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A short while ago, my husband came home from a coffee morning and said he needed to find a document to help his friend chair a meeting. My husband’s a very busy man, so I offered to take a look for him. My first venture into Google came up with a page of possible sites, but on further exploration, none of them really talked about the way I like to chair a meeting. So, I sat down and pulled something together.

The following is really a stream-of-consciousness step-by-step way to take care of a meeting and also take care of those in attendance. My own goal is leading by participation, very little hierarchy and a hope that everyone contributes. Anyway, see what you think. If you follow these guidelines, let me know how your meeting went:

Rough Guide to Chairing a Meeting

Leading up to the meeting

Have some idea of what the meeting will be about

You don’t need to be an expert on the subject, but if a meeting happened about this subject before, review notes so that the meeting will move the subject forward.

Who will be attending the meeting?

Are you familiar with everyone? Do you need to invite anyone specifically to just this meeting? Will people know each other? Who will take the minutes (try to ensure this is not you)?

Be involved in creating a draft agenda

Look through previous minutes, if there was a previous meeting on the subject. Do you have anyone to work with on setting the agenda? Is it done for you? As chair, you do need to be involved so that you are familiar with each item on the agenda and potentially how long each item may take. Distribute the draft agenda to all meeting participants. Make extra copies to have on hand for anyone else who attends, or for those who did not receive a copy (or lost it).

Room setup

Will people be sitting or standing? Will there be a table or just chairs? How many people will be in attendance? Will audio/visual equipment be needed? Where will you be sitting so you can see everyone? Will the meeting be disrupted by noise in other parts of the building? Do you have a door that can be closed? How might you change the heating/refresh the air, if necessary? Where are the exits? Where are the washrooms? Will there be refreshments, and if so, what? How large a space is it and will you need to raise your voice to be heard?

Be early

Get to the meeting early, first if possible. Choose where you will sit and place your items there. Be friendly, smiley, welcome people as they arrive, be comfortable, informal as people take their places. Set a friendly atmosphere regardless of the topic for the meeting.

Watch the time

Be aware of the starting and ending time for the meeting. Do what you can to start the meeting on time. This shows respect for those in attendance, as well as acknowledgement of how long you have the meeting venue available. If people have not taken their places by a minute before the meeting starts, get their attention in an appropriate way (whistling might work for some very informal gatherings, clinking glasses, raising your voice, or just take your own seat and look ready) and welcome them to take their seats. Look at everyone, connect with them. Take a deep breath…and begin.

The meeting

People will be watching you throughout the meeting, and taking their cues from you as to how the meeting is going. They will enjoy it if you enjoy it. They will find it tiresome if you yawn your way through. They will find it frustrating if you are unable to stick to the agenda.

Out of respect for the work of the group and for all participants, the meeting is conducted through you, the chair. To achieve that people will speak in turns, one at a time. To secure a turn one must indicate to you so you can keep a “speakers’ list”. Alternatively, you could opt to use a system of “rounds”, where you go around the circle of participants giving each one opportunity to speak when appropriate. Both methods create an atmosphere of trust that participants’ voices will be heard, and will naturally lead to no interrupting or interjecting. There will also be times when you want people to voice ideas in a hap-hazard, popcorn style, and this is ok if you set those parameters and “open the floor”. This works well, for example, in small groups of people for whom there are no significant power differences between them.

A basic agenda:

0.0       Welcome

1.0       Announcements

2.0       Acceptance of the agenda

3.0       Acceptance of the previous minutes dated ….

4.0       Guests

5.0       Reports

6.0       Old Business

7.0       New Business

8.0       Next Meeting Date

9.0       Adjournment

0.0       Welcome

Look at the time, and call the meeting to order. Acknowledge the territory upon which you are holding the meeting. Welcome everyone and reiterate the length of time for this meeting. If people are unfamiliar with one another, start a round of introductions. Alternatively, if everyone knows each other, ask for a one-sentence response to a question, such as “what is one thing that you’d like to share that happened to you today?” This is really important. It allows everyone to feel acknowledged, to use their voice, to be a part of the meeting, and to be present. Include it regardless of what meeting you are chairing. If this is an unfamiliar location for your meeting, let people know where the bathrooms are located. And, if the meeting is for more than 90 minutes, inform people there will be a 10-minute break halfway through.

1.0       Announcements

At this point whoever is taking the minutes will start recording the meeting.

Is there anything anyone needs to say that affects the meeting? This could be something like an invited guest only has 30 minutes then must leave. Or, the minute-taker is feeling unwell and needs somebody else to take the minutes, etc. Anything could come up here so take it all in stride. Do not let whatever it is detract from the meeting, however, deal with whatever comes up calmly and accommodate it.

