Chairing a Meeting

If a meeting is going to achieve its objectives efficiently then it is essential that someone takes the role of defining the topics to be covered, facilitating the discussions, and ensuring that decisions are reached and accepted.

This role is known as the meeting Chair and carries with it the ultimate responsibility for the success of the meeting.

All meetings require a Chair because without one there is no one to control and direct the proceedings. The Chair must establish their authority from the outset of the meeting and remain in control until the meeting ends.

Chairing a meeting

The most important responsibilities of the Chair are to ensure that:

• All the business is discussed in line with the timed agenda
• Everyone's views are heard and discussed
• Clear decisions are reached and accepted

All the business is discussed in line with the timed agenda
The meeting agenda is a very important tool and is one clear way for the Chair to set expectations of what topics will be covered by the meeting. Each item on the agenda should have a set amount of time allocated to it, as this informs attendees of the relative importance and complexity of each item. The agenda is one of the key tools by which the Chair leads the meeting and ensures that all those involved can make useful contributions. It also discourages digressions and arguments from taking up too much time.

Everyone's views are heard and discussed
As Chair one of your key responsibilities is to ensure that the meeting is conducted in a manner that is as inclusive as possible. Your behavior and manner will set the tone of the meeting and you are the key instrument in managing this process.

Not everyone will be familiar with formal meeting procedure and people who are not comfortable with what is going on around them are less likely to take the risk of speaking up. This can result in some attendees becoming so alienated and intimidated that they are unable to contribute to the meeting.

In your position as Chair you need to be mindful of such behaviors and draw people into the discussion by reducing the barriers to participation by creating an environment that allows for the expression of diverse ideas and approaches to be heard in a non-judgmental atmosphere.

Within this environment attendees should feel confident that their contributions are valued and can be articulated without fear of personal attacks or point scoring. By making sure that all of the attendees contribute and are given a respectful hearing, the Chair will maximize the opportunities offered by the meeting to make the best decisions possible.

Clear decisions are reached and accepted

One key role you perform as Chair is to present information and summaries clearly so that decisions can be agreed on and a consensus achieved. You will need to do this as arguments are presented and an overview of them needs to be stated to ensure the discussion reaches a timely conclusion.

You need to ensure that the meeting's objectives are achieved so that everyone leaves the meeting cognizant of the decisions made and responsibilities allocated.

During the meeting, as Chair you must focus on the decisions required of the meeting, ensure that all participants are accorded adequate time, decide when to end debate on each topic and summarize it, use appropriate questions to clarify information or re-direct discussion, listen carefully to all contributions, and summarize proceedings with an emphasis on decisions taken and future plans.

Duties and responsibilities of the chair

Throughout the meeting there are certain competencies a Chair will need to illustrate so that he or she commands the respect and authority necessary to perform his or her role effectively during the time span of the meeting:

  • An understanding of the issues and topics being discussed.
  • A willingness to listen attentively to the discussions.
  • The ability to prevent discussions wandering and to prevent those without anything new to add repeating the same point.
  • The ability to recognize when a point has been fully discussed and to sum up.
  • Impartiality, which ensures that all attendees have an equal opportunity to express their point of view.
  • Diplomacy, which shows respect for the views and actions of others.

The above are all key ingredients for a productive meeting. A tactful but assertive Chair will facilitate an effective meeting, and that's what everyone wants.

Key ingredients for a productive meeting

The selection of a Chair for a formal meeting may be subject to certain meeting rules. For example, the company secretary may be required to chair the AGM. Informal meetings may select a Chair by a simple vote or via instructions from whoever has called the meeting.

Sometimes there is a rotating Chair where everyone gets a turn at leading the proceedings. Whilst this idea is democratic and inclusive, it is unlikely that the skills and qualities required of an effective Chair will be found in all of those attending the meeting.

Everyone can learn how to chair a meeting effectively, it just takes a bit of thought and practice. You will get more confident with experience. Try watching how other people chair meetings, and seeing what works and what doesn't.

This Meeting Agenda Checklist outlines the five key areas you need to address to produce an effective agenda. This Meeting Attendee List Template provides you with a sheet to record everyone who needs to receive copies of meetings minutes. This Meeting Action List Template enables you to record actions, responsibilities and timescales that result from the meeting.

You may also be interested in:
The Skills Required to Chair a Meeting | Meeting Rules | Chairperson's Responsibilities Before the Meeting Begins | How to Begin the Meeting | Chairperson's Responsibilities During the Meeting | Chairperson's Responsibilities After the Meeting.

Key Points

  • The Chair carries the ultimate responsibility for the success of the meeting.
  • The Chair is responsible for making sure that all business is discussed in line with the timed agenda, everyone's views are heard and clear decisions are reached.
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