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To be a chairperson, secretary, or lead for an AA meeting, you have certain responsibilities. Hereinafter, we refer to it as Chairing. Chairing is an honor, and should be treated as such. Do not take lightly the responsibility. You have surely heard that the newcomer is the most important person in the room. Demonstrate that fact, not by allowing him to share about something of which he knows nothing, but by ensuring that he hears a message of hope—a message about the solution of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
If you fear that meetings will soon become repetitive or that speakers sound robotic or cookie-cutter, remember that the newcomer has not heard them as often as you. Remember that alcoholism and the solution—the 12 Steps of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous—have not changed since the book was published in 1939.
Here are the things we discuss:
Dress the part. Show respect to the position of chairing by wearing clean, neat, business casual clothing. No sneakers. No blue jeans. Of course, you can chair the meeting naked if it's an online text chat meeting.
Choose an Appropriate Speaker
If you are responsible for it, you should choose an appropriate speaker. If it is a speaker meeting, it's not appropriate to choose someone from the audience, although this may be necessary if your speaker doesn't show. Try to have an appropriate backup speaker in this event.
Choosing your buddy to speak is a bad idea unless your buddy has a sponsor, has completed the 12 Steps, and sponsors others. Choosing someone to speak for their anniversary should be secondary to the fact that they have a sponsor, have completed the 12 Steps, and sponsor others. You must read this article for more clarification, so that you understand these concepts fully.
Your speaker should be willing to dress up a little bit. That means guys should wear a tie, or at least a tucked-in, button-down shirt. That means women should wear something business casual. Shoes, not sneakers, should be worn.
Choose an Appropriate Topic
If you are responsible for it, you should choose an appropriate topic. That means you don't let the audience choose the topic. Audience members always choose safe topics like Acceptance or Gratitude.
Appropriate topics are topics that encourage the discussion of the solution, i.e., getting a sponsor, doing the 12 steps with a sponsor, sponsoring others. Discussing gratitude is not part of the solution; the word is not even in the Big Book and the newcomer surely cannot relate to gratitude yet. Discussing acceptance is not part of the solution; it's part of one of the many stories in the Big Book—stories that could have been written by anyone and can be heard at many speaker meetings. While the "acceptance" paragraphs are nice, they are not part of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, and shouldn't be "studied" and glorified, as though they are part of the solution.
Don't choose multiple topics. You'll often get into the position where people think they should share on EACH ONE. Try as much as possible to have your audience stick to the topic you chose.
Quiet or Low Attendance Meetings
Uh oh! You've got a topic meeting and only 5 attendees, and 3 of them are newcomers! Have a Quick-Speak Topic Meeting (just made that up). A Quick-Speak Topic Meeting is when the sharers now become mini-speakers. The non-newcomers should share at length about how they got a sponsor, did the steps, and now sponsor others. If you don't have quite that much time, have each share on only one aspect, i.e., "How did you get your sponsor, John?" and move on down the line of non-newcomers.
Pick a topic from the first 164 pages of the Big Book, such as the first two paragraphs of Chapter 7. Ask each non-newcomer to expand on their experience with helping others. This is really the same as the Quick-Speak Topic Meeting, but uses the Big Book as the source of topic. Our message should always be the same: Get a sponsor, do the Steps, Get a sponsee.
Introduce the Speaker
Introduce the speaker by first name only. The speaker will provide other information about themselves. Do not talk about how much you like the speaker or their message. This contributes in no way to the meeting, and may only affect the speaker's level of confidence or ego.
While the speaker has the podium, try to step to the side or sit in the audience.
When the speaker has finished, we don't want to make statements that "judge" their message. Profuse thank-yous are fine, but we should avoid statements like "I love your story!" You should tell them! But tell them such things in private, one-on-one.
Controlling the Meeting
The meeting begins at the time designated and ends at the time designated. NO EXCEPTIONS, except of course by two or thee minutes at most. NEVER do we start meetings late. Meetings are not vital to sobriety. Meetings are a place to find newcomers and to meet and socialize with your friends. They did not have meetings in 1939 when over 100 reported to us precisely how they got sober.
NEVER do we allow a meeting to go overtime because someone did not get a chance to share. If it is moments into overtime and there appears to be no end to the current sharer's share, then you'll need to gently cut them off, "I'm sorry, we're out of time." and end the meeting. Do NOT allow the sharer an opportunity to close up. YOU control the meeting.
Choosing and Managing Sharers
When choosing those you'd like to have share (talking about sharers here, not speakers), try to choose those you believe may have experience with the topic. Don't pick a newcomer to share about sponsoring others. Basically, you should avoid calling on the newcomer at all. Newcomers often want to whine about rehab, mom, dad, therapy and any number of other things they see as their problem, while YOU need to stick to the solution. If a newcomer gets the floor and you realize your mistake, gently cut them off and say "Thanks for sharing, John. Please stay after the meeting so we can get with you. Who would like to share next?" Don't give them an opportunity to respond to you, but check with them after the meeting to make sure someone is with them.
Crosstalk: This is when people talk across the meeting. For instance, they blurt out. Some also refer to it as a form of feedback: when someone directly responds to a previous sharer. Neither are appropriate. It's best to say "I'm sorry, but we can't have crosstalk. If you don't know what crosstalk is, see me after the meeting." Do NOT wait until they have finished—cut them off gently! Do not use the term crosstalk without offering to discuss what it is at a later time.
If you've got a pontificating oldtimer, the same goes. If the solution is not being discussed, but rather perhaps some long story about an AA picnic, then cut off the oldtimer gently by saying "Thanks, John! Great story! I'd love to hear it after the meeting. Does someone have something they'd like to share about the solution?"
Got off-track somehow and now someone is sharing when it should have been someone else's turn? Do NOT ask the participants who goes next, choose the sharer who would have been next if the rules had been followed. If you realize it when someone is already sharing about the solution, let them finish first—but only because they are sharing about the solution—and get back on track at the next possible moment.
The chair shares: The chairperson can share anytime they like between other shares. If you have a comment you'd like to make, make it. You don't need to introduce yourself as an alcoholic again—you've already introduced yourself at the beginning of the meeting. Make sure that what you share ADDS to what has been shared, and wouldn't be considered feedback or crosstalk, unless what was shared is really "out there". When someone says something really out there, you'll need to bring the focus back to the solution. Share something appropriate to that. Don't be afraid to remind everyone what the topic is.
Someone introduces themselves as ACOA or CODA, but NOT as an alcoholic? Gently tell them they may not share since this is an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and we must not be diverted from our primary purpose. "We're glad you're here and you're welcome to stay, but we have a primary purpose here in AA. Please get with someone after the meeting."
When in doubt, ask yourself: "Will this contribute to our primary purpose?" Respond accordingly.
Close the Meeting
We do NOT close meetings early. Close any time within the last 5 minutes of the hour.
When closing the meeting, it is your responsibility to ensure that the correct prayer is recited. If you want to ask someone else to "take us out," be safe and say "Take us out with the Lord's Prayer."
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