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0756 Holding Structured and Unstructured Meetings

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 756: Holding Structured and Unstructured Meetings.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 756. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Go to our website at eslpod.com, and become a member of ESL Podcast, and help support us. By becoming a member, you can download the Learning Guide for this episode that will help you improve your English even faster by giving you a complete transcript of everything we say on this episode.

This episode is a dialogue between Maya and Diego about having business meetings. Let’s get started.

[start of dialogue]

Diego: Okay, why don’t you brief me on what you’ve planned for the meeting tomorrow?

Maya: Sure. At the meeting of the managers tomorrow, we’ll begin with introductions. Since you’re the most senior manager, the job falls to you.

Diego: I don’t think we need to stand on ceremony. Have Alexi do the introductions.

Maya: All right. Then, we’ll follow the agenda and discuss each item of business. I have you down to lead the discussions.

Diego: I don’t think we need the meeting to be so structured. If we follow the agenda point-by-point, we’ll never find out what’s really on the minds of the managers, what issues they think are of paramount importance. I think I’ll open the floor to anyone who wants to raise an issue.

Maya: Wouldn’t that turn into a free for all? I’m not sure we’ll get much accomplished.

Diego: Sometimes, it’s not as important to accomplish something as it is to take the pulse of the group. If we want to know what issues are on the managers’ minds, we first need to let the managers speak freely. Agreed?

Maya: Uh, sure. You’re the boss. Should I also cancel the lunch I’ve ordered so you can make up your minds about food later?

Diego: Absolutely not! The one thing that’s not open for discussion is what I’m eating for lunch.

[end of dialogue]

Our dialogue begins with Diego saying, “Okay, why don’t you brief me on what you’ve planned for the meeting tomorrow?” “To brief” (brief) someone on something means to give them very quickly the most important information. We usually, when there isn’t a lot of time, we use this expression. Tell me just the most important things I need to know. Of course, the word “brief” as an adjective means to be short. Here, we use it as a verb meaning to give me information quickly.

Maya says, “Sure. At the meeting of the managers tomorrow, we’ll begin with introductions,” meaning we’ll find out the name and the job of everyone there at the meeting. Maya says, “Since you (Diego) are the most senior manager, the job falls to you.” “Senior” means the one with the most experienced here. It can also mean older, but here in a company setting, the senior executives are those who have the most experience. Those are often the ones who are the oldest, as well. “The job falls to you,” Maya says. “To fall to (someone)” means to be your responsibility because of the way the rules or expectations are in this organization. “This job falls to you,” it’s your job, your responsibility; you have to do it.

Diego says, “I don’t think we need to stand on ceremony.” The expression “to stand on ceremony” means to be very formal, to not be casual, to follow all of the rules. But even though Diego is the senior manager, he doesn’t want to follow the tradition of him doing the work; he suggests Alexi do the introductions.

Maya says, “All right. Then, we’ll follow the agenda and discuss each item of business.” An “agenda” (agenda) is a written plan about what you are going to talk about in a meeting: first you’re going to talk about this, then you’re going to talk about that. Usually, if it’s a business meeting, you have a piece of paper that tells you, in order, the things that you’re going to talk about at that meeting, especially if it’s a very formal meeting. Maya says they’re going to discuss each item of business. At a meeting, an “item of business” is any topic or subject that’s going to be discussed. It doesn’t have to be actually related to business. You could have a formal meeting for an organization at your church or an organization in your community, and if you have a meeting of the leaders – of the directors – you might have different things on the agenda, each one of those would be an “item of business,” even though we’re not talking about a business like making money. Maya says, “I have you down to lead the discussions.” “I have you down” means I have written down – I have put down your name on a piece of paper, or I have your commitment, or I know that you are going to do this thing.

But Diego says, “I don’t think we need the meeting to be so structured.” The title of this episode is “Having (or holding) Structured and Unstructured Meetings.” “Structured” would be something that is planned very carefully: first you do this, then you do that. You follow the rules of a formal meeting very carefully, and everything is planned. Diego says, “If we follow the agenda point-by-point, we’ll never find out what’s really on the minds of the managers.” “Point-by (by) -point” means one thing at a time, one item of business at a time. Diego says that if we hold the meeting – if we conduct the meeting this way we won’t really find out what the managers at the meaning are thinking, what is “on their minds,” which means what are they thinking. Diego want to find out what the managers think is of paramount importance. “Paramount” (paramount) means extremely important, more important than anything else. If someone says, “this is of paramount importance,” they mean it is very important, highly important. Diego says, “I think I’ll open the floor to anyone who wants to raise an issue.” “To open the floor” is when the leader of a meeting says anyone can now speak about whatever topic they want to talk about. That would be a very “unstructured” meeting, a meeting that wasn’t planned carefully. Diego says he’ll open the floor to anyone who wants to raise an issue. “To raise an issue” means to mention a concern or a worry that hasn’t yet been discussed, or to ask a question that hasn’t been discussed.

