«University of Colorado, Boulder CU Scholar Communication Graduate Theses & Dissertations Communication Spring 5-28-2014 Form, Function, and Figure: ...»
Meetings typically begin with a meeting chair calling the meeting to order, sometimes in the exact phrase, “I’ll call this meeting to order” (Katie, community resources committee meeting, 4/12/13). This is typically coupled with the time that the statement was made. A few examples of this are included in excerpts 1-3 below. Some meetings were called to order by marking an official beginning, as in excerpts 1 and 2 below. Other meetings were called to order by acknowledging the attendees of the meeting, as in excerpt 3 below.
Excerpt 1 (December 2012, Community resources meeting, Line 12, Mary) 1 Oh I guess we officially call this to order it’s 12:59 call this to order Excerpt 2 (December 2013, Board of directors meeting, Line 29, Mary) 1 Alright 2:09 we’re officially starting.
Excerpt 3 (September 2013, Board of directors meeting, Line 32, Mary) 1 Alright guys thanks for showing up. Alright so what time is it? It is exactly 2:02.
One meeting had a problematic opening. I had arranged and scheduled a meeting of the community resources committee in April 2013. Mary and I were the only committee members in attendance, but as two-thirds of the committee, we had a quorum to count the meeting as official according the committee’s rules. I had started to record the meeting when we switched channels from instant messenger to a Skype call, but about eleven minutes into the recording Mary told me that I should “officially declare the meeting”. After asking more about that rule, and why she thought that meetings needed an official declaration to begin them, I asked about what would happen if I did not start the meeting, which is the beginning of excerpt 4 below.
Excerpt 4 (April 2013, Community resources meeting, Lines 241-256, Katie and Mary)
The meeting’s start seems to be inevitable. When I challenge that I might not start the meeting, Mary retorts that she will then start the meeting (lines 9-11). Without an official start, then Mary says that the “meeting will not have happened” (line 2), and our ideas will get “sucked in” by the “black hole” that would be the non-meeting. Perhaps this official frame to the meeting is required to mark the “business” that occurs in meetings, which runs according to an agenda, from the informal and more spontaneous conversations that Mary and I frequently have about SPC. The declaration of a meeting and its start time seems to be an important part of the act sequence of meetings for SPC members. As best friends, the conversation before this point had been about topics that she and I frequently talk about, like traveling and plans for the summer.
To this point the talk had also been on relatively equal grounds. Once the meeting was mentioned, however, a hierarchical structure was placed on our conversation. Although I was the chair of this meeting, Mary enacted her organizational power in the conversation in lines 11when she says that she will start the meeting. Therefore, the chair is not the only person who can call a meeting to order, supposedly the president could also call the meeting to order if need be because she outranks the other members in a way. I acquiesce to this force of power, perhaps
Meetings close in a similarly formal fashion to the typical opening. There is another reference to the time, and the closing phrase usually follows a check that there are no questions or topics of discussion that need to be included in the meeting. A few examples are included in excerpts 5 and 6 below. Excerpt 5 represents a more formal closing, where the meeting is actually declared “closed” (line 2). Excerpt 6 includes a check that there are no other topics to cover in the meeting before adjourning (line 1).
Excerpt 5 (December 2013, Board of directors meeting tape 3, Lines 763-764, Mary) 1 alright I think that is it so we went about 13 minutes over but it’s 3:13 we’re going to go 2 ahead and close the meeting thanks everyone for coming Excerpt 6 (November 2012, Fundraising committee meeting, Lines 384-488, Mary and Katie)
Many of the meetings also include some pronouncement of how long the meeting lasted, which I usually say because this corresponds with the length of the recording that I have made of the meeting, as exemplified in lines 4-5 of excerpt 6. In excerpt 5, Mary references that the meeting ran “13 minutes over”, which signals to the other members that the meeting lasted for about an hour and 13 minutes because it was scheduled to close at 3:00. Therefore, time seems to be an important factor in SPC’s meetings. Both the beginning and ending of the frame include some pronouncement of what time it is, and the ending includes how long the meeting lasted.
Meeting talk includes the four sub-categories of topics and results, norms of speaking and interaction, oratorical genres and styles, and interest and participation. SPC meeting talk
purposes of meetings. Mary typically serves as not only the chair of the meeting, but also as the main speaker, with the most and longest turns of any participants. The chair, primarily Mary, also directs turn-taking procedures and decision-making, when decisions are involved during meetings. Meetings include informational and discussion-based styles of talk. Finally, the interest and participation of participants are encouraged through a few different strategies during meetings.
Topics and Results There are five main topics that are present in most of the meetings. The first topic, which also usually occurs first in the meetings, is an overview and update of everything the committee or organization has accomplished since the last meeting or over the past year. This is usually a report on the activities that the organization or committee has accomplished and any decisions that were made outside of meetings. This topic usually has a document associated with it, with each month listed and the actions made during each month. Mary references the document in her talk, and uses the short descriptions of actions to prompt her talk about them.
The second topic that is covered in many of these meetings is an update on the organization’s 501(c)(3) status as a legal nonprofit organization with the IRS. The update is usually followed by a comment on the pro bono lawyer used by SPC, Anthony, and how (in)adequate of a job he is doing. As of April 2014, the application has been officially reviewed by the IRS, seven months after submitting it, and the reviewer has requested more information from SPC before it will be approved. This legal status is sometimes included in the time overview, and sometimes discussed as its own separate topic.
