The role of chairman is critical to any meeting’s level of achievement. An effective chairman will get things decided. This can be a very tall order since different personalities and ideas are needed for a creative environment. The key is to focus on the objectives. Here are ten suggestions for keeping the meeting on track:
1. Have an agenda for every meeting. It will usually be prepared by the secretary and chairman but if it’s a quick informal meeting you can simply start with “we need to sort out x” or “today I hoped we could finalize x and y”. This gets everyone there into focus on why the meeting is happening. Stick to it.
2. Allow people to have their say but once they start repeating themselves or getting off-track, stop them and ask for other views. At the same time, it is important that the speaker feels they have been heard. One way to move on is to thank them and then pick on someone else for a contribution, preferably the person who talks the least. E.g. “thanks Jim, that’s a good point. Donna, did you have any thoughts on this?”
3. An effective chairman is building a consensus. It is very important that your meeting doesn’t reach a conclusion prematurely, while people haven’t expressed their views but once they have, put it to the vote and move on. Usually, a reminder of ‘we’re here to …’ will bring people back on track.
4. Give the discussion a time limit, e.g., “If we can’t reach a conclusion in the next ten minutes, we will have to move on to the next item.”
5. Keep the meeting to the defined time. Meetings that are supposed to be an hour long but last two and a half hours don’t make anybody happy. Make sure you start the meeting on time and finish on time or earlier. If the agenda contains too much to achieve in the time, propose an item be deferred to the next meeting. People will co-operate if they feel that their time is appreciated.
6. Make sure items have actions. Most meetings are to develop a way forward or to keep a project on track. If it’s just for people to get together then it’s not a meeting, it’s a social gathering and doesn’t need a chairman. If it’s for the exchange of information, it may be more efficient to share emails to a distribution list. That would also provide a better written record. Actions should have a proposed delivery time or time limit and record the person who is going to carry it out. The secretary should be capturing the action, who will do it and when it is to be done
7. If someone raises an item not on the agenda and wants it discussed, ask if you can put it later in the agenda – maybe under ‘any other business’ and have those attending agree to its addition to the agenda. Or it can go onto the next meeting’s agenda.
8. Decisions need to be recorded, even for an informal meeting. Afterward, people don’t remember all that happened, and the record is critical to ensure everyone is working on the same plan.
9. Summarize. Summarize before every vote. Make sure everyone is voting on the same thing. If the discussion wanders, it can be useful to summarize the developments so far and check that it relates to the objective.
10. Don’t allow other conversations at the same time. E.g. “please can we have one person speaking at a time, otherwise the secretary can’t do his (or her) job.” Having said it once, people will respond if you cut off other conversations.
The role of chairman can be very demanding, but it becomes easier when people understand and respect that you will run your meetings efficiently. They can trust that their attendance won’t be a waste of time and will be much more inclined to play their part.