Roberta's Rules: Meetings and More

December 28, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — Roberta's Rules of Order, author @ 8:46 pm

Recently I attended the CERT (Community Emergency Response Training) offered in my city.  It included six weekly meetings for three hours in the evening.  Each session had a different focus on how to respond as a team to disasters, particularly earthquakes.  (Because I live in California, that’s “top of mind”.)  It was very thorough, experiential (we practiced, “hands on”) and well presented by two knowledgeable and personable people from the city’s Office of Emergency Services.

So why am I writing about this?  Because having subject-matter expertise is vital – and they were experts in this field – it’s not the only information or skill needed when training a group of people.   (I’ll admit it, as a professional facilitator and group dynamics junkie, I get frustrated easily when a in a group meeting).  Yes, a training seminar or workshop is like a meeting, with an agenda, media (including dreaded power point), handouts and, oh yes, participants – with a few acting badly.

On our first evening of CERT I joined 40 people in a “classroom trailer” at a local Fire Department sitting behind tables facing the front.  I noticed that one person was already dominating the group.  She blurted out answers to every question asked by the trainers before anyone else could answer. She regularly asked questions challenging the knowledge of the trainers, to prove she knew more. What to do?

The trainers used humor to lighten the situation, and kept moving through the agenda. Yet, some in the group were annoyed.  (You could tell by the rolling of their eyes when this woman spoke.)  I have to admit in a moment of frustration I requested to the whole group (not singling her out) that we “share the airtime”.  Most nodded in agreement; she ignored me.  More started showing signs of really being annoyed – our body language and sniping remarks showed it.

This person wasn’t going to modify her own behavior.  I could speculate about the reasons, but but it wouldn’t help.  So I’ll focus on the role of the trainers to manage this type of behavior as the facilitators of the training “meeting”.

The concept of a “Facilitative Trainer” is not new.  Peter Gibb, a consultant at Interaction Associates (IA) in San Francisco and a colleague of mine during the 1980’s wrote an article on this subject.  I no longer have the article, but I remember some of the key behaviors, still being taught by IA.  They are categorized as “preventions” (use before the training or in the beginning) and “interventions” (use during the training).  Preventions are always easier than interventions!

A few “preventions” the CERT trainers could use in future sessions:

1) Establish some group ground-rules (or courtesy guidelines) in the first meeting.  Ask for agreement from the group.  A few examples are:


  • Turn off your cell phones and beepers.  Return calls on breaks outside the room.
  • If you have a question, or comments, write it down.  At the end of each section, you’ll a chance to ask them.  (Keep the focus on the agenda.)
  • Give others the opportunity to answer or ask a question before you speak a second or third time.  (Think of directing traffic.)
  • Limit side conversations with those seated around you that distract others.
  • Add others suggested by the group – they know what annoys them!

2) Take the tables out of the room and form a large circle, or double half-circles.  (This was done for a “hands on” class the third meeting, and it made a difference.) Tables are barriers that can increase aggression toward those on the other side.  Removing the tables and forming even a lopsided circle shifts the participant’s eye contact to those around the room. Surprisingly, it also helps people hear what others say, as they can also see the lips of the speaker.

Let me know how they work for you. I’d love to hear your stories or comments.

Now please go to my next blog entry for a description of the “Interventions” you can use during a training session – or in any meeting.






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