If you are unfamiliar with formal meetings, you might find that some of the terms and language that is used will also be unfamiliar to you. To help with this, we’ve put together a list of common terms that are used in formal meetings or committees to help you feel more at ease, and a quick run-down of how a formal meeting might run.
Action List (or “Matters Arising”)
An “action” is a task which is identified during meetings that will need to be completed by either one or more of the meeting members. These are often compiled together in a list which is reviewed at the next meeting to check on the progress of those tasks. The person(s) responsible for the action is often referred to as the action “owner”.
At the start of the meeting, you may see the term “matters arising”, this is an agenda item when the group reviews the action list.
Ahead of a formal meeting, an agenda will be sent out to the members of the meeting, which will set out in advance the structure of the meeting and the matters that will be discussed. It’s a helpful tool to help you prepare for a meeting, and will be referred to during the meeting to ensure that the structure is being followed.
Apologies for absence
You will need to send through your apologies for absence if you know that you cannot attend a meeting, and these apologies will need to be sent to the person who sent you your invitation to the meeting.
Any Other Business
At the end of the meeting, members may be asked if there are any other matters to discuss that haven’t been raised in advance and aren’t on the agenda. This is referred to as “AOB”, standing for any other business.
The invitation to a meeting will be sent in advance including the details about the time, location, and duration of the meeting. It may include the papers for the meeting, or the papers may come through at a later date.
Sometimes meetings will be attended by relevant people who might have something to contribute to the meeting. They might be doing a presentation or interested to hear what the meeting discusses, so they will be listed as being “in attendance” on the papers relating to the meeting.
People who are ‘in attendance’ at a meeting will not have voting rights and may not have the same speaking rights as formal members of the meeting.
When you receive an invitation to a meeting, you’ll be asked to RSVP to confirm that you will be attending. If you cannot, you should send your apologies for absence.
The documents relating to the meeting may be referred to as the “papers”. This will often include the agenda, the minutes of the last meeting, the action list, and any documents, reports, or updates to be considered at the meeting.
During the meeting, there will normally be someone keeping a record of what is discussed and what has been decided or agreed on. This record of the meeting is referred to as the “minutes” of the meeting, and are a helpful way to review what was discussed at each meeting. They are often sent out after the meeting has taken place when the minutes have been finalised.
The people who are involved and invited to the meeting are the “members” of the meeting. The list of all the members is referred to as the “membership list”. This tells you who is attending the meeting and who is involved in the work that the meeting does. The members of a meeting will usually have the right to speak and to vote at the meeting.
Written and verbal reports
At the meeting, members may provide reports of work or actions that has taken place between meetings. These reports can either be written or verbal. If you cannot attend a meeting, you may be able to submit a written report to be discussed or noted even if you cannot be there yourself.