I didn’t actually think I’d be writing a blog post about this yet – chairing meetings was on my list of things I’d be doing later this year (in my role as chair of CILIP West Midlands) but there was confusion over the date of the committee changeover. Seeing as the current chair couldn’t attend the committee meeting earlier this week at the last minute, the rest of the committee decided I should chair the meeting (which left the Vice Chair very confused as the current Chair had asked him to stand in). Unfortunately I got lost on my way to the meeting room and arrived a couple of minutes late so receiving the news I was chairing the meeting after that made for a flustered start! We also had no agenda so the meeting was a little haphazard to say the least.
I’ve attended numerous meetings so tried to stick to some sort of structure similar to what I knew we usually do although I did miss out some crucial elements like welcoming our new committee members and checking the previous meeting’s minutes for accuracy.
I have also been doing some reading about successful chairing of meetings as I’m keen to change the structure of the agenda (at present I don’t feel it is an effective use of our time) and am interested in different approaches and best practice. This may well be the subject for another blog post if I manage to get something better put in place. I’ve been reading some of Facilitating Meetings and Chairing Discussions and Meetings That Give Results: How to Plan and Chair Productive Meetings.
Here are some things I learnt from my reading and my first experience of chairing a meeting.
Before the meeting (sadly on this occasion I didn’t have the luxury of this, but next time I hope to!)
- Plan an agenda and circulate it beforehand so everyone knows what will be discussed at the meeting (if appropriate, invite attendees to request items to be added to the agenda by a specified date – probably at least a week before the meeting).
- Ensure the secretary has all the relevant information including the agenda, previous meeting minutes, and any documentation you need to discuss at the meeting well in advance so that they can pass the relevant documents to attendees or print for distribution at the meeting.
- Ensure each attendee has any relevant documentation including the agenda in advance of the meeting (preferably by email so that they can choose whether they wish to print or not).
- Make sure you arrive at the meeting in plenty of time to ensure the room is set up correctly, you have all the materials you need, and you can welcome people as they arrive.
During the meeting
- Remember to welcome everyone to the meeting and aim to start on time.
- Facilitate the discussion rather than dominating it – ensure everyone gets their chance to express their views (if appropriate).
- Keep an eye on time throughout so that you don’t overrun (you may need to ask people to keep their points brief).
- Ensure the minute taker is following throughout - check with them at key points, or write down any actions yourself so that you can check afterwards that all were recorded. This is particularly important if the minute taker is new to the group and may not know attendees (and therefore who is responsible for what) or if they are unfamiliar with meeting content.
- Stick to the agenda as much as possible – sometimes discussion will creep but try to keep it on topic and put discussions on hold until later if they are on the agenda but are mentioned earlier on (unless it makes sense to move them).
After the meeting
- Thank everyone for attending.
- Follow up on any actions you have – there’s nothing worse than reviewing the actions at the next meeting and the chair repeatedly having to say, “Oh, yes, I haven’t done that yet”.
- Assist the minute taker with minutes if needed.
- Set a date for the next meeting and start the process all over again!
I still have a lot to learn when it comes to chairing meetings. Being thrown in at the deep end was probably a good thing though as it made me realise which areas I really need to improve on. For the next meeting I’m hoping to set an agenda based on current activities rather than the standard set agenda that we have used in the past for everyone to report back (sometimes not everyone has anything to report and others have a lot of items to report back on). I’d also like to set approximate times for each item, even if that’s only for my own time management. I don’t want to be too rigid so that people have chance to discuss each item but I do think it’s important to ensure adequate time to discuss everything that needs to be discussed – in the past we have overrun and not covered elements we wanted to discuss.
Are there any other useful tips for chairing meetings? All advice greatly appreciated!