2.0       Acceptance of the Agenda

Ask whether everyone has seen a copy. If anyone hasn’t, make sure they receive a copy. Give people a moment to consider the agenda. Briefly review the agenda. Ask whether there are any additions to the agenda and make amendments as necessary. Ensure everyone is clear about any amendments then ask for a motion to accept the agenda as amended (if it is altered from that previously distributed) – note the person who raises their hand – ask for a seconder – note the person who raises their hand – ask for all in favour – note anyone who disagrees, then deal with the objection. Look to the person taking the minutes and ensure they have noted the motion.

3.0       Acceptance of the previous Minutes of …. (date)….

This is assuming there was a previous meeting on this same topic or with this same group. Did everyone get a chance to read the minutes? Are there any changes needed? If so, allow for changes to be made. Then, call for a motion: can I have a motion to accept the minutes of (date)? – note the person who raises their hand – ask for a seconder – note the person who raises their hand – ask for all in favour – note anyone who disagrees, then deal with the objection. Look to the person taking the current minutes and ensure they have noted the motion and made note of any changes to be made.

4.0       Guests

You may or may not have guests – subject experts, people who have a presentation for your group, outsiders who are specifically there for a reason – and it is polite to allow guests to speak early in the meeting and then leave if they wish to do so (perhaps this is a private meeting and they must leave after they have presented, or they may wish to sit in on the rest of the meeting and answer questions afterward). This acknowledges their importance and time. Ideally, speak with the guests ahead of time and find out what they would prefer and also how long their presentation (if they have one) will take. Do they prefer questions immediately after or at the end of the whole meeting? React accordingly. Thank the guest, in front of everybody, for their input.

Take a look at the time. Let people know how long there is left in the meeting. This way, everyone can work as a team to ensure the meeting runs efficiently and ends on time. This could be a good moment for a break, if necessary.

5.0       Reports

Are there any? Do you have any committee reports that need to be voiced? Do you have a treasurer, and therefore a financial report? Reports help bring everyone up to date. You may need a motion to accept the reports as presented. In which case, do as you did previously and ask: can I have a motion to accept the reports as presented? – note the person who raises their hand – ask for a seconder – note the person who raises their hand – ask for all in favour – note anyone who disagrees, then deal with the objection. Look to the person taking the minutes and ensure they have noted the motion and made note of any changes to be made.

6.0       Old Business

This is business that is being carried over from a previous meeting, if there was one. Each topic would be given its own space on the agenda, such as:

6.0       Old Business

            6.1       Topic A

            6.2       Topic B

            6.3       Topic C

Is follow-up required on any of these topics? If so, ideally assign somebody to do this work and ensure the topic will be on the next agenda.

7.0       New Business

This is business that has not come up recently in a previous meeting. Most likely these are new topics to discuss, however, they can be old topics that have not come up on previous agendas for a year or two. Or, perhaps the attendees are all fresh and the topic is new to them, yet not new to the series of meetings. Again, each topic has its own space on the agenda, such as:

7.0       New Business

            7.1       Topic A

            7.2       Topic B

            7.3       Topic C

Is follow-up required on any of these topics? If so, ideally assign somebody to do this work and ensure the topic will be on the next agenda.

8.0       Next Meeting Dates

Will there be another meeting of this same group? If so, when? Date, time, location.

Take a look at the time. How much time is left?

9.0       Adjournment

State how much time is left and then ask for any questions that relate to the meeting. Were there questions for the guest, if the guest is still present? By stating how much time is left, again everyone can work as a team to efficiently end the meeting. Asking for any questions acknowledges the people who have been at the meeting and allows them to speak. If you have the time, and if this is a familiar group of people or you sense it is comfortable to ask, ask each person to offer a one-sentence answer to: “How was this meeting for you?” or “What is something you have learned today in this meeting?” Be ready for positive and negative feedback. Every answer is welcomed.

State “this meeting is adjourned at…(time).” Or, ask: “Can I have a motion to adjourn the meeting? – note the person who raises their hand – ask for a seconder – note the person who raises their hand – ask for all in favour – note anyone who disagrees, then deal with the objection. Look to the person taking the minutes and ensure they have noted the motion.

Thank everybody for their time, for being present and for contributing.

Know that everybody had a part to play in that meeting, whether they spoke up or were quiet, disruptive or offered positive contributions. The meeting could not have happened without them.

Think through the meeting. What went well for you? What would you change? How would you change it? Did you accomplish the items on the agenda? Is the overall topic moving forward? How was the location? How were the presenters? Does the minute-taker need anything from you? Once the draft minutes have been written, ensure you see a copy before they are distributed – was this the same meeting you chaired? You are responsible for these minutes, so ensure they jive with what you recall, too.

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