What is a Meeting?
What is a Meeting?
It seems an easy question to answer…until you try to actually tie down a specific explanation. There will be many variations on a response that may categorise some events that could be meetings…but may also not accurately do so, To be useful any description must be applicable to ALL supposed events, not just some.
Maybe it would be easier if we start looking at what is NOT a meeting and why. Here are some examples of attributes that may be used:
GATHERING and INTERACTIONS: Certainly people can gather, but very often without specific reasons. For instance, a crowd that gathers on a busy high street: are they meeting? Of course not. A gathering of people on a train or a bus: are they meeting? Of course not. Nowadays people can also interact without being co-located e,g, by phone or internet so no gathering. You see the point: just because two or more people are in a same place may not constitute a meeting, rather just a random co-location and conversely purposeful interactions can occur without physical gathering.
COMMUNICATING and CONCURRENCY: Individuals in a meeting will communicate, either singly or collectively: two people in a room conversationally; a crowd of geographically dispersed folk in a video conference communicate between themselves; one person delivering a speech to a number of people and possibly getting feedback live. All good examples of communication. However, communication can also occur without any live meeting. For instance a radio broadcast that may or may not be heard by another person and even if they do they are not in contact with the broadcaster at any point. Another example where information is being received by email or posts or a website…communication is taking place but in each case mostly not duplex and probably asynchronously i.e. in once direction with no concurrent response, no direct real time interaction. Communication can be not real time interactive of course…but that is not a meeting.
So what are the qualities, the prerequisite minimum criteria that define ALL events that can be truly described as meetings?
I would suggest they are two essential ones with one key optional but not essential:
PURPOSE: Unless people arrive at a contact with other people with some reason for doing so in mind then any contact is unimportant, co-incidental, irrelevant and not a meeting. A meeting has to have purpose..either to give or receive information, instruction or maybe just a chat with another but always for some reason to join. Of course it is possible that a chance encounter with another, or a wandering in to an ongoing event may transform into a meeting…but only once at least one member stays because of some reason they find to do so.
REAL TIME: Meeting by description means two or more people being co-present either geographically or virtually across an electronic medium. Whether its is two way communication or just one way i.e. being given purposeful, sought after education or instruction to make it work.
INTERACTION; This as I said can be sometime optional provided the firsts two essential conditions are satisfied. It can be optional and at time difficult to the overall definition because of the interaction qualification. For instance, an attendee at a concert: although co-located the entertainer and viewer are not purposefully interactively communicating… entertainment is being given but not real time interactivity is being fed back with any coherence. OR is it? Is cheering and calling out, or even clapping interactive communicating? In many audiences say like a cinema audience that question is easy as there is no real time interaction with the entertainment (i.e. virtual presence) and the audience but at live events ? How much you are willing to stretch the term ‘purposeful interaction’ will determine your judgment then.
As an exercise now: try to think of 5 events which by the prerequisites mentioned here would constitute a true meeting, 5 events that, under the same pre requisites, definitively would not, and finally 5 events that could be ambiguous and try to define how you would remove the ambiguity to define as meetings or not.