The Blogora: The Rhetoric Society of America


How to Chair a Meeting

Submitted by syntaxfactory on February 6, 2013 - 9:59pm

Below are some tips that I offer freely to anyone who will be chairing a committee meeting..., especially any meeting I’ll be attending. EXCERPTED FROM:

Remember the Chair is in Charge

The committee chair is in charge, period. Everyone should participate and have a say. Decisions should be the result of group deliberation. But if something derails the meeting, it’s the chair’s job to get it back on track, even if that means being blunt or forceful. The committee is there to get work done, and anything that takes away from that needs to be dealt with. When disorder reigns, people look to the chair to bring things back to order. Don’t let them down. The chair can keep charge of the meeting while still being polite, considerate, and even amusing. While it might seem rude to stop timewasters and squeaky wheels, it’s actually rude to everyone else not to. Members can get away with just showing up, but chairs have to work, and if you can’t do the work, don’t take on the job....

Give the Committee a Structure

Again, it seems like an obvious point, but it’s not. Librarians tend to be nice, democratic people. They want to solicit opinions, gather viewpoints, and then consider acting at some time in the future. But as a volunteer organization, most librarians don’t want or have time to think a lot about the work of a committee until they absolutely have to. They typically won’t respond to general questions like, “tell me what you think.” Instead, don’t ask them what they think; give them something to think about. If the committee needs to come up with a plan, give the committee a plan. If it needs to review a document, review it and submit your suggested revisions. If it needs to create a document, then provide a possible outline. If the committee is between projects, don’t just ask people what the committee should do next. Give them concrete suggestions to consider along with a request for further suggestions. Then give people the options: adopt this, critique it so that it can be improved, or ignore it and propose your own alternative. Make it clear that you have no personal investment either way. Chances are, they’ll choose the middle option, which will give the committee something detailed to work on. Sometimes it’s just adopted. And then every once in a while someone actually proposes an improved alternative. So much the better. Everyone gets a say, but people are more likely to speak if they have something in front of them to critique.

Give the Committee a Deadline

Again, because of the volunteer nature, librarians are prone to procrastination regarding committee work. So, along with the structure, provide a deadline. Something like this usually works (although fleshed out more to sound less brusque): “Here is a possible plan/revision/document that moves us along on the project we’re working on. Please adopt it, critique it, or provide an alternative by one month from today. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll assume you approve.” That last bit is crucial. Always take their silence for assent. If they know this, those who care will respond, and those who don’t care won’t feel bad for not responding, and you won’t feel bad for ignoring them later if 6 months down the line they don’t like something. People will usually respond, often enough with good criticisms of the proposal. Those who don’t respond had their chance, and everyone knows it.

Call for Agenda Items...

Create an Agenda

Regardless of whether anyone submits anything, create an agenda. If you can’t come up with any agenda items that require in-person discussion or action, then you should cancel the meeting. Avoid announcements or anything that could just as easily be handled in an email.

Send out Documentation Well in Advance

Any documentation that’s necessary to understand the agenda items or prepare people for action should be sent out well in advance. ... the meeting isn’t the place to be reading or going over background documentation. Don’t let it devolve into that. The absolute worst thing to do is to bring documentation to the meeting that no one has seen before and then ask people to read and react to it. Save that discussion for another meeting unless it’s an emergency, and really, how many ... emergencies are there.

Start on Time...

Stick to the Agenda...

Don’t Talk Too Much

By the time the meeting has started, you’ve sent out documentation well in advance, called for agenda items, sent out the completed agenda, and prepared everyone to discuss and act on the agenda items. You’ve done the bulk of your communicating. The meeting is the time for the members to communicate with each other regarding the agenda items. After introductions, move to the first agenda item and ask an appropriate leading question. Don’t give long speeches about it. Don’t try to fill up dead air if no one speaks immediately. The longer you talk, the less they will. So state the question, ask for discussion, then shut up. Your job now is to guide the group through the agenda and make sure action is taken.

Deter or Defer the Timewasters...

End on Time, or Early

Time is tight and people have other commitments. If they don’t they’ll still be tired of sitting in the same chair for an hour or two. End the meeting on time. If you run out of time, postpone the business. If you go way over time, that means that you planned badly or let things go awry during the meeting. Don’t make everyone suffer because of your errors. There’s rarely anything so crucial that it can’t wait. And if you’re focused and get done early, everyone will be pleased. It’s an example of what Edmund Burke called “the unbought grace of life.” Add a little bit of that to someone’s day and they’ll appreciate it.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.

More information about formatting options

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.