Order! Order! The role of the Chairperson in meetings
Just as meetings can vary in length, formality and purpose, the role of the chair can fluctuate, reflecting the needs of the occasion.
In meetings with many attendees, or where there are lots of different topics to be considered, a chairperson helps greatly to keep the meeting on track – stepping in if the debate goes off-topic, or if one subject drags on and on when there are further pressing matters to address.
Like the House of Commons, in some meetings, the chair can act as ‘speaker’, directing the whole discussion. In such an instance, all questions and comments go through the elected chair instead of to the person concerned, should the formality of the meeting dictate this. For some people, just the presence of a chairperson indicates relative seriousness.
A chair is often looked upon as the host, opening and closing the meeting, summarising its content and introducing attendees should they not already have met. The chairperson invites interaction and participation, keeping the meeting buoyant, clear and topical at all times.
All this is no mean feat. The chair has to be prepared to listen and observe carefully throughout and have excellent interpretation skills. They shouldn’t hold an opinion; instead, inviting others to do so. It’s important that the chair remains unbiased and neutral, offering neither support nor judgement on what others say within the meeting, and without giving confirmation or denial.
Refereeing can be necessary from the chairperson if a discussion becomes heated; therefore, a good understanding of people and the signals they display when interacting with others is another useful skill for a chair to hold, if only so disagreements can be nipped in the bud before they get out of hand. Learning to read body language and how to interpret differing tones and pitches of people’s voices also helps the chair determine how engaged attendees are: if they appear to have ‘switched off’ the chair should look to encourage interaction again, perhaps by asking their opinion on the matter at hand.
Dissipating silence is a challenge for the chairperson. Few may contribute when questions are not attributed to anyone in particular, or when open-ended, and therefore the chair assists by either clarifying points to make them more specific or by choosing an appropriate person directly to answer a question or contribute opinion. Most people will share their thoughts when personally asked.
Time management is something the chairperson must master in a meeting. The agenda, as I suggested last week, is a wonderful tool that lists topics of discussion and which can also suggest outcomes and objectives of the meeting. Knowing what each issue is aiming to clarify, decide upon or gain helps the chair understand when it’s right to move on to the next point, or if a summary is needed of the current issue to bring it to the right conclusion.
There are many more aspects to the chair than I’ve outlined here, but it’s safe to say that their role is often imperative, if meetings are to be truly effective.
Over the last five posts we’ve discussed meetings: how they’re organised, how to make them appropriate, well organised and effective; who does what, and when; what benefits a meeting brings if face-to-face, compared with such as video conferencing; and also how important an agenda can be.
I hope your meetings, as a result of these blogs, become more specific, timely, organised and efficient, and that objectives and outcomes are reached more easily. There are many ways I’m able to help, via executive coaching or management coaching sessions, and more. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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