Problem solved – chair a meeting

I’ve been asked to chair a meeting for the first time – how do I do this effectively?

Capitalise on your experience. It doesn’t matter that you’ve never chaired a meeting before, you will no doubt have sat through plenty. Think back to ones that went well and ones that dragged on and achieved nothing. List the things that pleased or annoyed you. Well-run meetings stick to the point, get things decided and finish on time. Make sure everyone has the agenda and supporting information well in advance. Ensure you are familiar with the issues to be discussed.

If you know those who will be attending, think about how they will respond to any controversial items and devise a rough strategy for managing difficulties. If some or all of the participants are new, do a bit of detective work on them. Allow time for introductions at the start if the group includes people who don’t know each other. Arrange for the room to be cool rather than warm, it keeps things brisk and alert.

Your role is that of referee. Your aim is to ensure fair play through careful watching and listening. It’s normal for the chair to suggest what’s omitted and how any tricky bits should be phrased. Keep things moving by not letting discussions stray from the point or become over long. Get decisions made and recorded. If a colleague has difficulty in agreeing with the majority, offer to continue the conversation personally at a more appropriate time.

For meetings of more than an hour include a break halfway though. This acts as a marker and stops people fidgeting. Don’t skimp on refreshments, people are always left with a favourable impression if they are well fed. As much as you can, try to leave everyone feeling they have had their say. And to secure lasting gratitude and popularity, try finishing early.

"Your aim is to ensure fair play through careful watching and listening"