Beeyard Thoughts, Observations, and Updates

James E. Tew
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By: James Tew

10 Good Ways To Have a BAD Bee Meeting

Memorable meetings – Good and Bad

At one time, we have all been to a good beekeeping meeting. What was it that made the event a good meeting? What kind of meeting was it – a local county meeting, a field day, an annual state meeting or a workshop? For a lot of years now, I have had responsibility for both organizing meetings and participating in meetings. Many of you have, too. You and I know the meeting situation as both organizer and speaker.

Even so, I still can’t tell you exactly what it takes to guarantee a good session. However, let me reverse my thoughts here. Let me discuss a few major points that help you conduct a bad meeting, because unfortunately, bad meetings are as memorable as good meetings.

1.  Do not advertise the meeting in advance.

Leave advertising and promotion to the last minute. In this way, people will either (a) never learn of the meeting until after it’s over or (b) will have already made other plans. Organizers who are planning a diversified state meetings may start advertising the date and the location of the meeting – even if the program is not completely set, about four to six months before the meeting date. Usually, getting the word out with a finalized program and meeting location about four to six weeks before the meeting is appropriate. Get the word out too early, (unless the meeting organizer has frequent follow-up notices) and people will forget and still not show up.

Great teaching apiary, great colonies, long hot walk for older beekeepers.

2.  Have the meeting on a day that you have really bad weather.

What can anyone do about the weather? That’s exactly my point. Not much can be done about the weather, so plan accordingly. How close is the parking lot to the meeting site? Are people going to be drenched from rain getting into the meeting. (Remember that many beekeepers are not young people). Will snow removal be adequate?

In hot climates, is the building air conditioned? If outdoor events are arranged, what are the “doomsday plans” in case of bad weather? I recommend a complete auxiliary program that you could quickly change to in case of bad weather. You can’t control the weather so you have to change the program. Be prepared.

3.  Begin the meeting late and stay behind schedule all day.

This point has a kicker in that starting late pretty much makes your written program useless. It also squeezes the speakers who are presenting just before lunch, thereby making them readjust their presentation which just causes more confusion and threatens the quality of their presentation.

The program organizer should not become a drill sergeant, but should be firm. Confidently and loudly entice people to take their seats so, “we can start the meeting!” Most people will do as you ask while a few will stand around and talk regardless of your requests. Gently move the talkers out into the hall and close the door. Remember most people come to bee meetings for socialization as much as education. Unless there are people still standing in the registration line, traffic jams, or some other extreme excuse, start the meeting on time. Fight the urge to “wait just a few minutes more.”

Great crowd, great room, great PA system and two very small projection screens.

4.  Have everything in the same room.

This includes the registration table, the program, the exhibitors, and the break area. By having everything in one room, you assure general chaos and constant background noise. People will be steadily moving around and talking to others while the speakers are presenting. The speakers will either be distracted or will speak louder through the public address system – either of which will contribute to a low-quality, noisy meeting. Keep this point in mind when searching for meeting sites.

5.  Be negative and pessimistic during opening remarks and then maintain that attitude throughout the day.

I have always loved this one – Jim Tew is our speaker today. We had hoped for a larger crowd, but I suppose many beekeepers had something else to do. As a speaker, I now feel flat and disappointing while the audience wonders if they are shirking duties somewhere else.

Many years ago, during the early Varroa years, I sat dumb­founded while a disheartened club president, during his opening remarks said, “Just look at this small crowd – What have we come to? I can remember just a few years ago when we had four times this many participants – I just don’t know what’s to become of our group –  Well, our first speaker (sigh) this morning will be Dr. Jim Tew . . . 

As first speaker up, I either must deal with a shamed audience or I can embarrass the president by trying to mitigate his remarks. Either way, everyone loses. The people who are at the meeting are where you want them to be. They need your leadership and encouragement – not derision.

In another situation, a long-time cherished member of the club had passed away the day before the meeting. Most members were unaware of the loss. Just before the first speaker began, there was a respectful moment of reflection and silence. Participants were shocked and hurt. None of these procedures were incorrect, in fact they were admirable and showed respect for a member lost, but the first speaker was dead in the water and the remainder of the meeting was gloomy.

In this case, there was a serious loss of a friend to the club and the meeting should have been expected to have had somber overtones. Surprisingly, all memorable meetings (as compared to good meetings) don’t have to be bright and cheerful to be ranked as successful or worthy.

6. Cancel the break.

“Well, since we are running behind time, I think we will just cancel the break.” You’ve heard that one before, haven’t you? Human behavioral studies indicate that an average person can take about 15 minutes of directed concentration before taking some form of a break – even if it’s mental. The average talk is 30-45 minutes long. People are going to break one way or the other. Even if one is so stimulated as to be mentally receptive beyond 15 minutes, people need restrooms, food, to phone the kids, to feed the meter – or just to simply stand up for a bit.

Canceling the break also means that Point #3 has probably already been implemented (the meeting is behind schedule). Also important, the participants need to have something to break to. Have something there. Cheap cookies, watered-down fruit drink, or home-baked goodies, but have something there for social interaction. Eating is a very social thing for humans and to have a munchless break flies in the face of quirky human social behavior.

Beautiful set up, beautiful day, great crowd, PowerPoint unusable.

7. Jerk your speakers around.

From my perspective as a speaker, one of the surprise events that used to bother me most was to get to a meeting and read in the official program that my topic is not what I was expecting. I’ve had to learn to live with that in this manner – After getting behind the podium (or whatever), I speak for a few minutes on the new topic and then make some lame connecting statement and give the talk that I am prepared to give. I really have no other choice.

