In any group, there is always a risk of unstructured discussions leading to frustration for all participants. The meeting chair is there to lead (or "chair") the meeting to make it run more smoothly, prevent conflict and giving everyone a chance to speak.
But how does that work? How does a person chair a meeting successfully, so all participants can have their say in equal measure?
In this article, we’re going to define the role of meeting chair, as well as discuss what it takes to be a good one!
What is the Role of a Meeting Chair?
The meeting chair is most often an elected position. For example in a board the meeting chair could be elected to run the board meetings.
The role of the chair is to:
- Set the agenda and confirm meeting topics for discussion
- Open and run meetings
- Get through all items of discussion on the agenda
- Pass resolutions: the chair facilitates collective decisions, usually by way of a vote
- Tell the attendees who will carry out particular actions (as discussed in the motion), what they will do, and the expected or estimated timeframe
- Close the meeting and send out the minutes (records of the meeting) a day or two afterwards
Sometimes, the meeting chair may break up attendees into smaller breakout groups to discuss issues.
What makes a Good Meeting Chair?
A good meeting chair needs to have good facilitation skills. But most importantly they need to poses excellent conflict-resolution skills.
That's because board or committee meetings often involve important decisions with multiple stakeholders. And they might not always agree on those decisions.
Another skill that a meeting chair needs to focus on is active listening. Not only does it help to make attendees feel they have "been heard", but it's also important for the meeting chair to stay on top of the content of the discussion.
Below are 8 characteristics and behaviors of a good meeting chair:
1. Establishes clear ground rules
A good meeting chair establishes a set of ground rules for the group to follow. Either by introducing them directly, or taking time with the group to set them collaboratively.
A good chair will ensure that their rules are fair and that they’re being followed.
2. Sets the Tone for the Meeting
A good meeting chair sets the tone for the meeting. For instance, they might show their commitment to the process by being punctual and requesting silence before the meeting commences. The meeting chair should ideally have some sort of authority and be well-respected by their peers.
A good meeting chair will remind attendees of the basic meeting rules, give a rundown of how they wish the meeting to progress, and let attendees know what topics they can expect to cover.
3. Keeps the Meeting on Track
The meeting chair will tell the participants to discuss the point in question so that the meeting has a specific focus. They are quick to steer off-topic discussions back on-track.
4. Maintains Order
If several people want to speak at once, the meeting chair will establish a system where each person who wants to speak is allowed to contribute uninterruptedly. An effective system will prevent arguments and digressions.
Records of the meeting (called “minutes”) must be kept. The meeting chair may do this, or they might appoint a secretary to take the notes.
For accurate minutes to be kept, a sense of order must be maintained- which the meeting chair is solely responsible for.
5. Sets an Agenda
The meeting chair has some duties to carry out ahead of the meeting. This includes sending out a meeting agenda so that:
- Attendees know what the meeting is about
- Attendees can add to the list of topics to be raised at the meeting
6. Allows Time for Social Interaction Around the Meeting
A good meeting chair will allow some time before or after the meeting so the people can catch up with each other.
This makes it less likely for people to try and talk amongst themselves during the meeting - attendees will know to get the gossip out the way beforehand, or save it till later!
7. Has Excellent Conflict Resolution Skills
Some people attend meetings because they have a vested interest in the topics under discussion.
Others attend because it is a compulsory requirement (for example, workplace meetings). Either way, disagreements are common, and tempers can flare.
The meeting chair is responsible for maintaining appropriate standards of behavior in the group, and ensuring that one or two individuals do not dominate the meeting.
They will also know how to let cooler heads prevail, while being prepared to tell ‘excited’ attendees to calm down or even leave the room briefly.
A good meeting chair knows when and how to implement these strategies so that small disagreements don’t grow into larger issues.
8. Schedules Breaks
This is a no-brainer. People do not work well if they have to focus for extended periods of time without any breaks.
Ideally, the meeting chair will schedule coffee and tea breaks (or simply breaks if it's online) - if the meeting is longer than an hour and a half.
At the very least, the chair should organize some time for people to stand up, walk around, and have a drink before returning to the meeting.
What Other Terms are Used for Chairperson?
Previously, a chair would have been called the “Chairman”, but it is now more gender appropriate to use the term chairperson or meeting chair.
Meeting leader is another term in common usage today.
Depending on the nature of their role, they may also be referred to as facilitator or team leader.
If they are taking part in the meeting, there may be a designated facilitator in addition to the chairperson.
In Summary: What is a Meeting Chair?
A meeting chair is a person who is in charge of hearing what the attendees have to say, facilitating discussion amongst meeting attendees and overseeing decisions that are in the best interests of the group.
They are essential to the efficiency and equity of meetings in the workplace- and elsewhere!