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How to Make Your Meetings Happy and Productive: 3 Questions You Can Ask

Tell me the story of your passion

We love talking with friends.  We hate going to meetings.  Why?

Too often at meetings and conferences, we’re listening to people we don’t know, talking about an agenda that doesn’t matter to us.

With friends, we can share not only thoughts and plans, but hopes and dreams–the things that make us get out of bed in the morning–the things that make us human.

If only we could invite people to bring their whole humanity to the conference room. But how?  Ask these three questions.

1. How You Got Here

“What is the winding path of your life, that has brought you to the work you do?” Hildy Gottlieb of Creating the Future asks this question at the beginning of every event.

Every time I begin a training or facilitation or even sometimes a keynote address, I ask people to turn to their neighbor and spend a few moments asking and answering those two questions. Every time, the room comes alive with chatter and laughter and gesticulating hands.

Try asking this question at the start of your next Board meeting.  See how happy and productive the rest of the meeting becomes!

2. The Awesome Thing that Happened

Marc Pitman, The Fundraising Coach LLC, begins training sessions with the question “What is something amazing that happened to you this week?”  Hildy Gottlieb asks the same question at the beginning of every Board meeting.  Why?  She quotes Hank Green:

There are two ways to make the world a better place. You can decrease the suck, and you can increase the awesome… And I do not want to live in a world where we only focus on suck and never think about awesome.

If your meetings feel like a great big time suck, start them with awesome.

3. What You Will Remember

You’ve come to the end of your panel, or conference, or meeting, and it was grand.  Really.  But you have phone and email messages and a long to-do list awaiting you.  How do you remember what you learned, and carry the experience into your daily work?

Hildy Gottlieb suggests giving yourself the rare pleasure of reflection.  At Creating the Future:

We ask folks to look over the notes they may have jotted down during the meeting, and to share what in particular stood out for them about the meeting.   It is again very grounding to learn about each other in this way. And it is also a great segue to ongoing email conversations that can carry us through to the next board meeting.

Talking about what matters to you will help you remember.  Listening to what other people care about will help you pull together as a group.  Knowing that you will make time to do both will make your meetings happier and more productive.

Try it and see!

Marathon: 4 Lessons Boston 2013 Taught Me about Communication

Boston Marathon

“Oh my God,” I said, “I have friends in that race!”

I can’t remember exactly how I first heard about the Boston Marathon bombing last year, but I know that was the first thing I said.

And I know the first things I did: turn on the radio, and get onto social media.

I spent a lot of that Monday listening for news, then sharing it with the immediate world via Twitter and Facebook.  That Patriots’ Day and the week that followed taught me four lessons I will never forget.

  1.  Write only what people care about.  On Monday, I cancelled any tweets I had pre-scheduled. I ignored any other topic.  I wrote only for people like me who said “I have friends in that race. Are they all right? What’s really going on?”
  2. Write what I know better than other people.  I live in greater Boston, and the local NPR affiliate, WBUR, is my soundtrack every day.  Simply by listening to the radio and following other Boston-area friends on social media, I knew more than 95% of the people in the country.  What I knew, I shared.
  3. Be a source of reliable information.  There were a lot of rumors flying around, and the media were more often fanning the flames than keeping their cool.  We were better off reading the Onion or the Borowitz Report than the New York Post (or watching CNN).  I made sure to pass along only what seemed certain–and even then, I gave my sources.
  4. Listen, and engage in conversation.  When I heard about friends who reported they were safe, I spread the word.  When people asked questions on Twitter, I used @ messages to write them back.  I followed the #boston hashtag to keep track of the conversation in real time.

Looking back at it, it occurs to me: these four lessons are not just for crises.

If you want people to pay attention to what you write, you should write what people care about and what you know best, giving reliable information and engaging in conversation, every time you post, tweet, or talk or email.

Only, don’t write as often every day as I did on Patriots’ Day 2013.  Because communicating with your readers is not a sprint.  It’s a marathon.

What Can Blogging Do for Your Nonprofit?


If you’ve enjoyed posts on Communicate!, maybe you’d like to blog for your own organization.  Learn how.  Sign up for my webinar, sponsored by NPO Connect.

Blogging on a Mission, with Dennis Fischman

Your cause is important, but how often do your supporters think about it? Do you have the nagging suspicion that from one quarterly newsletter to the next, they’ve forgotten about the issues you work on…and you? Blogging may be your solution.

In this webinar, consultant Dennis Fischman, author of the Communicate! blog, will show you where to begin and how to succeed. You will learn how to pick topics that your supporters want to know more about, create an editorial calendar, and write material people will read online.

Dennis will help you answer questions like:

  • Should your blog be one person’s writing or can you pull together a team of contributors (while maintaining a consistent voice)?
  • How do you incorporate stories, photos, and video?
  • And how do you promote your blog through email, social media, and the other channels you have available?

To sign up for the webinar, go to 

5 Lessons Moses Can Teach Us about Fundraising, by Michael Rosen

In honor of the Passover season, I’d like to share 5 Lessons Moses Can Teach Us about Fundraising | Michael Rosen Says…

I’d also like to wish Michael a chag sameach (happy holiday) and a refuah shleimah (complete healing of body and soul).  And my wish for the rest of you is: read Michael’s article.  It’s a good one!


Sharing the Season’s Greetings with Your Community

seder plate

Sending holiday greetings to your customers and community is a great way to let them know you’re thinking of them. But not everyone celebrates the same holidays.

Tonight, Monday evening, April 14, Jews begin celebrating Passover. Theravada Buddhists mark the New Year on April 15. Hindus observe Hanuman Jayanti the same day. Christians celebrate Holy Week from April 13 (Palm Sunday) leading up to April 20 (Easter Sunday). And Pagans look forward to Beltane on May 1.

How do you greet them all?

Ideally, you keep a record of which holiday each person on your list celebrates. Then, you send personalized email to each one. (If you’re not sure how to do that, I can help. Write me and let me know.)

If you haven’t kept those records, now would be a good time to start! In the meantime, feel free to cut and paste the second paragraph of this message into your email and social media. Add, “To all our friends who celebrate these holidays, we send our warmest greetings.”

Chag sameach to my fellow Jews, and a good and liberating holiday to everyone.

Sandy Deden

Write, laugh and be Sandy


Effectively assisting people doing good to do it even better


Igniting the power and passion in others...

Celina De Leon

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