Maya said, “Wouldn’t that turn (the meeting) into a free for all?” The expression “free for (for) all (all)” means to have a situation where everyone is talking at the same time. It’s very disorganized, not just unstructured, but lacking any sort of organization, being not very productive because everyone’s talking at the same time. Maya says, “I’m not sure we’ll get much accomplished (we’ll get a lot of things done).”

Diego says, “Sometimes, it’s not as important to accomplish something as it is to take the pulse of the group.” The expression “to take the pulse” (pulse) means to understand the way people are thinking or to understand the current situation, especially as it relates to people’s feelings and opinions. Literally, in your body your pulse is the blood that is going through your body. You can measure your pulse in a couple of different places: inside of your wrist, at the end of your arm, is one place. But as an expression, “to take the pulse” of a group of people means to get a good idea about what they are feeling and thinking. Diego says, “If we want to know what issues are on the managers’ minds, we first need to let the managers speak freely.” “To speak freely” means to speak openly, usually not to have to worry that you are going to be criticized, to speak without having to worry about how the other people, perhaps, are reacting. Diego says, “Agreed?” meaning do you agree with me, Maya.

Maya says, “Uh, sure. You’re the boss (you’re the person in charge). Should I also cancel the lunch I’ve ordered so you can make up your minds about food later?” “To make up your mind” means to decide, to make a decision. Maya’s saying well, maybe we shouldn’t have a planned lunch; you guys can just decide what you want to eat later. Diego says, “Absolutely not! The one thing that’s not open for discussion is what I’m eating for lunch.” So, Diego is willing to have people talk about whatever they want, but when it comes to lunch, deciding what he’s going to eat, he’s going to make a decision. “To be open for discussion” means that people can give their opinions, it hasn’t been decided yet. When it’s not open for discussion, a decision has already been made, and apparently Diego has made a decision about what he wants and everyone else will eat for lunch.

Now let’s listen to the dialogue, this time at a normal speed.

[start of dialogue]

Diego: Okay, why don’t you brief me on what you’ve planned for the meeting tomorrow?

Maya: Sure. At the meeting of the managers tomorrow, we’ll begin with introductions. Since you’re the most senior manager, the job falls to you.

Diego: I don’t think we need to stand on ceremony. Have Alexi do the introductions.

Maya: All right. Then, we’ll follow the agenda and discuss each item of business. I have you down to lead the discussions.

Diego: I don’t think we need the meeting to be so structured. If we follow the agenda point-by-point, we’ll never find out what’s really on the minds of the managers, what issues they think are of paramount importance. I think I’ll open the floor to anyone who wants to raise an issue.

Maya: Wouldn’t that turn into a free for all? I’m not sure we’ll get much accomplished.

Diego: Sometimes, it’s not as important to accomplish something as it is to take the pulse of the group. If we want to know what issues are on the managers’ minds, we first need to let the managers speak freely. Agreed?

Maya: Uh, sure. You’re the boss. Should I also cancel the lunch I’ve ordered so you can make up your minds about food later?

Diego: Absolutely not! The one thing that’s not open for discussion is what I’m eating for lunch.

[end of dialogue]

The job of scriptwriter here at the Center falls to the best scriptwriter in the world of podcasting, Dr. Lucy Tse.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again here on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language Podcast is written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan, copyright 2012 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
to brief (someone) on (something) – to quickly present the most important information about something, especially when there isn’t very much time

* Each morning, she briefs the president on global economic news.

senior – older, more powerful, or more experienced; a term that identifies the employees who have been with the organization for the longest period of time and/or who have more power, responsibility, and decision-making authority within the organization

* The senior account managers are expected to train the new account managers.

to fall to (someone) – to be someone’s responsibility, especially as the result of rules or expectations

* Responsibility for planning the bachelorette party falls to the maid of honor.

to stand on ceremony – to be very formal, not relaxed or casual; to follow detailed rules or expectations for how one should act and what one should say

* Relax! Nobody stands on ceremony around here. Just be yourself.

agenda – a written plan for what will be discussed during a meeting, including the order and how long the discussion will last for each topic

* The first item on the agenda is to review and approve the minutes from our last meeting.

item of business – something that needs to be discussed, addressed, or decided during a meeting

* Don’t forget to include next year’s sales goals as an item of business for today’s meeting.

down – listed; with one’s name written on a piece of paper showing one’s responsibility for some task

* Jack is bringing a salad, Krystal is bringing a bottle of wine, and we’ve got Blanche down for dessert.

