Experts offer advice on how to run meetings

The community meeting sometimes seems to be Jamaica Plain’s favorite pastime. But the enthusiasm is not always matched by expertise in running an effective meeting.

The meeting experts at the state chapter of the National Association of Parliamentarians (NAP) hope to help out by holding their biannual conference on May 12 in JP.

“I figure, having it in Jamaica Plain, you have a lot of activists,” said chapter Vice-President Peter Senopoulos, a JP resident.

The day-long conference will include a session for novice meeting-holders, covering the basics of creating an agenda and keeping minutes.

Another session that looks well-suited to JP will address “knock-down, drag-out debates… [and] how to keep things civil and get things done with some rough customers,” Senopoulos said.

“Robert’s Rules of Order,” the popular—and enormous—manual to running non-governmental meetings, remains the group’s Bible.

“A lot of people, they’re intimidated by it,” Senopoulos said of the hefty tome. But, he added, the basics of it are simple: make an agenda, move through it in order, and make decisions by motions.

But community meetings often run into trouble, Senopoulos said.

“The most common mistake I observe is certain people monopolizing discussion without [focusing] on a particular motion,” he said. “I don’t like it when people kind of take over meetings. The best idea is usually developed over the intelligence of everyone having input.”

Time limits are key in large meetings, he said. Speakers should have a time limit as well as a limit on the number of times they can speak about a motion. A time limit for the meeting itself can help, too, he said.

The trend toward online “meetings” will be another topic of discussion at the conference. Senopoulos said his group opposes “meetings” held only by email or instant messaging, explaining that it is important for participants to see and hear each other.

There is one familiar item a good meeting does not need: a person banging a gavel. “Not necessary,” Senopoulos said.

Senopoulos is on the board of the Jamaica Hills Association and is an attorney for the state fire marshal, as well as legal counsel for various government boards and committees. After 29 years of helping to run those meetings, he is now getting certification from NAP.

The state chapter is named for George Demeter, a relative of Senopoulos who served as a state representative in the 1930s and wrote a handbook on parliamentary procedure. “Parliamentarian,” a term for a meeting expert, refers to the debate rules and procedures drawn for parliamentary governments.

The NAP conference will be held Sat., May 12, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Showa Boston Institute for Language and Culture, 420 Pond St. Registration is $40. For more information, see

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