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SMART Recovery®  Meeting Outline

Basic Meeting Outline

meeting tableThere are a number of advantages of consistency. A major component of SMART Recovery is meetings, whether face-to-face or online. If these meetings vary widely, then who are we? If a Facilitator were having momentary or longer lasting difficulties, how would a participant know that the meeting was not typical, if there were no typical? How would Facilitators know whether they were improving, if there were nothing to compare with?

From another perspective, we have been in the business of providing meetings under the name SMART Recovery since 1994. We have learned a few things, and we can incorporate the “tried and true” into a meeting format that is powerful, yet flexible. By using that format, we can increase our chances of reaching and helping the broadest range of participants.

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Six basic elements of a SMART meeting

Welcome and Introduction
5 minutes

10-20 minutes

Agenda Setting
3 minutes

Working Time
40-50 minutes

Pass the Hat
3 minutes

Check-out and Closing
15 minutes

90 minutes

For special circumstances, the Facilitator always has the authority to delete one of these elements. Some Facilitators may also routinely add other elements (such Sharing Successes, Developing Self-assigned Projects, or Social Time). However, experience has shown that the routine elimination of any of these elements is very likely to impair the effectiveness of the meeting.

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Welcome and Introduction

This element is needed to orient new and recent participants, and to indicate to everyone that the pre-meeting chit-chat has ended and the meeting has begun. Newcomers need to be clear about what is expected of them. A simple version would be:

“Welcome! My name is Tom. I will be facilitating this SMART Recovery meeting tonight. SMART stands for Self Management And Recovery Training. I’m passing around a meeting outline, so you will know what to expect. This meeting will last 90 minutes. This meeting is open to anyone. You are not required to participate or use your name if you don’t wish to. There is no charge for this meeting, but we will gladly accept your donation when we pass the hat later. Our central topic is how to abstain from any type of addictive behavior, including alcohol, drugs, and activities such as gambling. We view recovery as our own responsibility.

We teach self-empowering skills designed to help you:

a) build and maintain motivation,
b) cope with urges,
c) identify and solve the other problems in your life,
d) and achieve lifestyle balance in order to prevent relapse.

This meeting is confidential: we expect that what is said here, stays here. If this is your first meeting you are welcome to mostly listen, or to jump right in and join the conversation, whichever seems better to you.We have literature explaining our fundamental ideas that you can purchase after the meeting.

Okay, that was the Welcome and Introduction. Next is the Check-in.”

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In a smaller meeting (e.g., only a handful of participants), the Check-in, Agenda-Setting, and Working Time may merge into one item. It could seem quite artificial to limit someone to a few minutes of Check-in, if the meeting is small and the person is obviously “on a roll” and eager to talk. In a larger meeting more structure will be needed. For a large meeting, limit each participant to perhaps one to three minutes. Otherwise Check-in will take up the entire meeting. Without a Check-in, you won’t know what issues are present in the room. Tell the group:

“In the Check-in we simply report for two or three minutes what has been happening recently that is important for your recovery. If you are new, you might want to tell us what led up to your coming here. Susan, let’s start with you, and then go around the circle.”

When it is clear that someone has more than a few minutes of talking to do, you might say:
“Let’s finish the Check-in, and then we can get back to the issue you are dealing with. We will have more time then and can get feedback from the whole group.

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It may be clear after the Check-in who has pressing issues and needs more time – or perhaps no one has a pressing issue. If there are several participants ready to talk, identify the order they get to go in. It might go like this:

“Several of you seemed to want to talk more. So, how about this as our agenda? Mary, how about if you start, then Jamal can follow, and Shedonna last. You will each have about 10 minutes.”

If only one person has an issue, it would still be useful to state:

“Jaime, why don’t begin, but after 10 minutes or so, I’m going to ask if someone else has an issue to focus on.

