For all of the negative connotations surrounding the word “meeting” in a workplace, I must say that meetings have comprised some of my most rewarding experiences at Volunteer Maryland. Our VISTA members serve at a wide variety of nonprofits and government organizations across the state, which is one of the reasons I love my position. I’ve gained exposure to dozens of organizations and programs which are all working to eradicate poverty in different and creative ways. The challenge, though, is getting more than a couple of these busy and dedicated members in one room at the same time. Enter the VISTA Meeting.
Volunteer Maryland hosts bi-monthly VISTA training meetings which have been some of the best parts of each of my service years. During my first year, I welcomed them as an opportunity to get out of the office, interact with the other VISTAs working around me, and access great information for professional development. As varied as the projects of each member were, we shared destinct commonalities in our VISTA experiences and it was encouraging to be around other people who “got it”. There was free food too, which you should know from my last post is something very near and dear to me.
Now that I’m working more closely with Volunteer Maryland staff and the actual planning and implementation of these meetings, I can attest that their success is the result of a great deal of time, effort, and care. This isn’t training where the agenda is stagnant each year, and it’s not training that’s done just for the sake of doing it. We look at what each of our members is doing, what tools or information they’ve asked for, and what we believe will be truly interesting and beneficial to the majority of participants. I’ve also discovered that the cool and collected presenting style might seem natural and improvised, but there may very well be a multi-page logistics checklist behind it.
I’ve gotten a ton of hands-on experience through these meetings as well, and have learned things that I’d never see in a textbook. Did you know that the letters on a flip chart should be at least 2 inches high, or that printing the time of breaks on an agenda means you’ll lose your audience if you go a few minutes over? Mints are good to have out because the peppermint boosts attentiveness; directions should always be incredibly clear; there should be a contact number for when the directions aren’t so clear; for every person who arrives late, there will be another one who arrives an hour early while you’re still groggy and unprepared… the list goes on and on.
In terms of helping present these meetings, it’s been an intimidating but priceless experience. Public speaking has long been my mortal enemy, and the chance to address a group of 30 people in even short bursts has helped overcome the fear at least a little bit. Now that I’ve survived the panicked shaky-voiced stage a couple of times without harm, I’m moving toward pretending to have confidence in hopes that one day it will be real.