Chairing a meeting can be difficult for some people, especially for those that have never lead meetings before. This is a skill that is quite often overlooked as you have people who are either overconfident or lacking in confidence. But being able to chair a meeting effectively is important for your career growth. It will help you outside of business too. Once you’ve mastered this skill, you’ll find you can use it in various scenarios such as club meetings, and committee meetings.
We’re going to run through important tips on what you should do when chairing a meeting, from preparation to execution.
Prepare an Agenda
Our first tip is what you should do first, and that’s to prepare an agenda for the meeting. You might think that this is unnecessary for meetings that aren’t board meetings, but having an agenda for all important meetings is useful. The agenda helps to keep everyone on the right topic discussion, to some degree. Being a firm-but-fair facilitator is also needed.
You’ll need to talk to those attending the meeting to understand what needs to be included on the agenda. Starting with the CEO is best as they’ll know what needs to be discussed and can give you early feedback on what order the meeting points should run.
Once you’ve prepared the agenda, share it well in advance with everyone that is attending the meeting. Remember to provide any documents/reports that will be discussed in the meeting too. We suggest that this is sent around at least 1 week before the scheduled date. This gives attendees the chance to check the agenda and come back to you with any suggestions and questions. It also allows them to start making notes on each point of the agenda.
One thing not to forget is a good number of breaks. Even though time is important, long meetings without breaks can make people lose concentration.
Setting the Tone and Rules
The chair’s main role is to make sure that the meeting stays on track, and that everyone gets their opinion heard. This is why setting ground rules and briefly touching on the tone of the meeting is important at the start.
Although a lot of these points may seem obvious to attendees, it’s good to address them before the meeting begins. This way, if anyone does step out of line, you can play your role as the facilitator and back it up with your opening statements.
Here are some rules that you should address in these opening remarks:
- Everyone’s view will be heard before moving on
- Don’t interrupt others whilst they’re speaking
- Instead, raise your hand if you want to speak, and wait for the chair’s permission
- Only discuss items on the agenda
- Don’t belittle other people’s views
- Remain calm and speak politely to other attendees
These are six points that are some of the most important to mention when setting the tone. There are more to be considered too, but these are generic for all meetings.
It’s also worth outlining how decisions will be made at the end of each discussion point. This will help to ensure that there is no animosity when a decision has been reached that isn’t liked by some.
Taking Notes of the Meeting
As well as keeping the meeting on track, taking notes on the meeting is also the chair’s duty, unless there is also a dedicated note-taker.
Taking minutes is vitally important as you need to be able to come back to what was said and agreed upon during the meeting. Also, for people not attending the meeting, they need to understand what decisions were made and how they got to this. Without the chair taking minutes this would be lost.
Using a shared online document is a really helpful way for others to see the notes from the meeting, but make sure that you are the only editor. You wouldn’t want someone to accidentally delete or add to the minutes after the meeting has taken place.
Keep the Debate Balanced and Involve Everyone
We’re going to stress again that being the chair of an important meeting isn’t easy. Whilst taking notes, you also have to make sure that the debate isn’t too one-sided. Naturally, a meeting with 8-10 people will include some that are more outspoken than others.
If the participants are new to you, you will have to identify quickly who are the ones that like to talk a lot. You should be able to work out after a few points which attendees like to contribute more than others. Then it’s up to you to handle this situation.
It can be difficult to interrupt someone who is talking too much, but it’s necessary so that others get their views heard. It’s important not to be rude when interrupting them, and make sure to thank them for their contribution. Also, point out the reason for cutting them off is so that others can give their opinions, otherwise, there will be no debate.
As well as reducing air time for some, it’s also important to encourage shier individuals to speak up. Keeping a note of who has spoken on each point is key, this allows you to see who hasn’t yet given their opinion. This way, instead of picking the person with their hand up who has spoken, state that you want to hear from a person who hasn’t yet voiced their views.
If you’re new to chairing meetings, you might be thinking that once the meeting is over that your part is done. But, it’s also important to get the feedback of the participants. Not only for your learning but also for getting better results when you chair a meeting again.
You’ll probably be the chair with the same people again in the future too. They will want to know that their feedback has been taken on board for the next meeting. Here are some questions to ask to check how it went:
- What can be done differently next time?
- What should not be done next time?
- What worked best in the meeting?
If the meeting group is small enough you can get instant feedback, as long as you’ve accounted for this in the agenda. If it’s not on the agenda, or the group is too large, then, an online survey or email to participants with the questions is a great way to get feedback.