Summarize, Evaluate, Closing Remarks
As meetings near their end, three steps remain: 1) summarize the actions, 2) evaluate what went well and what to strengthen, and 3) closing remarks.
Summarizing, evaluating, and closing remarks accomplish the following:
- Clarity about outcomes, next steps, and the person or group responsible for implementation.
- Agreement about what was discussed and decided.
- Clarity about what went well and what did not.
- Engaged participants who know their voices matter.
- Evaluations that help planners design better meetings.
- Final remarks that anchor a positive spirit and a job well done.
Summarizing can take many forms. Choosing a method depends on the size of the meeting, how the event is structured, and the available time. The most common practice that works for groups of all sizes is to have the facilitator tick through a list of action items aloud. Simultaneously writing each actionable outcome on a flip chart, whiteboard, or electronic display makes them visible. Saying the key points aloud in a concise manner helps the whole group anchor the outcomes in their memories and reinforces commitment to next steps.
If you have a larger meeting or conference that employed a graphic recorder, have him or her display and speak about the final graphic drawing. This approach helps both auditory and visual learners to hear and see the meeting’s outcomes. For persons with sight or hearing impairment, utilizing the gifts of the graphic recorder who both speaks and draws can be a powerful way to wrap up a meeting.
Another way to summarize meeting results in groups of thirty or less is the “popcorn” style report. The facilitator invites the group randomly to say aloud one key actionable item. Allow the group members to “pop-out” each item until all the key actions are named. Record each item visually on whatever media you have available: flip charts, electronic screens, whiteboards, blackboards, whatever works. A skilled facilitator will encourage the group by asking questions like, “What have we missed?” “What have we left out?” “Does anyone who hasn’t spoken recall an action item we missed in our summary?”
If you have more time to summarize a meeting, particularly with a summit, multi-day conference or a retreat, take fifteen minutes and hold a 1-2-4-All exercise more fully described in the chapter, The Art of Liberating Structures. Invite each person for one minute to write down key decisions or accomplishments on a sheet of paper. Next, invite them to form pairs. For two minutes share thoughts and key actions. Then ask them to create groups of four. For four more minutes share key ideas and action steps. Encourage them to notice similar themes, insights, and converging thoughts. Have each quad write down the key thoughts. Writing them down encourages discipline and draws from another part of the brain. The combination of speaking and writing engenders clarity and focus. Then, in the whole group, invite each group of four to announce aloud one key actionable step—one to a table or group of four. Make provision for recording each item. The whole 1-2-4-All process is quick and amazingly democratic. No more than fifteen minutes is needed. All voices engage in summarizing outcomes, not only the facilitator and the verbally dominant.
Make sure the meeting notes or minutes record the outcomes in a clear, bulleted fashion. Highlight them at the top of the report. Surround them in a simple box and use arrows to emphasize the actions. Be sure to write each item with a short, active verb such as engage, recruit, research, write, build, and prepare. Keep each action item short and to the point.
The final step in any well-run meeting, other than going out for drinks and dinner, is the evaluation. When well designed and used in every session, evaluations build better, more effective meetings and more productive organizations. Think of evaluations as the cheer at the end of a hard-fought game of soccer or basketball. It is always good to end with a cheer from the crowd and a team meeting with the coach to discuss what went well in the game and what did not.
Evaluations should address a handful of questions:
- What went well?
- What could have been better?
- Was the agenda clear?
- Did the meeting design engage all voices?
- Did the room set-up work? Could you hear and see all the materials and presentations?
- Were outcomes clear and well summarized?
- What feature, element, or agenda item did you like the most?
- What suggestions do you have for a better meeting next time?
Notice what I did not inclu, de. I did not ask participants to rank speakers on a scale of 1 to 5. I did not invite rankings on space, food, and drinks. Rankings mean next to nothing because they do not give meeting planners and facilitators specific ideas to strengthen the next round. When I see a poorly written evaluation, I toss it or use it to line the chicken coop. If I rank the food and refreshments as a three instead of a five, does that mean the coffee was average, the cookies stale, or the grapes discolored? The question and responses tell meeting planners nothing about next steps. Ask questions that evoke meaningful responses.
If you do use a grading or ranking system because you cannot break the habit, ask a follow-up question such as, “Why did you grade the item as you did?” Asking this kind of question results in tidbits of wisdom that will make your next meeting go better.
Finally, end with a word of encouragement. When meetings get long, and participants are eager to get to their next meeting, go fishing, or flee to Hawaii, we are tempted to end abruptly. In short meetings, it is usually sufficient for the facilitator to say something brief such as “Thank you for coming. Good job. See you next week.” However, if you are coming to the end of a retreat, an annual conference, or a dicey, all-day meeting on tough issues, it is better if you dedicate time to ending the event with a few open-ended, creative questions:
- What did you notice about our meeting today and what do you wonder about that would help next time we meet?
- What surprised you?
- What ways did you learn, grow, or hear new insights?
- What gives you hope?
Encourage people to write down their responses silently for one minute and then invite a few to share. The reason leaders ask such questions is that all of us need stories of hope, perseverance, and growth. Even the most cynical come to meetings with a glimmer of hope that the meeting or conference will make a difference.
Accentuate the Positive
People from all cultures and backgrounds aspire to make meetings worth their time. Inviting conferees to name successes, insights, and discoveries lifts them to their best. Gratitude and courage always trump boredom and disengagement. End meetings with affirmation and your meetings, even the most difficult ones, will result in more people believing meetings can work and work well.
When ending meetings that are long, emotionally demanding or have stretched the participants in new directions, end with something affirming. Celebrate success. Affirm the gifts and contributions of everyone. Affirm even the guy in love with his voice. Affirm everyone and your meetings will end with hope and a glimmer of light.
Copyright © 2019 Mark Smutny and Civic Reinventions, Inc. All rights reserved.