The three tips for chairing a great meeting

CHAIRING a meeting can be a daunting experience, but one that sooner or later we all have to face. Professor Cliff Oswick is in charge of organisational theory at Cass business school in London, and also head of a faculty of 130 staff – and estimates (with a sigh)?that he chairs about 60 meetings a month. He has three tips for how to chair a meeting.

His first is to have an agenda. “Have it on paper, or some sort of visual display, and make sure that you ask at the outset if other people have anything to add,” he says. “Leaving things until ‘any other business’ is problematic, as you have no idea how long it will go on.” So, have a clear idea of the items to be discussed, and stick to that agenda. “It’s easy to bleed into other points that are going to be raised later.”

The second point is to make sure that everybody gets to have their say. Those who speak loudest shouldn’t be allowed to dominate, and neither should it become a free-for-all. If some people dominate the conversation, say: “Great, that’s interesting, how do others feel?” Elicit general commentary. If you see other people shaking their heads or otherwise indicating dissent as one person is talking you should invite comment from them. It’s all about the balance of framework and flexibility. “A good chair knows the difference between controlling and facilitating,” says Oswick.

This is somewhere else you have to be flexible. Structure is necessary, but you have to be willing to adapt and if something is highly emotive or generates an extreme reaction then you should spend more time on it.

The third and final tip is to make sure there are tangible outcomes. “It is important to get closure, to agree an action, or that no action is required – even deciding that you need to take no action is an outcome.” The worst thing, he says, is when a meeting doesn’t result in tangible results. Sounds easy.