Chairing a meeting
You will know that the success of a meeting depends on the skills of the chair in performing their role, both before and during the meeting.
Before the meeting
Before the meeting, the chair performs the following tasks:
They decide the purpose of the meeting, the topics that will be discussed and the decisions that will have to be made.
If necessary, the chair selects and assigns tasks to some of the participants. For example, participants may be asked to collect data, write reports or prepare and deliver a presentation on a given topic.
The chair prepares the agenda and any necessary background information, and has it sent it to participants together with a reminder of the time and place of the meeting. This must be done well in advance of the meeting to give participants time to prepare. (You’ll have a go at writing an agenda later in this week.)
Before the meeting, the chair ensures a room is booked. On the day, the chair ensures the room is arranged in the most suitable way. If multimedia equipment is involved, this should be checked too. Tables may take a horseshoe, oval or rectangular shape if discussions involve all participants. If small group discussions are needed tables can be clustered.
During the meeting
The chair starts by introducing themselves, if necessary, and by opening the meeting. It is customary for the chair to thank participants, announce any apologies and read the agenda. The chair directs the meeting by introducing each item in the agenda, providing any necessary information and facilitating the discussion.
At each stage of the meeting, the role of the chair is to listen attentively to all contributions and to facilitate the discussion and decision-making. This is done in the following ways:
The chair manages the discussion by inviting people to speak, keeping order (for example, stopping side conversations or discouraging interruptions), ending and introducing each item of the agenda and making sure the meeting achieves its purpose and does not overrun.
The chair facilitates the discussion by maintaining focus and discouraging any departures from the topic being discussed or the purpose of each item on the agenda. For example, if a discussion risks turning into a brainstorming session, the chair should refocus the group by reminding them of time constraints and purpose. Facilitation also involves asking questions, for example, to help clarify a point (asking ‘Does this mean that … ?’ or ‘How can we do that?’) and summarising key points or decisions made by the group.
© The Open University