How to AGM: An Introductory Course

The first few weeks of September always see a flurry of AGMs, that is Annual General Meetings, and while these events can sound big and important and a little intimidating, they are often the best way to get involved in a society – so, I’m going to take a few moments to break down “the AGM” for you, so you can approach without fear of rejection or embarrassment. (I 100% guarantee that this wouldn’t happen even without this primer, but why risk it?)

Disclaimer: While I consider myself an experienced AGM-er, all societies and AGMs are different, so these are more general guidelines than hard fast rules. The bottom line is that student societies want you to get involved, so if you’re ever unsure of what’s going on, just ask!

Step one is figuring out when and where the AGM is. Usually societies are pretty good at advertising these details. THE DSS AGM IS MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 11th AT 7PM ON THE 2nd FLOOR OF THE SUB. (Told you so.) If you can’t find them though, try checking the society’s Facebook page or asking someone you know is involved with the society.

Next is the approach. Your first cue should be finding a group of students who look like they’re waiting for something. They might also have pizza (this is an extra good sign). If you’ve never been to a meeting before it can be a bit nerve racking to go up to a group of strangers and ask if you’re in the right place. Overcome this fear! If you are unsure if you’ve found the right group of students, simply ask, “Is this the [insert society name] meeting?” Even if they say no, they’ll probably be able to send you in the right direction.

You’ve found the meeting! Things are looking good. If you’re early I recommend scoring a good seat and striking up a conversation with those nearby so you will have allies during the meeting who can pass you more snacks. Things usually get started with some introductions and explanatory notes. If you’ve found yourself a quality society they’ll probably feed you before things get going (there’s nothing worse than talking constitutional amendments on an empty stomach).

As the meeting gets started you’ll quickly realize that AGMs aren’t nearly as exciting as the society wanted you to believe when they were trying to get you to come to the event. They often involve a lot of long and boring discussion about things that probably don’t matter all that much (cough cough constitutional amendments). NEVERTHELESS, you have your snacks and everybody will be motivated to get through the boring stuff quickly. Soon, you’ll get to the bit that everybody shows up for… the actually doing stuff bit.

What “actually doing stuff” looks like will vary from society to society, but it will usually involve some combination of appointing people to positions, discussing upcoming events, and general society business. The latter two items are fairly straight forwards, but let’s take a closer look at appointments.

Appointing people to positions is the real reason there is such a push to get people to attend AGMs. Societies need people to fill the various roles needed to keep the society going. If you can get lots of people out to your AGM, hopefully some of them will be interested enough to fill your empty positions. For example, the DSS is looking to elect a First Year Rep, a DISP rep, an Environmental Affairs rep, a bunch of committee chairs, and then to put people on a bunch of committees. Some of those positions can be filled by people already in the society, but lots of them require newcomers.

So how do appointments work? It’s usually a little more laid back with smaller societies, but the DSS fills appointments by running mini elections during their AGM. We run through each position we need to fill in the order it is listed on the agenda. The position is described, and then the chairperson (Kasey) asks for any nominations. If you’re interested in the position you should nominate yourself (or if your too shy, ask one of your snack buddies to nominate you).

Once everyone who is interested in the position has been nominated, each person gets a bit of time to introduce themselves, explain why they are interested in the position, and tell us about any experience they might have. And then we’ll take a few moments to ask them some questions to get a feel for if they’re the right fit. If you know ahead of the meeting that you are interested in a position, it might be worth your time to practice you spiel to yourself in the mirror a few times before hand. While this can sound like a big scary public speaking thing, I promise it’s not. The people listening are simply your peers who really just want to get to know you better.

After all the candidates have had a chance to talk, the rest of the group will have a quick chat, and then there will be a closed eyes vote. If you get the position, congratulations! If you don’t get the positions, that’s okay, there will be plenty of other positions or committees you could run for.

Can I still be involved if I don’t want to have to make a speech and get elected for something? Absolutely! Committees are filled by appointment, so all you have to do is put up your hand and say your name. There are lots of committees we are looking for people to fill too, like: the social committee, the first year committee, the equity committee, and the constitutional committee.

Having written out the whole process, it feels like a lot to go through, and you might be asking yourself if it’s worth it (regardless of how good the snacks are). And my response is that yes, in my experience, it has absolutely been worth it. The AGM is the boring part of getting involved with a society, but it also helps to set the tone for what the society wants to do in the year to come, and that can be super exciting. If you get involved with a smaller society (like your departmental society) you’ll have the opportunity to get to know lots of your peers, to help plan awesome events for other students, and to really get to know the ins and outs of your department. If you get involved with a bigger society like the DSS or the DSU you’ll get to work to promote interdisciplinary collaboration, to advocate for science students at the highest levels of the university, and to engage with and learn from a huge variety of students you might not otherwise get to meet. All in all, AGMs are a thing where you come for the snacks, and stay for the people. I wish you all the best in finding the people who are right for you!

As always, if you have questions about any of this, or about anything to do with the DSS feel free to send us an email at dss@dal.ca, or contact me directly at tora.oliphant@dal.ca.