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Working Time

Many meetings will use this discussion time to construct an ABC at the board or flip chart. I propose that the ABC itself be optional, but that all meetings use this time to listen and understand participants, and suggest alternative perspectives for participants to consider. These suggestions need to be made tentatively and considerately. Crosstalk is great at our meetings.

It is more important that a participant leave a meeting feeling understood, than having been overloaded with a rational perspective that may be too much to digest all at once.

If there are no pressing issues, have a prepared topic, such as one of the four points (of the 4-Point Program™). It is not necessary that you lecture about the topic. You might simply read a paragraph or two out of the Member’s Manual or other book from the Suggested Reading List, and ask for reactions. After some period of discussion, it would be useful to ask if someone has thought of an issue to focus on. If so, state the new agenda:

“Great, Maria, let’s look at this issue for about 10 minutes, then I’ll check to see if someone else has also thought of an issue.

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Pass the Hat

It’s hard to tell for sure which section of the meeting outline is most difficult for most Facilitators, but this one is certainly a leading candidate. If you find yourself not doing this, you have a great opportunity to identify and correct inaccurate thinking! A suggested Pass the Hat statement is provided on page 1-5 of the Facilitator’s Manual. In brief, this statement is:

SMART Recovery is a non-profit, but has expenses like any other organization. There is no charge for this meeting, but we gratefully accept any donation you can provide. The cost of a drink would be one size donation to give.

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Check-out and Closing

If you skip this step you lose a valuable opportunity to learn how the meeting affected all the participants. Even those who have been silent until this point typically will speak–and it now may be necessary to limit them! Participants can also learn a great deal from each other. When both a Check-in and Check-out are provided, everyone has two structured opportunities to speak, which can be a great encouragement to those feeling timid. You might say:

“It’s time to Check-out. Let’s go around the circle again. I’d like to hear what was most meaningful for you about this meeting, or anything else you want to tell us. You each have about 30 seconds. How about starting with you John”

When everyone is finished you can simply say:

“Thanks for attending. If anyone has any questions, or wishes to purchase literature, or needs a court card signed, I will be staying for a few minutes. I hope to see you next week. Good night.”
Just as it is important to know when the meeting has begun, it is also important to know that the meeting has ended.

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Some facilitators may want to use the Check-out to let each person plan a self-assigned project (an “experiment” or “homework”) to do during the week to advance her/his recovery. If so, more time will have to be allocated to the Check-out.

Some groups may choose to run a half-hour pre-meeting to introduce the program to newcomers, answer questions, etc.

Some facilitators may announce and encourage a social time after the formal closing where participants can get to know each other and perhaps exchange phone numbers. It can be especially useful for the facilitator or a long time participant to assigned to speak to a newcomer and find out her/his reaction to the meeting.

Want to start a meeting in your area?
Starting a Meeting

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Advanced Meeting


Some groups may choose to run a half-hour pre-meeting to introduce the program to newcomers, answer questions, etc.

Welcome and Opening Statement

5 minutes. The opening may be read by the Facilitator or another group member. An additional reading may be included.

Personal Update

5-20 minutes. What has happened in your life since the last meeting? (Facilitator goes first.) Newcomers: Why did you attend?

Agenda Setting

5 minutes. Based on the Personal Update, establish a meeting agenda.

Coping with Activating Events

30-45 minutes. Focus on SMART‘s Four-Point Program:

– Building and maintaining motivation to abstain

– Coping with urges

– Managing thoughts, feelings, and behavior: Activating event, Beliefs, Consequences

– Balancing momentary and enduring satisfactions: Lifestyle balance (Reason and scientific knowledge are the highest authorities in SMART.)

Pass the Hat

5 minutes.

Meeting Review and Homework

15 minutes. What was most meaningful to you about this meeting, and what homework could you do this week? Homework can also be suggested by someone else in the group. Facilitator goes last, and may also summarize the whole meeting.


10 minutes. Announcements; exchange of phone numbers; purchase publications; questions and answers; court cards; general socializing.


90 minutes. Note: For a 60-minute meeting, each section of the meeting is proportionally shorter.