Frank Lazaro is a lead organizer for Help-Portrait Atlanta, which had eight locations last year. Here he shares some tips on hosting successful planning meetings for your Help-Portrait event.

One of the biggest misconceptions about any successful planning meeting is that no planning has taken place prior to the meeting. This couldn’t be further from the truth. With successful meetings, most of the planning or at least the framework is done prior to walking into the planning meeting. If you are attempting to have a planning meeting without doing some homework, you are not going to enjoy the experience of planning this event. Never walk into a room of people and saying, “Okay, what are we going to do?” Always have a plan, but be flexible enough to know that plans change.

As a leader, it is your job to get to a result. That means picking the ideas that help the team reach its goal. In a group setting, without guidelines and framework, this is almost impossible.

One way to keep the group on track to meet your goals is to do your homework prior to setting up the planning meeting. But what does this mean? It means creating a framework to get the group started. It means getting people focused on the important things. All to often, especially in a group setting or meeting, things can and do get derailed. Your focused project grows into a project that becomes unmanageable. In the software development world this is called “scope creep.” But by doing some prep prior to the meeting, you can avoid many of the headaches.

There are a few things you need to do prior to walking into a planning meeting. You have taken it upon yourself to lead this effort, so you need to lead. These are the things you need to do prior to any planning meeting:

  1. Set goals for what you want to accomplish on Dec. 4. For example: Portraits of a 100 families.
  2. Set limitations on what you will do on the Dec. 4. Remember the overall purpose is to take pictures, anything above and beyond that is not necessary. Focus on the important things.
  3. Find people to help you.
  4. Create a to-do that you can handout for people to help you with, such as “talk to the local printer to get photos printed.”
  5. Bring a list of recommended organizations you think you should partner with on Dec. 4.
  6. Create a framework of how you think the day should work (processes!).

By doing these simple things, you take the confusion out of what you trying to do by creating focus. This also limits people’s ability to hijack your meeting with unnecessary discussion. Keep them focused on the end goal.

Always remember, you are the leader. People like to know someone is in charge, but this doesn’t mean you have to do everything. Here are a few tips to running a successful planning meeting:

  1. You are in charge. Control the conversation and keep people on track. Anything new that is brought up, add it to the “parking lot” – that is a fancy project management term for making note of it and talking about it later.
  2. Ask for feedback on what you have done so far and how things can be improved, but keep it within the framework you created.
  3. Control the scope of what you are trying to do. You can’t do everything and don’t be afraid to scale things back. Remember the goal is to take portraits, not provide manicures or provide a band for background music. Focus on the end goal and how to reach it. Once you have the important details in place, then think about adding other “nice to haves.”
  4. Not all ideas are good ideas.
  5. Ask for volunteers. It would be good to have a list prior to the meeting of what you need help with, such as someone to find a nonprofit to work with or someone to help create the volunteer schedule.
  6. Make sure everyone understands what you are trying to do and the goals you set.
  7. Document, document and document everything you want to do. The more specific instructions you can create, the easier your day will go.
  8. Don’t be scared to make a decision.
  9. Finally, if you show them you did your homework, you are showing them you are committed. If you are wishy-washy, people won’t join in.

After the planning meeting, you should think about a follow-up meeting or call or thread discussion to talk about progress. You should do this as often as possible to keep the team engaged. It never hurts to over-communicate.