Chairing Meetings Effectively Using Tips to Achieve Objectives

Chairing a meeting successfully is an art, a science and a people management exercise. It is easy to do it poorly, hard to do a mediocre job and very difficult to do it well. The problem is that there are so many competing priorities all waiting with 'hands in the air' to get a go.

It is hard to know how to get the right balance between the various priorities and stick to the agenda while encouraging constructive debate.

Effectively chairing meeting requires a lot of planning, home work, research and understanding of the personalities involved. People management is a key and a good chairperson needs to understand the behaviour, agendas and strategies that each person uses at meetings.

This article is a review of the best way to organize and chair meetings. It provides many tips and guide on how to may the meeting effective in achieving the goals you set for it via the agenda.

 

What to Do Before the Meeting

Read through the documents from previous meetings and financial statements both to provide context for the next meeting and help develop the agenda. It is very important that you read a digest the records from the past meeting and the latest documents that are relevant.

How to Prepare an Agenda

Use the agenda from previous meetings to draft the layout or skeleton for the next meeting - people expect consistency and if you want to make changes they need to be discussed as an agenda item. Next review the e-mail history over the last month by scanning the scanned the subject lines and reviewed key messages. This is a good way to find important items to add to the agenda. Put the most important issues requiring decisions at the start of the agenda, so that they get dealt with if time starts to run out. Circulate a call for agenda items with some suggested options to get people focused on what is relevant and important. Discuss the agenda item with the head of the company or group.

Prepare a Progress Report on Key Issues

It is useful to have a 1-page summary of the situation with key issues to provide a context for the nest meeting highlighting the work that has been completed and what remains to be done. This is an update report rather than a plan for action which has to be decided at the meeting.

Collect Key Documents and Distribute via Email

When you send out the agenda attach a copy of he relevant documents including the minutes from the previous meeting and financial documents, the progress report and any other relevant documents. It is important that the participants have all the documents in the one place, rather than simply referring to them in various files. If you don't it is likely that many of the participants will not read the documents before attending the meeting.

Give People Time to Digest the Documents and Prepare for the Meeting

Send out the agenda well before the meeting with some dot points about the key issues. The day before the meeting send out a follow-up in an email with clear advice and expectations about the expected outcome and key decision point.

Don't change the Agenda Once it has been Circulated

Generally there will be three reasons why you would not want to change the agenda: 1) agenda had already been set and changes really mess things up 2) the meeting may go overtime and 3) there may not be adequate time to prepare for the new items. Suggest that the new items be addressed under general business or considered in the next meeting.

Arrive Early for the Meeting and Get Everything Prepared

This includes setting up the audio-visual equipment and making sure it works and general house-keeping.

What to Do During Meetings

Stick to the Agenda and Follow the Prescribed Order

When preparing for the meeting try to allocate time to each item based on priority and importance. Keep the meeting on track following the agenda. If more time is required for an important issue get the meeting to agree to drop on or more of the less important items.

Keep the Agenda in your Hand

This is a reminder to yourself and the meeting that you intend to stick to the plan. If appropriate keep the agenda displayed on a screen.

Only Allow One Speaker at a Time

When more than one person speaks at once and everyone cuts off another person mid-sentenceit makes it very hard to follow the conversation, which can head off in random directions. Set the rules early and make sure that everyone respectively listens and allows the person speaking to finish.It also helps to enhance the quality of the minutes and makes the job of the minutes secretary a lot easier.

Ensure the Every Member Has a Chance to be Heard

Sometimes a good chairperson will prompt someone for a response if none is forthcoming, for various reasons. Take the lead and evoke the response. Everyone should get the chance to say something and not be crowded out by one or two that may dominate the meeting. Doing a simple “round robin”, proceeding to ask everyone round the table one-by-one, if they want to make a comment is a good way to sum up a topic and prepare for a decision.

Try to Give Each Person the Spotlight during the Meeting

Try to prepare the agenda so that everyone gets even a brief a moment in the spotlight, even by including a round the table report on the work each person has completed since the last meeting.

Focus on Solutions to Problems

One way to keep the meeting on track is to keep bringing the focus back on how to solve the issues. This will help the meeting to recognise that they are united in finding an outcome, rather than being divided by their differences.

Resist Attempts to Hijack or Derail the Meetingor to Take over Your Role as Chair

Watch for signs of this and nip them in the bud before they can develop. Some people may resent your control. But if you establish the ground rules early on and stick with then there are no real grounds for derailing the meeting. As the chair of the meeting, it is your job to keep the meeting on track using the agenda, keep it organized and maintain control of the personalities. Chaos is a sure way to destroy any chance of outcomes.

Ask Tough Questions to Move the Issues Forward to Resolution

Meetings can stall and lose their way and it is the role of the chairperson to bring it back of track by precipitating decisions and outcomes. Keep the agenda and time schedule in mind and don't let one issue ruin the meeting. If an issue can't be resolved then propose that it be the topic for a future meeting.

Allow Some humourand Anecdotes by Keep Them to a Minimum

Making a few jokes can help defuse the tension but don't let them derail the main objectives.

Conclude the Meeting by Summing Up on the Outcomes and Decisions and Action Items for the next Meeting

Thank everyone for their attendance, nominate the chair for the next meeting and highlight the key agenda items that need to be discussed.

Make Sure that the Meeting Ends on Time

This is very important and can be achieved by sticking with the agenda and time schedule. With 20 minutes to go don't drop items completely but suggest that they be moved to the next meeting.

What to Do After Meetings

Follow up Right Away on Your own Action Items

Take the lead and complete each of the tasks you have been assigned straight away.

Distribute the Minutes of the Meeting as soon as Possible

Send out the minutes to each person individually highlighting the action items they are responsible for and the reporting deadline..

Follow up with a Group 'Thank You' Note

If you can make these messages personal by thanking each person individually for something specificcontribution they made to the meeting.

Additional Tips for Chairing Meetings

© 2012 Dr. John Anderson

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