By: John F. Schlegel Source: Associations Now Volunteer Leadership Issue
Published: January 2006
Tips for chairing your next meeting effectively.
Open the meeting on time, even if it means starting without some people who have failed to show up. This demonstrates respect for those who show up on time and sends a powerful message to those who are late. Guide, mediate, probe, and stimulate discussions. Make sure that all sides are heard and no one side dominates. Use well-placed questions to seek information, clarify, and summarize what you hear from the group.
Don’t express your thoughts too soon. Invite ideas from everyone else at the table and add ideas only when they have not been brought up by others participating in the discussion.
Deal firmly with people who disrupt or distract. If side conversations crop up, first use eye contact to send a message. If that doesn’t work, note politely that the side discussions are making it difficult for others to hear. If the conversations continue, handle the issue privately at the next break.
Periodically summarize what has been said and what decisions need to be made. Use this technique after every two or three speakers to keep the discussion on track.
Monitor participation to make sure everyone speaks at least occasionally. To identify people who need to be drawn out, create a seating chart and record a mark every time someone speaks. Control talkative people with a statement that’s polite but direct, such as “Let me ask you to hold that thought while I get the thoughts of others we’ve not heard from for a while.”
Work your way up the seniority ladder when calling on people to speak. Turn to the more junior participants early in the discussion to bring in fresh ideas and keep the discussion moving. If more senior members speak first, the less experienced people often will defer.
Be sensitive to people’s feelings. Watch for visual and verbal clues; this is where eye contact is essential. An effective chair is constantly reading the group.
Move the group to a decision after a reasonable period of discussion. You’ll know it’s time when you hear thoughts or ideas being repeated.
Seek consensus, not unanimous decisions. Unanimity means that everyone totally agrees. Consensus means that everyone, though not in complete agreement, is willing to support the decision. Many discussions go on too long because the chair is unwilling to seek consensus rather than unanimity.
Finish the meeting on time. If you need to run a little late, stop the discussion about 10 minutes before the scheduled ending and ask members of the group for permission to continue for whatever time you think will be needed. If they say yes, they will remain active in the discussion. If they say no, respect that decision and close the meeting at the scheduled time. Remember, the group owns the meeting, not the chair. If you go much past the scheduled time without getting agreement, you will not have good participation anyway.
Close the meeting on a positive note. You should
- Recap all decisions and note other things the meeting accomplished. People feel good after a productive meeting.
- Verify assignments and due dates. Secure commitments on the spot.
- Confirm understanding of next steps. Too often people leave unsure of what was decided, what the next steps are, and who is responsible for making things happen.
- Say thank you and really mean it. Participants have given you and the association two valuable assets: their time and their thoughts. You want all participants to leave the meeting feeling that they contributed to the organization and will continue to be needed. A parting handshake and good eye contact go a long way toward keeping the team together.
Questions to Ask Yourself About Chairing a Meeting
- What strategy can I use to make sure that newer members of my board or committee become actively engaged in discussions?
- What is the difference between consensus and unanimity, and why is it important?
- How do I make sure everyone participates in discussions?
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