There are four ways by which people are judged: what they do, how they do it, what they say, and how they say it; and every time you chair a meeting you will be subjected to these four tests.
Chairing a meeting puts you in the spotlight every bit as much as does giving a speech. Just as success in giving an effective presentation enhances your reputation as a leader, gaining recognition as a person who effectively chairs meetings will do the same. Too often, especially when chairing regularly-scheduled, seemingly-routine meetings, the responsibility is taken far too lightly. People, who would never make a presentation without thoroughly preparing, will blithely waltz into a room to chair a meeting without any preparation whatsoever. This can be dangerously detrimental to reputations and could even sidetrack careers.
When you’re in the chair you’re expected to be in charge, so make sure that you are. Although you never want to be seen as an overly-officious chair, you should acquire some knowledge of the fundamental rules of parliamentary procedure, such as dealing with formal motions, accepting motions from the floor, debating protocol, how to close off a debate, and voting procedures.
Consistently adhering to the following rules will ensure that you run effective and efficient meetings:
- Carefully review the agenda, identifying potential problems (especially possible personal confrontations among attendees) and deciding how you intend to deal with them.
- Control the seating. Arrange for people who tend to argue with each other to sit on the same side of the table. Confrontations will be fewer and shorter if the potential combatants aren’t facing each other across the table.
- Start on time, even if there is only one other person there. It won’t take many meetings for your message to get through, and the number of latecomers will diminish with each meeting.
- Open with a brief statement of what you expect to accomplish, announce the time of adjournment, and stick to it.
- Ask if anyone is expecting any emergency messages on their cell phones, pagers or PDAs. Suggest that anyone who isn’t expecting a critical message turn off their devices or, at the very minimum turn them to “vibrate,” and leave the room if they have to receive a transmission.
- Determine if anyone has any new business to add to the agenda. If there isn’t enough time to deal with an item of new business, either the item of new business or an existing agenda item will have to be deferred. Arrive at and announce the decision right away.
- Be confident and enthusiastic, but remember that it’s your responsibility to keep the meeting moving, on schedule and on topic.
- Watch your tone of voice and body language; you always want to convey an image of leadership and of being in control.
- Keep breaks to a minimum, but never go more than two hours without at least a leg stretch.
- Listen intently to all speakers.
- Don’t introduce your own thoughts on an agenda item until it’s obvious no one else is going to raise your points.
- Encourage everyone to participate, but never embarrass or force anyone into speaking.
- Don’t let anyone dominate the discussion.
- Make brief notes of key points; don’t simply rely on the secretary’s minutes being as complete as you’d like them to be.
- Finish on time.
- Tell the participants when they can expect to receive minutes of the meeting, and make sure the minutes are distributed as promised.
- Be sure the minutes clearly outline the actions required and who is responsible for the actions being taken.
In addition to enhancing your reputation as a leader and a person worth listening to, gaining a reputation as a person who runs effective meetings will increase your self-confidence. Just as the confidence gained from becoming an effective speaker seeps into other areas of your life, so will the confidence gained from becoming an effective chairperson.
The way to achieve this is, until they become second nature to you, never chair a meeting without reviewing the rules set out above.