Your skill in handling a heated debate between attendees, or in firing up enthusiasm for a routine discussion, will make you stand out from the crowd. Experience as a chairperson is an impressive addition to your CV and a talking point at interview.
Here are some tried and tested ways of effectively chairing a meeting and ensuring that things go the way that you planned.
Preparation and clarity are essential
Make it obvious that you are preparing well in advance for the meeting and that you expect all the attendees to do the same. Set the agenda, prepare the papers and get them sent out well in advance. This gives everyone the opportunity to collect whatever material and information they need to bring with them. Start the meeting with a clear aim and state this right at the start. This could be a decision, signing off a report or starting a new initiative. Ensure that everyone introduces themselves and explains their role in relation to the aim of the meeting. As chair, you can introduce the minute taker as well.
Techniques for moving through the agenda
There are some practical ways to get swiftly through a heavy agenda, without allowing discussions to get out of control or repetitive.
- Don’t start all over again for latecomers. You can update them on anything that they missed after the meeting.
- Make sure everyone is involved. Use a technique such as brainstorming to allow everyone to have their say on a particular topic.
- Don’t allow dominant attendees to talk over others. Politely ask them to allow others to speak. It may be helpful to set time limits.
- Arrive at a consensus if it is at all possible. This reflects well on the meeting and on you as chair. It demonstrates that you can get things done.
- Sum up after each agenda item. Summarise the decision, action points and who is responsible for doing what. Specify timescales and methods of reporting back.
Lead by example
You need to set the tone of the meeting by being professional and courteous at all times. You may not agree with what everyone says, but you do not need to add your opinion. Remember that it is important that a consensus is reached.
However, this does not mean that you are not involved in the debate. You can play an important role by asking open-ended questions and seeking clarification on contentious issues. It is often possible to reach compromises if complicated concepts are broken down and examined in detail. As chair, it is your responsibility to do this.
At first, chairing a meeting can be daunting, but as your experience grows, you will soon gain an enviable reputation for being a firm but fair chairperson and your skills will be in great demand.
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