Leading with Style
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 36 No. 5, October-November 2000, pp. 99-100
The LEADER'S HANDBOOK (1998 edition, p. 43) describes different formats for a Series Meeting and gives some guidelines for choosing between them. Some Leaders are more comfortable with a conversation-style meeting where every mother can add to the discussion whenever she wants. Some prefer a round-robin format because everyone participates. Some Leaders have designed great meeting ideas using props, posters, or other visual aids. Others use a straightforward discussion.
Often, too, the best meeting format depends on the mothers who attend the Group. Some Leaders avoid a round-robin discussion because it may make some mothers uncomfortable. Karen Small, of the Newport County, Rhode Island, USA Group says, "I stopped round-robin after reading about how uncomfortable it makes some mothers (and thinking about it, it certainly did make me uncomfortable at first). I just wait for mothers to speak up. If there is a delay, catching someone's eye usually signals them to speak." On the other hand, Jennifer Whitley of the South Seminole Group in Florida, USA finds that, "I have never noticed that this format made the mothers uncomfortable although I know it could for a new attendee."
Using props or gimmicks at a Series Meeting may help draw out shy mothers, especially in a round-robin meeting. Julie Killion of the Hillsboro Group in Oregon, USA writes, "We usually organize our meetings in a round-robin format, where one person will read the question on the card, and everyone who wants to talk about that question can." Some mothers, however, may see a prop meeting as less serious. Susan Buckley, a Leader in Cheshire, Connecticut, USA comments, "When I led meetings in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, the new mothers in my Group were mostly older, professional women. They tended to be most comfortable with information that was presented seriously in a lecture or discussion format. I've led evening meetings comprised of mostly working mothers; I find that they, too, prefer to "get down to business."
Flexibility is key to meeting planning. Mary Hansen, who leads the Amherst, Virginia, USA Group, notes, "Even with all of this planning we still have to be ready to drop the prepared meeting at a moment's notice. When only two mothers are present, it seems silly to present a formally laid out meeting, particularly when it was designed with new or expectant mothers in mind and the mothers in attendance are on their second or third child."
Some Leaders noted that they encourage mothers to ask their questions early in the meeting. Karen Zeretzke, who leads the Baton Rouge #4 Group, Louisiana, USA, starts her Group this way: "We go around the circle, introducing ourselves and sharing any questions/concerns. If the questions just need a short answer, I do answer them right then and there. If the question is complicated or lengthy, or if I'd like to involve the Group and their experiences in the discussion, I jot it down (writing it down makes it important); we reintroduce these concerns, in the order they were written down, just as soon as we have gone around the circle. Then we jump to the meeting topic of the day. In my opinion, meeting the needs of those who attend the meeting is far more important than following a set format. (Yes, this may mean not directly addressing the topic of the day, but those attending leave with the knowledge they came to find. And they feel valued as a member of our LLL community.)" Jane Tuttle, of the Lawrence, Kansas, USA Group, agrees. "Many of the mothers come to our meetings with specific questions and really don't listen to the discussion because they have their question to ask. If we answer 'burning questions' first, it then allows the mothers to focus on the meeting discussion."
Just as we believe mothers are the experts on their own children, Leaders know their own Groups best. Thinking about the mothers who attend Series Meetings can help a Leader decide the best way to lead!
Preparing for Any Situation
I usually have one "simple" meeting plan - just some questions from the LEADER'S HANDBOOK jotted down - and one "canned" meeting plan (usually from the web page meeting ideas or a collection of meetings that our Chapter compiled) which could virtually lead itself!
If there are many new mothers, I like to do the "simple" meeting plan because it results in the mothers talking more and the Leader (me) talking less. The power of LLL, I think, is in the truly "mother-to-mother" support rather than a Leader leading a meeting and appearing to be an expert. The regular Group mothers will gladly cover the important topics with me inserting LLLI philosophy and clarifying facts if needed, and the new mothers come away from their first meeting, I think, with a wonderful, loving, caring feeling about LLL.
If the meeting is primarily (or completely) "regulars," I'm inclined to make the meeting a jazzier version - utilizing a game, for instance. Once for the "advantages" meeting, I included research and statistics on all the advantages. The mothers who'd been attending for years and "knew" all the benefits loved to hear research to back them up! This keeps meetings fun and (I hope) keeps mothers renewing their memberships!
With a smaller group of mothers, as long as there are sufficient regulars to ensure some talking will occur, I am more inclined to do the less-structured plan. These are the mothers with "out-of-the-ordinary" questions. They don't need to be convinced of the value of mother's milk.
On the other hand,
a large group almost necessitates a well-planned-out meeting with a
definite ending time! Casual conversation with a group of 10 mothers
is fine for an hour, but with 20 mothers it can go on way too long!
Meetings with Visual Aids
Palo Alto, California, USA
When I first became a Leader, my co-Leader shared lots of meeting ideas with me: posters, index cards, puzzles. I put them all to the side. After all, I started attending LLL meetings because of the free-flowing discussion. Series meetings provided adult conversation and a chance to visit. When I became a Leader I enjoyed leading those easygoing, discussion meetings. And I really didn't even need to prepare much beforehand, just bring in a couple of questions and the meeting would take off by itself. So when I began leading Series Meetings for our new evening Group, I expected to provide more of the same. What a disappointment! My open-ended questions left me with a room full of blank faces and empty silence. After one dreadful meeting that left one mother in tears, I decided to try a more structured meeting style. Now, I always bring in some sort of prop, usually index cards or pictures that can be passed around. Sometimes I use the whiteboard in our meeting room. I always have a complete outline to draw from as needed. I think this approach is more successful for the evening Series for several reasons. First, many of the mothers who attend are coming in from work. They've already spent a day in adult conversation and they're tired. Pictures, posters, and puzzles help them to organize their thoughts.
Second, I realized that I receive many phone calls asking about our breastfeeding "class." Although I explain the informal organization of our Series Meetings I think many mothers compare LLL Series Meetings to the more structured classes that they take either through their work, or as they prepared to become parents. They expect a more formal, directed presentation comparable to their previous experiences. Furthermore, they feel uncomfortable with the looser discussion-like style that I found so nurturing. Starting with a structured presentation fulfills those initial expectations and helps build the comfort level for new mothers.
I hope that each meeting will lead to a discussion in which each mother has her needs met and feels nourished. I believe that each mother is an expert and has so much to contribute to each meeting. And I've learned that until I meet the needs and expectations of mothers who attend, they will not feel comfortable enough to participate.