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History and Evolution of Meetings

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Meetings are part of the parcel of commerce and industry and other areas such as politics, medicine, and many more. Have you considered where and when meetings began? Who first came up with the thought, ‘I know, let’s get everyone together and work this out? Who devised the format for meetings as we know them now? And perhaps more to the point, given the radical change in the way businesses had to operate in 2020, are we looking at the phasing out of the traditional meeting in a post-covid world?

The following is – we hope – an enjoyable and informative look at the origin and evolution of meetings as we know them, and as with many aspects of modern life, the Greeks had a lot to do with it!

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The Greeks and Democracy

Hanging about in public places and discussing the latest news, gossip, or developments hardly seems likely to be the forerunner of our ways of scheduling meetings professionally and efficiently, but that’s how things began in Ancient Greece. The Greeks were an ordered bunch who drove social development a long way, and it is known that as early as 600BC most Greek towns would have a central building known as an ‘Agora.’

Translated as meeting place and later marketplace, this was where people went to buy and sell and speak and listen to speakers. The famous tale of philosopher Socrates questioning the marketplace crowd on the meaning of life took place in the Agora of Athen, now Athens as we know it, and many great philosophical theories grew from these important places.

Furthermore, to the Agora, we owe the birth of democracy, which remains at the core of many nations’ politics today. Of course, the Roman Empire could not be left out of the development of the meeting, so that’s our next step.

The Greeks and Democracy Evolution of Meetings

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The Romans and the Senate

There can be no doubt that the Romans would have loved the concept of video conferencing as it would have fitted their way of arranging meetings perfectly. How did the Roman Empire develop what the Greeks had started?

The Romans had their take on the Agora, known as the Forum, in which commercial transactions took place and political meetings. The central point of the Forum was the Curia. This was the place designated for the meeting of the Roman Senate, the most organized and powerful political body seen so far in the world.

When the Senate met, it would be to discuss and propose new legislation, and strict order of speaking according to hierarchy was established. The Roman Senate remains the model for most Western governments, and much of the routine we see in politics is derived from what went on in the Curia. We move to 19th century America and an enterprising Army Major who recognized the need to formalize how meetings were conducted in political and business circles.

The Robert’s Order

Major Henry Martyn Robert of the US Army issued ‘The Robert’s Order’ in 1876. It had taken him 10 years to perfect what was – and remains – a formalized routine for the organization and operation of civil meeting procedures. Initially intended for government and other procedural meetings, it soon became the framework for business meetings, and in many cases, remains so. The latest revision to The Robert’s Order – updated to incorporate modern practices – was issued in 2011.

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Robert’s Order established this routine:

1: The appointment of a Chair or Presiding Office who tables the agenda and opens the meeting.

2: The presentation of motions and resolutions by members at the invitation of the Chair.

3: Discussion of the motions and resolutions among the attendees under the direction of the Chair, including ‘seconding’ in which a second – who does not necessarily agree with a motion but wishes it to be discussed – is needed to further the discussion.

4: The vote, which Robert suggested would be indicated by the right arm and voicing ‘aye’ or ‘no.’’

5: The result was declared by the majority vote.

You will surely recognize the above should you have been involved in a debate or vote and how many business meetings are conducted. Robert introduced the modern meeting as we know it, but it is becoming a thing of the past?

Post Covid-19 Meetings and the Future

Technology first began to take hold in business meetings with the introduction of PowerPoint from Microsoft in 1990. This method of presenting data in visuals soon became the favorite of high-flying execs who wanted to be in with the latest methods. Notably, while PowerPoint still exists, 30 years later, it is little used in the form we are talking about here, as the world has come a long way in those three short decades.

2020, in particular, will surely be recognized as a watershed year in terms of how meetings are arranged and performed. The Covid-19 pandemic introduced millions of people and tens of thousands of businesses to remote working practices overnight. Fear that productivity would be drastically reduced was soon overcome as it became evident that, by using the latest video conferencing and remote working software as well as that for scheduling and planning, it could be as productive and, in some cases, more so than the office-based setup.

What the future holds remains to be seen, but there is sure to be a move towards remotely held meetings from now on.

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