Chairing meetings is a skill; effective chairing is measured both by the outcomes of a meeting and the fulfilment of those attending. What I shall share here is for the more formal type of meeting and will need to be interpreted appropriately into different settings.
Who should chair a meeting?
Often the ‘senior’ person assumes he or she should chair the meeting. But there may be several reasons for this not being good. Particularly, a) They may not be skilled in chairing. b) They may be the major contributor (e.g. the Lead Elder or visionary) and can dominate because they also chair. Many meetings I attend are chaired by someone whose primary role is to handle the dynamics of the meeting, leaving those who are the major players opportunity to speak without dominating.
What does it involve?
Before the meeting
1. Be aware of any legalities or protocols that must be observed e.g. in a Trustees meeting there may be certain proceedures required by charity law.
2. Plan the agenda with care ensuring the important items are handled first.
3. Prepare in advance. a) Know the outcomes you are looking for and where decisions must be made b) brief the people whom you want to make a presentation, introduce or lead a topic, etc
4. Decide on the environment that suits the meeting. A time-constrained ‘business’ meeting is best around a table using upright chairs. A longer reflective meeting may be better in a more relaxed setting.
5. Be clear who will take notes or minutes and ensure they understand the level of detail you want to be recorded.
Note: It can be difficult both to take minutes and to contribute fully to the discussion. Sometimes it is best to have someone present specifically in the meeting for this purpose. At other times minute-taking can be shared to allow everyone to contribute to the topics in which they have particular views to offer, but it should always be clear who is ultimately responsible for producing the final minutes.
Dynamics of the meeting
1. Prayer. I have found that a time of prayer at the start is rarely ‘wasted’ time. Sometimes I am in meetings which
spread over 2 or 3 days and our times praying together each morning are the most valuable part. Often these times significantly affect the outcomes of the meeting.
2. Know the strengths and weaknesses of all present. Simplistically there are two types of people. Some are internal thinkers who may be reflective and quiet. They will need drawing out to make a contribution. Others are external processors and develop their thinking by talking. They can dominate meetings. Both types need sensitive handling!
3. Accept each contribution and never ridicule anyone.
4. Be free to make your own contribution to the discussion but do so sparingly. Your primary role is to draw others into the discussion not to use your position to dominate.
5. Keep checking you are ‘on course’ according to your pre-determined time schedule to avoid missing later items.
6. Recognise when a topic has been sufficiently discussed and the discussion has become repetitive without further value being added.
7. Summarise the discussion to ensure everyone agrees with your conclusions.
8. Ensure that any agreed action is clear:
a) Has someone been designated to carry it out?
b) Is that person aware of when the action should be completed?
c) Is he or she aware of whom to contact if they need advice and
whom to report to if necessary?
This may all seem a bit dry and ‘straight’. But meetings should be enjoyable! Try to inject humour or have an anecdote ready if the atmosphere becomes strained. In longer meetings give people a chance to move around and have plenty of refreshments available.
In the next blog we shall look at the important matter of taking notes or minutes.