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Un-Planning Series Meetings

Nikki Julien
Olympia WA USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 40 No. 2, April-May 2004, p. 31.

Here’s another way to plan Series Meetings-—don’t plan at all! This may sound shocking, but not planning is okay, and for some Leaders and Groups, it’s actually preferred. Coming without a plan opens the discussion to what the meeting attendees want to talk about instead of what you think they will want to talk about.

Consider if not having a plan will work for your Group. Lyla Wolfenstein of Vancouver, Washington, USA writes, “I remember being bored and frustrated by highly planned meetings when I first started going to LLL meetings with my baby. It felt stilted and impersonal.” If the discussion seems forced, the mothers may be hesitant because they think their comments are not relevant to that meeting’s topic. When there is no set topic, mothers will bring up a greater range of thoughts. Also, in an effort to complete the meeting’s plan, you might be tempted to overlook a concern. Yet, without the need to move on, mothers can discuss an issue in greater depth and might come to find greater understanding.

Annette Leibovitz writes about how she and her co-Leader, Annie Faber-Root of Buffalo Grove, Illinois, USA, begin meetings. “Lately we have been starting the meeting by asking mothers if they have any questions or comments they want to share. This often generates our whole meeting and definitely meets the needs of those in attendance.”

Using the strategy of not planning has other benefits as well. While mothers are conversing, you have time to look up a difficult question in the Breastfeeding Answer Book or tend to your own children. When you don’t have a preconceived plan to follow, you may notice subtleties such as recurring issues or dynamics between Group members that you may not have noticed before. Not worrying about how your plan is proceeding allows you more opportunities to remember to mention LLL resources and books for sale. Spending less time planning meetings frees up time between meetings for other LLL activities. Deb Wills, who leads in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, says, “I spend quite a bit more time thinking up creative ways to promote LLL membership.” The time could be spent planning a fundraiser or finishing up reports.

How do you plan for an un-planned meeting? You could simply show up with the standard opening question: “What questions or concerns did you come with today?” Margi Grant of San Diego, California, USA says that after 15 years of leading meetings, she doesn’t plan anymore. “I wait to see the mix of mothers and children who show up at a meeting, and during introductions I try to note what the concerns of that particular group are on that particular day. That forms the content of the meeting that day.”

If you are worried about the conversation falling flat, have a general topic as a back up plan. A “new situation” from New Beginnings is a handy conversation starter. As your meeting progresses, you can also take notes on the discussion. Then, if the conversation fades, you could return to an earlier concern and discuss it further.

Going to a meeting without a plan may take bravery. Confidence in your ability to be in front of a Group comes with practice. Yet, even if you are a new Leader, letting the mothers lead the discussion might be a way to ease into the role of leading a meeting. Not planning also requires a bit of trust—trust that the mothers will stick to mothering through breastfeeding issues or that you, as Leader, will be able to bring the discussion back on topic if it strays too far. A well-stated announcement about LLL’s focus will help. Un-planning also takes some patience. Allow the mothers an extra moment to answer each other’s question rather than jumping in to solve it yourself. Simply asking, “Has anyone else had experience with that?” will often bring out responses. Wait for many thoughts to be expressed, and most likely LLL’s perspective will be brought up by some of the mothers.

Edie Eckman of Waynesboro, Virginia, USA writes about her experience of planning meetings, “Even if I don’t have a ‘plan,’ I usually have an idea of a few questions I might ask to get the discussion underway. Once I get there and see who’s at the meeting, I will choose my plan of action from there.”

There are many ways to un-plan your Series Meetings. You can try letting go of your outline or list of information. You can try coming with a general topic rather than a developed plan. You might bring just one or two discussion starter questions. You may try not planning at all and leaving the discussion to what questions the mothers come with. Un-planning takes us back to our main goal in having meetings, which is to meet the needs of the mothers. Mothers who feel that they got something from the meeting are very likely to enjoy the time and will come back again. Margi Grant sums up the results of not planning: “Our meetings are pretty popular, I think, due to the casual atmosphere and warmth and caring for each mother’s concerns.”

Editor’s Note: “Un-planning” is not for everyone or for every Group. It’s an option for Leaders to consider. Leaders should be sure to meet the needs of new attendees who may be looking for more formal information, particularly pregnant women.

Nikki Julien and her partner, Jim, have two children: Alec (9) and Linden (7). She has been a Leader for three years and co-leads with three Groups for which she plans (and un-plans) differently for each.

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