I’ve seen more incompetent performances by people chairing meetings than in any other single endeavour. Too many people chair meetings without having any inkling as to the right way to do it; and it takes seventeen inklings to make a clue.
The responsibility of chairing meetings is taken too lightly far too often, especially when it comes to regularly-scheduled, seemingly routine meetings. People who wouldn’t think about making a presentation without thoroughly preparing will blithely chair meetings without any preparation whatsoever. The result is usually a combination of wasted time and ineffectiveness.
When you’re in the chair you’re expected to be in charge and to play a reasoned leadership role. Although you should never be overly-officious, you do need some knowledge of the fundamental rules of parliamentary procedure, such as dealing with motions, debate protocol, and voting procedures. A good way to acquire this information is by becoming familiar with Robert’s Rules of Order.
Adhering to the following MacInnis Rules of Order will help you run effective and efficient meetings:
- Become completely familiar with the agenda.
- Identify potentially confrontational issues and decide how you intend to deal with them.
- Control the seating. People who tend to argue with each other should be seated on the same side of the table. Confrontations will be fewer and shorter if probable combatants aren’t facing each other across the table.
- Provided you have a quorum, start on time. If you don’t have a quorum at the scheduled start time, cancel the meeting. It won’t take long for your message to get through, and the number of latecomers will diminish with each subsequent 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 emergency messages on their cell phones. Insist that those who aren’t turn off their devices. Instruct anyone who is expecting a critical message to turn their devices to “vibrate” and leave the room if they have to deal with a transmission.
- Determine if anyone has new business to add to the agenda. If there isn’t enough time to deal with an item of new business, either it or an existing agenda item will have to be deferred. Arrive at and announce the decision right away.
- Be confident and friendly, 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 calmly in control.
- Keep breaks to a minimum, but never go longer than two hours without at least a leg stretch. If you take a formal break, reconvene at the stated time, even if you’re the only one at the table.
- 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.
- Don’t allow side conversations while the meeting is in session. If they persist, stop the proceedings and tell the miscreants that the meeting won’t continue until they’re finished.
- Don’t rely on the secretary’s minutes being as complete as you’d like them to be; make your own brief notes of key points.
- Unless there's unanimous agreement to continue the meeting, finish on time, even if it means deferring one or more agenda items.
- Tell the participants when they can expect to receive minutes of the meeting, and make sure the minutes are accurate and distributed as promised. If they aren’t, appoint a new secretary.
- Be sure the minutes clearly outline the actions required and who is responsible for each action being taken.
- You’ll be doing everyone a favour (especially yourself) if you don’t chair a meeting until you’re able to comfortably do all of the above.