Besides topic changes, having your speakers make limp, braindead conversation while someone (I hope) looks for light switches, projector power cords, ways to lower the screen, or whatever else that’s wrong. These are always disruptive moves. Two simple, but dreaded questions that speakers must contend with are, “Could I have the lights down, please?” and “Could I have the first slide please?”1 If the speaker can briskly get through those two requests, the entire demeanor of the presentation is more positive.

Great teaching moment, great presenter, needed a portable PA system for people standing behind the presenter.

7a. Conversely, let your speakers jerk you around.

Most speakers have problems – not filling their allocated time – but staying within their allocated time. In my opinion, several things are happening when a speaker goes beyond the allotted time. First, all speakers want to be “worth the money” (you are paying them, right?). There is a simple tendency to keep talking just to be sure that your talk has been all that it should be.

Secondly, if people are truly supportive of what’s been said and are eagerly asking questions, then the speaker tends to justify going over time (by apparent popular demand). A professional speaker will stay within the allotted time, will leave time for questions, and will sit down.

What do you do if the speaker doesn’t stop? In my opinion this is one of the most difficult situations a meeting organizer must deal with. How do you publicly, politely ask someone to sit down? There is no easy answer. I have frequently asked speakers, in advance, to acknowledge the clock and then made sure that a clock was plainly visible. Only the harshest scientific forum will bluntly ask a presenter to sit down – immediately.

To avoid the drill-sergeant-look referred to earlier, you have to give a few minutes of “overage.” Once that wobble time is gone, something must be done. The time-honored procedure for getting a speaker to shut down (or shut up as the case may be) is to: (1) Begin pacing in the back of the room as time runs out, (2) Move pacing to the front of the room, (3) Eliminate pacing, but position yourself at the speaker’s elbow and finally, (4) If all else has failed, either written or verbally (in his/her ear) ask them to end it. I have never had a speaker go beyond #4. If it happens, I guess call the police, but I doubt It will ever be a problem to that extent (Note: I’m joking).

8. Schedule topics that are beyond either the scope or interest of most of the participants.

At most state and local meetings, the majority of the people attending want to hear discussions on practical aspects of beekeeping. In fact, after a few years, they should be repeated for reinforcement. Topics such as recognizing American Foul­brood, preventing swarming, anything to do with mite control, anything on queen management, honey production, or finding yard locations are topics that are routine at a bee meeting. This list is far from inclusive, but does show that highly technical presentations are frequently not well received by a non-technical audience. No matter what the program presents, rest assured that you will not please everyone. Keep the level of the program topics and the audience interest level compatible.

9. Don’t have printed programs, handouts, equipment catalogs, exhibits or displays, and certainly don’t give away door prizes.

This suggestion is primarily for larger, regional meetings.  Local meetings can be much more casual.  Not having the items listed is a great way to make the meeting look “thrown together.” If they are not given handouts or leaflets, participants are only able to use what they can recall from memory. Without catalogs or door prizes, they will not get a chance to review equipment in current use. The greatest of all however, is not having a printed program. In this way, no one ever knows if the program is on schedule or not. No way to lose. Participants won’t know if they are at a bad meeting.

Teachable moment, great room, good blend of products,
crowded during break times.

10. As a participant, complain as often as you can – before, during, and after the meeting.

I can’t think of any officers of state or local organizations who are paid for their services. Everyone is a volunteer. Even if they are not doing a good job, at least they are doing something. People have varying amounts of time they can commit, plus people have different levels of ability. Working to hold the perfect meeting is always a goal – a dream – but is not always a reality.

The range of complaints can be exceptionally broad. The meeting room is too hot, too cold, too small, or too large, I can’t hear, I couldn’t see the screen, the break food was no better than military field rations, he talked too long, she didn’t know what she was talking about, I didn’t learn anything. There were too many travelogues, I didn’t get the newsletter, I got the newsletter too late, those chairs are so hard, registration costs too much . . .

Complaints never end. But they do burn out even the best officers. Keep in mind that no matter how bad a meeting may be – at least it’s a meeting and it can be improved in the future.

In a world where every meeting is beautiful . . .

Having the perfect meeting is much like finding the perfect beeyard – it just doesn’t happen as often as we would like. Some meetings are excellent while others are truly uninspiring. Even well-planned sessions can go bad for reasons too numerous to list. It happens. Don’t give up.

As a participant, be as patient as possible and as a meeting officer, be as prepared as possible. Without opportunities to train new beekeepers or distribute information to established beekeepers, our beekeeping industry will not function as an industry. Take the good with the bad and work for the best.

1You might be surprised to learn that many facilities require that another person advance the PowerPoint slides.  It is a bit clumsy, but it certainly works.

Readers, let’s write an article together…

I would like you and me to write an article on Small Hive Beetle (SHB) affects and control possibilities.  Ideally, those who have had their bees and bee operations upset by SHB would write me their experiences and their control procedures – anything – what kind of beetle traps works best for you – how often do beetle attacks occur.  My effort would be to gather some of your beard beetle events and compile these experiences and procedures into a general SHB review with some possible (and legal) individual beekeeper solutions for beetle control. Include photos if possible. I can only give you four weeks to respond. If you miss that date, send your thoughts anyway.  There may be an update in the future.  Send to:

Dr. James E. Tew, State Specialist, Beekeeping, The Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Auburn University, Emeritus Faculty, Entomology, The Ohio State University;