Chairing a Meeting - Your Responsibilities During the Meeting

You role is to achieve a balance between encouraging valid contributions to achieve the meeting goal, and at the same time preventing disruptive asides and interruptions.

Duties of the chairman during the meeting

Controlling the meeting is your key function as Chair - without control you will not be able to achieve the meeting objective. Your actions, attitudes, and body language will be major influencing factors in how well you maintain control, and should illustrate that you will not tolerate private discussions taking place during the meeting.

Using the timings of the agenda is one of your main methods of maintaining that control. Ensure you can see a watch or clock at all times. The allotted slot for each agenda item gives you the authority to draw discussion to a close and decide on any actions required.

You will use the meeting agenda to control the start of each discussion and ensure it begins at its allotted time slot. You should ensure everyone present has a common understanding of the topic or expected outcome by offering a brief overview. You can then invite others to make constructive and focused contributions that will keep diversions to a minimum.

On occasions where you find the discussion is becoming too lengthy, you should interject; summarize it, and bring it back on track. The more focused you are able to keep discussions, the greater others will be encouraged to contribute as they feel their input is valued. Your ability to summarize discussions will be a major benefit in gaining acceptance of timed actions and assigning someone responsible for their delivery.

Always be aware that some people may be hesitant in commenting because they are shy or withdrawn. Look out for body language signs, such as a subtle shake of the head or a furrowed brow, that indicate a difference of opinion, and ask for that person's view of the issue.

Your ability to anticipate and defuse such situations can be greatly enhanced with preparation. Knowing in advance the preferences and stances of the participants, and how different groups relate, will be of great assistance. It is often questions or suggestions from unexpected quarters that make others aware of a potential new approach to an issue.

By actively listening to all aspects of the discussion you will quickly perceive any changes in tone, from a constructive to a confrontational mood. Regain control of such situations by summarizing arguments and refocusing the participants onto the agenda item and the required outcome. You may want to move on to the next agenda item if you feel that would be the most beneficial course of action in order to retain control.

Keeping everyone's focus on the topic of discussion is imperative as this minimizes the number of interruptions and keeps proceedings within the set timeframe. By displaying a lack of tolerance of interruptions such as heckling or bullying tactics whilst someone is speaking you ensure that everyone is shown the same courtesy and that their contribution is valued. You should reaffirm that anyone wishing to contribute indicates their intention to the Chair, who at a convenient point will ask for their input.

You can also ask for some comments to noted on a flip chart by the minute taker so that they can be discussed once the current speaker has presented their point of view or under another agenda item, whichever is most effective. Often important issues are raised during discussions and whilst it may not be appropriate to debate the issue in your meeting, its nature may be of sufficient importance that another meeting needs to be set up to address it. Your chosen method to deal with such distractions will depend on how it relates to the topic under discussion.

During any discussion if you think that a speaker is basing their contribution on opinion rather than fact then you should ask them to provide data to back up their argument.

For some large-scale meetings you will need to be aware of any legal procedures that can be invoked to control or direct the business of any meeting. In these circumstances it is imperative that you establish your authority and control from the outset of the meeting.

As you draw the meeting to a close ask the minute taker if they are happy with their record of the meeting's events and if all actions been allocated to a person with a realistic timeframe for completion. You may want to ask the person taking the minutes to produce and distribute to attendees a 'Summary Action Sheet.' This Meeting Action List Template enables you to record actions, responsibilities and timescales that result from the meeting.

As Chair you then sum up each agenda item in terms of its significance to the overall discussion. If it is required, set the time, date, and location of the next meeting. Your aim is to always end the meeting on time, thereby showing respect for the participants. Finally, thank everyone for their valued contributions and emphasize the achievements made, ending the meeting in a positive and professional manner.

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

Key Points

  • Ensure you establish control from the outset.
  • Keep the meeting focused and on time, and encourage participation and contributions from everyone.
  • Agree and minute all the key points and actions with timeframe and accountability detailed.
  • Ensure unresolved items or non-agenda items raised during the meeting are noted for later attention.
  • Active listening will enable you to limit the number of interruptions and anticipate and diffuse deteriorating situations.
  • Draw out contributions from those who have a point of view or question but may be reluctant to communicate it, or who may refrain from doing so.
  • Sum up all of the items on the agenda, giving each one the time you feel represented its significance to the overall debate.
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