How to Chair a Meeting

How to Chair a Meeting

'Pay attention to the people, pay attention to the process and pay attention to getting a valuable output'. In this handy guide, Julie Garland McLellan gives a step-by-step guide to how to chair a meeting and the pitfalls to avoid.

  1. Don't think you just turn up and chair the meeting 

Long before the meeting the Chair needs to do quite a few important things.The first thing is to sit down and think, “What do I want at the end of the meeting that I don't have before the meeting?” then start to draft an agenda and a list of people who will be at the meeting to make sure that you cover the elements that you will need to cover to reach your objective and that you have the people in the room that you need in order to be able to validly make or implement or endorse the decision.

  1. Consider time

Consider how long is it going to take to get through your agenda, what other items of housekeeping - governance, record creation, etc - do you need to include in your agenda? Do you have to have a break for lunch or tea or coffee? Make sure that you have enough time to reach your objective allowing for a reasonable amount of discussion. If there is no discussion you might just as well ask everybody to agree by email

  1. Be prepared 

At the meeting, now you have an agenda, you have papers, you have people present  - it is really important that you as Chair are across all of the items in all of the papers and do not need to be reading while the meeting is in process. You should be spending your time and attention on the other people in the room. 

  1. Listen carefully

Make sure that you have most of your attention on whoever is speaking at the time and usually as Chair that should not be you. Your role is to listen, to encourage others to contribute and to make sure that you draw out all of the insights required before you request a decision. So listen carefully to everyone who is speaking but maintain an awareness of the people who are not speaking and who might wish to be speaking next where possible. Make sure that you set some rules about how long people may talk, how respectfully they may treat other members of the meeting. My suggestion is with the utmost respect.

  1. Summarise

When you feel that the discussion has covered everything useful and it is time for a decision, this is the point at which the Chair will usually speak up. One of your key roles is to provide a quick summary of what you believe are the three or four key points and then a trial decision; so ‘Are we resolved that this is what we're going to do?’, or ‘Can I take it that we are resolved that we will approve this fact or the other?’. If everyone agrees, nod at whoever is taking your minutes and move on to the next items on your agenda.

  1. Invite questions

When you get to the end of the agenda, ask people if there's anything they would like to raise that has not been raised at the meeting but should be - you might as well take the opportunity whilst they're all there. Ask people to suggest items for the next meeting if there is to be a follow-up or to contact you by email after the meeting with suggestions in a timely fashion so that items can be included onto the agenda of any subsequent meetings.

  1. Thank people

Thank people for their participation. That's so important - you really want to set the tone of ‘We value your contribution and we thank you for it’. Then declare the meeting closed.

  1. Ask someone to record the minutes

Depending on the formality of the meeting and the importance of the decisions you may want to simply record the decisions or you may want to include narrative support of the key items that were covered in reaching those decisions. That's entirely up to you. What you do want to make sure is that somebody is taking notes and preparing minutes of your meeting and that, again, should never be you as the Chair. You cannot effectively have your attention on the people in the meeting if you are writing the notes and preparing the minutes of the meeting. Those two jobs are quite incompatible.

  1. Pay attention

If you pay attention to the people, pay attention to the process and pay attention above all else to getting a valuable output you will be considered a great Chair.

Julie is the author of the Director's Dilemma newsletter. For more tips from Julie Garland McClellan visit her website or YouTube channel.