Conducting a Meeting
If appropriate preparations have been made, then the scene is set for an effective meeting.
Agendas will have been produced and circulated. Participants will arrive knowing what is to be discussed and with sufficient background information to make relevant contributions. If appropriate, they will have consulted with people they represent and discussed any pertinent issues. See our page: Meetings - Planning and Structure to learn how.
This page examines the role of the chairperson whose job it is to run the meeting.
The Role of the Chairperson
In a more formal meeting, the chairperson will outline the purpose of the meeting and remind members why they are there.
In such a meeting there is little need to refer to this procedure as this is implicit in the established etiquette, namely:
- The chair controls the meeting.
- All remarks are addressed through the chair.
- Members do not interrupt each other.
- Members aim to reach a consensus.
- A vote is taken if consensus is not reached.
- The majority wins the vote.
- All members accept the majority decision.
This is one model but alternative models may be adopted.
When discussion is underway, it is the chairperson's responsibility to ensure that it continues to flow smoothly by involving all members present and by not permitting one or two people to dominate the meeting. Summarising by the chairperson during meetings can:
- Indicate progress, or lack of.
- Refocus discussion that has wandered off the point.
- Conclude one point and lead into the next.
- Highlight important points.
- Assist the secretary if necessary.
- Clarify any misunderstanding.
The chairperson should pace the meeting, ensuring it runs to time. If the planning has been properly executed, this should not prove to be a problem. At the end of a meeting, the chairperson should remind members what they have achieved and thank them for their contributions. Finally, the time and date of the next meeting should be arranged. Again it is to be noted that this is one model and that successful outcomes can be achieved in different ways with different strategies for different purposes.
The Role of the Members
While emphasis has been placed on the role of the chairperson, the participation of all members is of great importance. To ensure an effective meeting, all participants should:
- Undertake any necessary preparation prior to the meeting.
- Arrive on time.
- Keep an open mind.
- Listen to the opinions of others.
- Avoid dominating the proceedings.
- Avoid conflict situations.
- Avoid side conversations which distract others.
- Ask questions to clarify understanding.
- Note down any action agreed upon. (See: Note-Taking)
- After the meeting, undertake any agreed action and brief others as appropriate.
Why Meetings May be Ineffective
There are many reasons why meetings are not effective, some of which are listed below:
- The meeting is unnecessary and revolves around discussion of trivial issues, thus wasting members’ valuable time.
- The meeting lacks a clarity of purpose, i.e., the aims and objectives are not clearly defined.
- Inappropriate style of leadership, i.e., the chairperson dominates and closes down or disregards other contributions.
- The chairperson exercises little control and allows one or two members to dominate the proceedings.
- The meeting is too large thereby limiting the flow of discussion and preventing all members being able to contribute.
- Decisions emerge that are not truly representative.
- Problems are talked about rather than being talked through.
- Decisions are delayed or not acted upon.
- No clear-cut decisions are made.
- Minutes are inaccurate or seen as being manipulated by the chairperson or secretary for his/her own purposes.
- The wrong people are present, thus preventing the meeting proceeding effectively, e.g., those present have to refer back to another person and are therefore unable to comment effectively.
There are many types of meetings and many reasons why meetings may be ineffective. For meetings to be effective, participation is required from all those present. The key skills of interpersonal communication and listening are important.
To ensure the success of a meeting, good preparation is essential and the role of the chairperson is paramount. If these conditions are met, then all participants should leave the meeting feeling a sense of accomplishment, not as if their time has been wasted.