structured – rigid; planned in detail; without room for flexibility or changes

* The initial training is very structured, but later trainings are more flexible.

point-by-point – one item at a time, in order

* The spokesperson tried to identify the journalist’s complex question point by point.

paramount – extremely important; more important than anything else

* We want all of the guests to have fun, but safety is paramount.

to open the floor – to allow anyone to speak, even if the speaker or topic was not on the agenda

* At the end of his presentation, Brandon opened the floor for questions from the audience.

to raise an issue – to ask a question or present a concern or worry that previously was not being discussed

* Everyone is worried about Charlene’s drinking, but nobody wants to raise the issue because they don’t want to make her angry.

free for all – a situation where everyone is speaking at the same time in an unorganized way

* That was the most disorganized press conference ever! It was a free for all, with all of the reporters shouting out their questions at the same time.

to take the pulse – to assess and understand the current situation, especially related to people’s feelings and opinions about something

* The CEO often visits the company’s stores to take the pulse of customers and see how they are treated by employees.

to speak freely – to speak openly, without restrictions or limitations, especially without fear of getting in trouble for sharing one’s opinions

* Sir, may I have permission to speak freely?

to make up (one’s) mind – to make a decision, especially if it takes a while to reach a decision because one cannot decide which option is best

* Helena hasn’t made up her mind yet about what she’ll study, but it will probably be biochemistry or biophysics.

absolutely not – under no circumstances; no way; impossible; a phrase used to show that something definitely will not happen

* - May I borrow your car?

* - Absolutely not! You drove into a tree last week, and I don’t want you to do the same thing with my car!

open for discussion – not yet decided, so people can share their opinions and try to persuade others

* We’ve already completed the final product design, but pricing is still open for discussion.

Comprehension Questions
1. Why does Maya want Diego to handle the introductions?
a) Because he knows everyone at the meeting.
b) Because he’s the tallest employee.
c) Because he’s the highest-ranking meeting participant.

2. Why does Diego want the managers to speak freely?
a) Because he doesn’t want to limit how long they can speak for.
b) Because he wants to know what they’re thinking about.
c) Because he can’t pay them for the time they spend at the meeting.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
to fall to

The phrase “to fall to (someone),” in this podcast, means to be someone’s responsibility, especially as the result of rules or expectations: “When Jesse lost his job, all of the childcare and housework fell to him.” The phrase “to fall into” means to begin doing something almost by accident, without having planned to do it: “Most people study accounting before becoming tax preparers, but Hannah kind of fell into it when she realized how much she enjoyed doing her own taxes.” The phrase “to fall back on” means to rely on something: “If your band isn’t successful, you can always fall back on your engineering degree.” Finally, the phrase “to fall for (someone)” means to fall in love or begin to have a romantic interest in someone: “Lionel fell for Betty the first moment he saw her.”

free for all

In this podcast, the phrase “free for all” means a situation where everyone is speaking at the same time in an unorganized way: “Teachers ask students to raise their hands so that the classroom doesn’t become a free for all.” A “free for all” can also be a fight that doesn’t have any rules and that involves many people: “Two boys started fighting at school today, but it quickly became a free for all involving almost all of the students in the classroom.” The phrase “for free” means without a price or charge: “The company gives away pens and magnets for free.” Finally, the phrase “free and clear” means without any consequences or without any responsibilities: “Even though witnesses had seen him steal the stereo, he walked away free and clear.”

Culture Note
Business Meeting Agendas

At most business meetings, each “attendee” (person who participates in a meeting) is given a copy of the agenda. The agenda lists each item of business and the approximate length of time that will be “devoted to” (set aside for; intended for) each topic.

A business meeting agenda “typically” (usually) begins with a “call to order,” where the “facilitator” (the person who leads the meeting) asks for everyone’s attention and officially starts the meeting.

The next item on the agenda is often review and approval of the “minutes” (written notes) from the last meeting. Sometimes someone is asked to read the minutes “aloud” (with a spoken voice, so everyone can hear) before everyone votes to approve the minutes.

The rest of the agenda is often divided into three parts: “old business,” “new business,” and “other items.” Under old business, people report on what they have done related to things that are discussed during each meeting, or that were discussed in the last meeting. Under new business, the facilitator presents new items of business that need to be discussed. Under “other items,” people are invited to “bring up” (begin discussing) anything else that was not listed on the agenda.

Throughout the meeting, someone is “tasked with” (responsible for) making a list of the “action items,” or things that must be done before the next meeting, as well as who is responsible for each action item. Toward the end of the meeting, that person reviews those action items to make sure everyone understands who is responsible for doing what before the next meeting.

The end of the meeting is usually spent identifying the date, time, and location of the next meeting.

Comprehension Answers
1 - c

2 - b