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5 Tips on Chairing an Effective Meeting

Whether it’s as part of your job role, a voluntary position, or a social club, taking on a role as a meeting’s chairperson can be intimidating. However, the good news is that many of the same rules and tips can be applied whatever the situation.

Ultimately, a chairperson’s role is to set a meeting up for success when it comes to resolving any discussion points. This means ensuring communication is open, clear, and respectful, facilitating good problem solving practices, and keeping the discussion productive. 

Long, unfocused meetings are often less enjoyed and are perceived as less worthwhile by participants. Equally, meetings where individuals feel that their ideas are not heard or respected can mean they feel resentful or less inclined to share. Any of these issues can result in low participation and engagement, which can further affect how productive meetings become.

1.      Preparation is key

You’ve probably thought about writing an agenda in advance of the meeting. This means other participants can come into the meeting knowing what to expect and what’s expected of them. This can help them prepare the right amount, produce ideas beforehand, and can help to focus the meeting on the relevant subjects. Having the structure of the meeting planned out in this way can also help you to manage time better during the meeting (more of this in later sections).

Ideally your agenda should cover:

  • The purpose of the meeting
  • Any main topics and themes that will be discussed or presented on (and who will lead this)
  • Any supporting documents
  • Estimated timings for the meeting
writing an agenda

To create the agenda, you could contact relevant attendees to find out if there is anything they would specifically like to discuss. If you have missed any previous meetings, you should also ask for notes or a summary to find out if anything was put aside to be returned to during your meeting.

On the day of the meeting, it’s often a good idea to arrive early. This means you can make sure the room is clean, welcoming, and has enough seats. It also gives you the opportunity to settle any nerves alone and check any technology (like a PowerPoint or video call connection) that you plan to use during the meeting. This can avoid disruptions or delays later.

2.     Delegate Effectively

Chairing the meeting, you should have an overview of any important topics that may come up, but this doesn’t mean you’re necessarily the best person to handle every element of preparation or to present every discussion point. 

Your organisation may already have rules or conventions when it comes to who does what during meetings, but if these are not established, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Think about what would make your role easier to focus on – could you ask someone to take meeting minutes, set up the computer, or take the lead on an agenda item they’re particularly knowledgeable about?

3.     Ensure time is used well

This can be a difficult balance. Long meetings can become unwieldy and lose momentum, but cutting off discussion subjects early can lead to participants feeling undervalued.

a casual meeting

Laying out your estimated timings for different presentations or discussions beforehand can be helpful. If you ensure these are clearly communicated to everyone, it can help listeners to stay on the same page about which subjects are the main focus of the meeting, and what is less of a priority. If you do have to make the choice to pause or move on from a topic, it can also make this decision seem less personal to whoever just spoke or wanted to speak.

However, an effective chair also knows when to be more flexible on timings. Unexpected or promising points can come up which need to be followed, or creative problem solving may require more time than you planned. The trick is to judge when a discussion is productive and aiding the goal of the meeting, and when you’re going around in circles or focusing on minutiae which could be settled at another time.

4.    Welcome and respect all voices

Everything from the layout of the room, to how you start the meeting, to the level of formality, will tell the other attendees something about how they are expected to participate. Make sure this reflects the goals of the meeting.

Meetings which are more about sharing information may benefit from being more rigidly structured, with each participant being given a time to speak about how their tasks have been going and to answer questions. 

During more informal meetings, you may choose to take some time to encourage reticent speakers who don’t feel as comfortable advocating for themselves. Remember that some participants may also need more thinking time than others when it comes to issues which are brought up during the meeting and try to accommodate this.

listening to a speaker

5.    Prime for problem solving

If you’re hoping participants will be coming up with creative ideas to solve a specific problem during the meeting, try to remove any barriers which may make them feel uncomfortable sharing possible solutions. 

Welcome everyone personally and encourage all ideas, instead of piling on the pressure to only share the “right” ones. This isn’t necessarily the time to establish yourself as the main or most important voice in the room, as this can make it feel more intimidating for others to take the floor.

 You should also think about a strategy for dealing with participants who interrupt others or tend towards the critical, as this can shut down other voices. This can be as simple as encouraging speakers to come up with something positive about the concept they just criticised. This strategy can help attendees to build on the positives of other’s ideas, as well as addressing the difficulties.

More Tips and tricks

If you would like to find out more about chairing a meeting, Elliot Training run 1 day workshops to help managers and directors to chair more effective meetings. The short course covers group dynamics, different meeting structures, dealing with difficult people, and more. Find out more information here.

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