might find it a gentler approach to ring the bell twice; first when the speaker has one minute left, and then again, when their time has run out.
  • Break-out groups. Larger groups may want to consider breaking-up into smaller groups for discussions (and if possible, in to different rooms), and then coming together afterwards to share what was talked about.
  • Again, for larger groups, instead of everyone researching a topic and speaking, a small group of perhaps one to five members might speak on the topic, while others in the group listen and ask questions. Or perhaps, half the members could research/speak on one topic, and at the next meeting, the other half of the group could research/speak.
  • Introduce a set system. This involves dividing your group into sets of around seven people who plan/research and present a short meeting programme. Once each member of the set has spoken, other members of the group can then join in at each meeting. This approach does mean members of the organising set get more opportunity to speak, but over the course of the year all group members have the same opportunity. Larger groups would have more sets. 
  • Invite a speaker and have a Q&A with the speaker afterwards. Or, agree to listen to a recording of one of National Schedule of Talks speakers (perhaps before a meeting), and divide into groups to discuss what was said when you meet.

Consider if the discussion topic is suitable for larger groups

Some members have reported that some topics work better face-to-face rather than via Zoom, particularly those that involve a discussion. 

Likewise, in large groups, topics where members take it in turn to present their research work better than discussion (but discussions could take place in smaller break-out groups).

Below is a list of topics that work well if time is limited:

  • Talk about a bizarre experience or coincidence which happened to you.
  • What was happening in the world the year your mother was born?
  • The house I grew up in and/or tell us about where you grew up.
  • What is the most interesting or unusual job that you have had?
  • Find out the origins of expressions. What are your favourites? Where do they come from? 
  • Do you like your name and, if not, what would you choose instead?

Finishing on time

Many members will agree that having the opportunity to catch-up for a social chit-chat is just as enjoyable as the programme topic – and especially now. But what should the host/LO do if the meeting is too long and no-one wants to be the first to go home?

  • Ensure the meeting starts on time. Do not wait for people if they are late, instead, offer to talk to late-comers another time about the sections they missed. Everyone is unavoidably late sometimes, but if meetings always start late, it’s natural for members to turn up when they think the meeting will start, not when it should start.
  • Make it clear in the programme when the meeting is due to finish.
  • Avoid social chat before the main topic. It is best to launch straight into the topic without giving people an opportunity to share their news. When the main topic of discussion is over, this may be when refreshments are brought out and the more social part of the evening can begin.
  • Have additional meetings specifically for social catch-ups.
  • It is important there is consensus in a group as to when meetings finish. This should be pre-arranged and written in the programme. You could use this wording in the programme: Prompt start at [insert agreed time] please. Last guest to leave by [insert agreed time] in consideration of your host.

Do you have any other methods that work well for your group? Cath would love to hear them. Or, would you like to have a chat about how to manage time-keeping for your group? Your AO would be very happy to discuss this with you, or, if you don’t have an AO in your area, Cath is on hand to help. Good luck!