The person who will be chairing or facilitating a meeting has a responsibility to help the assembly to be productive. Regardless of the issues or the agenda, there are a few things I usually think about before the meeting when I am in that role. Consider these as suggestions, not rules. They work with my style as a chair.
- Think through the agenda. In most cases people will not question the agenda and will try to be creative and thoughtful about discussing whatever topics appear on the agenda. If I know the people involved, and I am familiar with the issues, usually I can imagine some of the possible outcomes of the discussion — but only if I think about it in advance. Do the participants have the information they are likely to need to come to a meaningful decision? If not, is there an option or process that I might suggest to keep from being stuck? May I alter the agenda to be sure that the important issues are dealt with early when people are fresh. Can the agenda be accomplished in the time that is available?
- Set the tone of the beginning of the meeting. Usually I have, as the first agenda item, Chairperson’s Remarks. I’ll try to begin with an upbeat topical observation or anecdote that relates to the work of the organization or is somehow relevant to the issues at hand. This may seem spontaneous, but I find that planning this can really perk up the beginning of the meeting — so it is an important part of my planning. I want people to feel positive about their service to the organization, and I want them to be smiling as they begin. If there is a guest who will address the group, I have that happen in this part of the agenda.
- Pay attention to everybody. Certainly I need to attend to the person who has the floor, but I must watch everybody else too. Always. Be aware of body language. Who is listening eagerly, who is not paying attention, who is becoming angry, and who is too shy to participate while others dominate the discussion? When is it productive to draw out those who seem uninvolved?
- How formal or informal should I be in enforcing the Rules of Order (if those Rules are the accepted way of running meetings in this organization)? The group may enjoy simply having a conversation, but it may be more productive to insist that people address only the question and speak in turn.
- If there is an issue where I care about the outcome, am I the right person to facilitate the discussion? If I want to personally address the issue, maybe someone else should manage the meeting.
- Arrive early. I like to ensure that the room setup is appropriate for the occasion, and it is often helpful to have some informal discussion with the participants before the meeting begins. Remember the old rule: If you arrive on time you are ten minutes late. How often do you use your cell phone to call to say something like, “Start without me, I am caught in traffic.” No one is impressed by people who claim to be so busy they cannot arrive in time.
- If I am able to set the agenda, the second item is Approval of the Agenda. This requires the group to think through the topics that will take up their time. A huge advantage is that when the last agenda item is complete, the chair can conclude the meeting very quickly by saying, “There being no further business this meeting is adjourned (until the date, time, and location of the next meeting).”
Do you have some techniques you use when planning to chair a meeting? Please share your ideas in the comments below.