A third prominent topic is fundraising efforts. Most of the meetings include at least a
happening. Grants are occasionally mentioned as part of this update, usually in connection with a mention about the 501(c)(3) that prevents SPC from applying for grants. This topic notably occurs in meetings of all groups in SPC, not just the fundraising committee and board of directors.
The fourth topic usually included in meetings is metacommunication about meetings. In the only meeting that occurred through instant messaging, this was the sole topic of conversation.
This metacommunicative topic sometimes includes talk about the nature of meetings, what makes a meeting, or discussion and qualification about how often SPC has meetings. This topic is rarely listed on an agenda, unlike the first three topics, but was included on the September 2013 agenda. The documents prepared before the meeting included some questions for the board about meetings, how often they should occur, and when they should occur. The section on norms of interpretation looks into this topic more in-depth.
The final topic usually included in meetings is metacommunicative talk about Wiggio, the online communication platform that members use to share information and coordinate for meetings and other activities. Talk about Wiggio and talk about meetings usually occurs within the same section of talk, sometimes to contrast these communication forms with each other. At the September 2013 board meeting, Mary brought a concern to the board that this form of communication, which is used more often than any other, might prevent older volunteers or those less familiar with technology from volunteering. The following discussion focused on the use of technology in the organization, with a few board members putting forth training on Wiggio as an option to include these less technology-savvy members.2 Meetings usually result in Mary, or another member with a position in the organization,
discernable and “official” decisions in meetings, which Boden (1994) notes is a typical feature of US American meetings. For example, in the April 2013 meeting of the community resources committee, Mary and Katie discussed the future of the committee. Mary said that the committee was not living up to the potential that she had hoped it would have, and Katie mentioned that the purpose of the committee had always been “vague”. After discussing options for close to half an hour, the meeting closed with the decision to put deciding the fate of the committee “on hold” until all of the members of the committee, including Amanda, could attend a meeting to discuss the future of the committee. However, Mary informed me in December 2013 that she had made the “executive decision” to disband the committee shortly after the September 2013 board of directors meeting. Therefore, even after deciding on the point that a decision would be made regarding the committee, Mary chose to make the decision herself outside of the context of a meeting.
Norms of Speaking and Interaction Schwartzman (1989) mentions a concern with a few particular norms of speaking and interaction: who chairs meetings, how debate or discussion is regulated (including turn-taking), and what decision rule is used by members. In all but one meeting that I analyzed, Mary served as the meeting chair. In SPC, the meeting chair is usually responsible for scheduling the meeting, calling it to order and closing the meeting, and transitioning between topics and agenda items. The only meeting chaired by someone other than Mary was a community relations committee meeting that I called and chaired.
In all of the meetings in this data set, Mary spoke the most, accounting for at least half of the total talk within each meeting. This is probably due to her position in the organization and
for over half of the total time of the meeting. Although she speaks longest and most often, she encourages others to “feel free to interrupt” her during meetings, as I discuss in the interest and participation section. Meeting participants rarely take up this invitation to interrupt, and discussion tends to occur when prompted by Mary.
When other members are trying to claim a turn, they will sometimes speak up and say what they want to, especially when they are meeting via technology rather than face to face with other members. Once recognized by Mary, they usually repeat their turn in order to have their contribution heard by all. Most times with those meeting face-to-face, Mary will recognize other members for a speaking turn and they will then take their turn. These turns are usually directed back to Mary in the form of questions for her to answer or suggestions that Mary either comments on or summarizes in relation to other suggestions.
As for the decision rule used by SPC’s members, the official bylaws and rules of the board of directors and committees require a simple majority vote for most issues. These official rules also allow for members to call a two-thirds majority vote on certain issues. However, as I have stated above, decisions are rarely made during meetings themselves. Mary gathers a sense of what the consensus might be and then makes decisions for the organization. The exception to this was in December 2013 when the board voted on a new member to add and to vote each other back for another term. In this case a vote was taken for each member after they stated their case for whether they wanted to stay on the board. Mary directed the vote by calling names or making eye contact with members and then they gave their yes or no vote. All of these voting decisions were unanimous, which is well over the simple majority needed for a decision to be considered made.
Oratorical genres and styles describe the types of talk included in a speech event or meeting. Although several of these are mentioned throughout this data set, they typically follow two themes of purpose: talk as information-giving and talk as discussion. Information-giving is marked by one speaker providing updates on various aspects of meetings. Discussion is marked by multiparty talk with questions and responses by multiple members. I present one excerpt for each, both given by Mary, and discuss how meeting talk actually follows these.
As I have discussed throughout these meeting talk sections, meetings tend to follow an informational style rather than a discussion-based style. However, in the following excerpt, Mary’s ideal for meetings is portrayed.
Excerpt 7 (September 2013, Board of directors meeting tape 4, Lines 290-292, Mary) 1 I want to be able to meet with people to, you know, show that we’re a team so everyone 2 gets together, and we get to brainstorm together, we get to talk face to face or you know 3 webcam or whatever it is.
In this excerpt she poses that meetings include genres like “brainstorming” and “talking face-to-face”. Although most meetings do not include this kind of talk, this was better exemplified in the most recent board meetings where she used discussion questions and points to guide part of each meeting. In the September 2013 board meeting she brought up questions about meetings themselves, which is where this excerpt came from. This excerpt is part of the larger excerpt 13 reproduced below in the norms of interpretation section. She also brought up questions about the organization’s use of technology and whether that might bar older volunteers from contributing as much. This did spur discussion about these topics among those present.