The meeting schedules identify several different kinds of meetings:
OPEN MEETINGS: As the term suggests, meetings of this type are open to alcoholics and their families, and to anyone interested in solving a personal drinking problem or helping someone else to solve such a problem. During the meeting there is usually a period for local A.A. announcements, and a treasurer passes the hat to defray costs of the meeting hall, literature, and incidental expenses. The meeting adjourns, often followed by informal visiting over coffee or other light refreshments. Guests at A.A. open meetings are reminded that any opinions or interpretations they may hear are solely those of the speaker involved. All members are free to interpret the recovery program in their own terms, but no one can speak for the local group or for A.A. as a whole.
CLOSED MEETINGS: These meetings are limited to alcoholics. They provide an opportunity for members to share with one another on problems related to drinking patterns and attempts to achieve stable sobriety. They also permit detailed discussion of various elements in the recovery program.
SPEAKER MEETINGS: Open to alcoholics and nonalcoholics. (Attendance at an open A.A. meeting is the best way to learn what A.A. is, what it does, and what it does not do.) At speaker meetings, A.A. members “tell their stories.” They describe their experiences with alcohol, how they came to A.A., and how their lives have changed as a result of Alcoholics Anonymous.
BIG BOOK and STEP STUDY MEETINGS: Big Book, book study meetings focus on reading and discussion The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Step Meetings (or 12/12 meetings) Focus on reading and discussing one of the Twelve Steps, usually using “12 and 12” book, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous.
In addition, the meeting schedule lists groups for men, women, and speakers of minority languages.
In a typical meeting, the chairperson starts by calling the meeting to order and offering a short prayer, meditation, and/or period of silence (practice varies by meeting). Then, a section from the book Alcoholics Anonymous may be read aloud, usually the beginning of Chapter Five, entitled “How It Works”. Announcements from the chairperson and group members follow. Many groups celebrate newcomers, visitors, and sobriety anniversaries with rounds of applause. Following announcements, donations are collected, usually by passing a basket around the room. There is no requirement to make a donation. Most members contribute a small amount, often just some loose change. The making of large donations is actively discouraged in AA.
In all meetings, in order to encourage identification, members confine their comments to their alcoholic drinking and recovery, following the guidelines of “what we were like, what happened and what we are like now”. This format is intended to avoid distracting the group from its primary purpose. The “no crosstalk” suggestions, where responding to another member’s comments is discouraged, is a hallmark of AA meetings.
After the discussion period, the meeting is typically ended with a prayer, usually the Serenity Prayer or often in the US, the Lord’s Prayer Lord’s Prayer. These ending prayers are sometimes undertaken by the entire group forming a circle and holding hands.
More socializing typically follows the close of the formal meeting, and it is common for members to gather at a nearby coffee shop.