Best practices in hosting an IRC open meeting
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Lists of meetings
Advice on how to have a happy, productive meeting via IRC:
- No personal attacks. Don't ridicule other participants' ideas or suggestions.
- Know your goals
- If you have a specific topic you want to discuss, you may want to think about having a moderator. If your main goal is to interact and listen to people in the community, a free form meeting (often chaotic) is better.
- Prepare a list of topics in advance
- Compiling a list of topics in advance will help you to structure the meeting.
- If you have a goal or purpose for the meeting (such as a decision to make or a set of options to discuss), make sure that is explicit ahead of time; have a plan for reaching the goal. If it seems likely that the meeting is open-ended or will potentially take a very long time to reach the goal, have an idea of how long the meeting should be and be willing to cut it off at that point (i.e. after one hour); plan to have another meeting later if necessary.
- Choose a moderator
- Choosing a person within your group to act as a moderator will help you to stay focused on the current topic. If possible, make sure they have channel operator privileges. For very large meetings, assign a moderator and another person to help with op duties.
- Use the channel topic
- Use the channel topic to put links to relevant documents and the agenda.
- Make sure everyone knows the right channel, is able to use IRC effectively (provide links to web-based clients and offer help ahead of time, if you have new IRC users in the group), and make sure the meeting time is reported in UTC, with any daylight savings/summer time issues noted. For small meetings, it's a nice courtesy to send out the local time of the meeting for each participant. If you intend to log the meeting, make sure you state that and send out the location of the logs/minutes afterwards. It's important that the location be laid out clearly and multiple methods of connecting to IRC be given (some for experienced folks who simply may not have ever configured a full-featured client, and some for "single-entry" participants who just need web access for a certain chat). An example of this is located on the strategy wiki.
- Begin and end on time
- Arrive before the meeting is scheduled to begin. Agree on the duration of the meeting and keep the time schedule. Have the moderator announce when the meeting is beginning and, for formal meetings, when it ends. Taking (planned) breaks can be helpful in long meetings; have the moderator announce the beginning and end of the break.
- Listen carefully to what others say. Ask for clarification. No side conversations.
- Stay focused on the current topic
- Don't start a new topic unless everybody agrees that the current topic has been sufficiently discussed. Have the moderator explicitly state when you are beginning and ending a new topic so as to avoid confusion.
- Limit distractions
- Avoid private chats with other participants of the meeting whenever possible. Demonstrate respect for the participants by staying focused on the current discussion. Don't welcome everybody who joins/parts the channel; set the channel in conference mode for large meetings. Don't be afraid to silence people who are being overly distracting or who are trolling.
- Speaking in turn
- If someone is speaking, wait until they are finished before making your comment or asking your question. If you are speaking and have a lot to say, type "done" or "finished" at the end of your comment, so others know you are done typing (there can often be a slight network lag). For very large public meetings, it can be helpful to only voice people who need to speak or present, and then voicing other people in turn; requests to speak can be made in a side channel and handled by the channel op (see above).
- Embrace the chaos
- Enjoy the fact that many conversations will be happening, and be prepared for topics to split and be discussed within several groups. Any attempt to "control" an IRC conversation will surely end in chaos or, worse, the sound of an empty chat room.
- Assign someone ahead of time to summarize and report
- For people who couldn't make it, a concise summary with action items is much more useful than a log. For people who did make it, a summary is still useful as a reminder of what was decided or what needs to be done.
- Keep a log as well
- Sometimes the details of a discussion can be useful, especially for complicated issues where no outcome was reached. Do make sure you get permission from folks in advance to have summaries and logs published.
- If you've not used meetbot and you want a pretty HTML log, tools like irclog2html.pl can be of help.