How to chair meetings like a superstar!

Meetings are an inevitable aspect of your role. In my experience, the more senior your role, the more time you spend in them.
 
Meetings are not always valuable use of your time though.
 
It is time that you could be spending with your team, building relationships and communicating at a more personal level. Or, getting something on the ‘to do’ list done!
 
There are some things you can do to make sure you are getting the most out of them.
 
Most importantly ask yourself whether you need to be there.
 
People often cast the net wide when sending out meeting invitations. Without much thought to the purpose each attendee can bring.
 
To ensure you are using your time as carefully as possible do not accept meeting invitations automatically.
 
STOP! Consider the purpose of the meeting. What can you personally can bring of value to the meeting. Is there someone in your team who could bring equal or more value? Do you have expertise or experience which you ought to be sharing at this meeting? Is it critical, or not, to meeting yours, or the organisations goals?
 
So often I found that there was an expectation that I would be at a meeting by virtue of my job title. In fact, there was often someone in my teams would not only have more relevant, on the ground experience. That person would also gain development opportunities from attending the meeting.
 
Of course there will be lots of meetings that you have to attend. You may be the chair, or the meeting may be instigated by you as a means to driving work forward.
 
Chairing a meeting is an important skill. Get it right and you create dynamic and creative meetings which drive you towards your goals, without it feeling like hard work.
 
So long as you are clear on the PURPOSE of the meeting and you have evaluated your PLACE at the table then here are some suggestions for getting the best out of the time spent in the meeting.
 
Be clear about the agenda, and the items on it. If it’s your agenda then think out WHY an item is on the agenda and what you expect to get out of the discussion in respect of that item. 
 
PREPARE your input where you know it is required. Second guess where you can add perspective, raise questions, or share data, knowledge or experience.
 
So much time is wasted in meetings when attendees don’t prepare themselves, and wait to see what unfurls. Every item deferred to the next meeting is building in slippage time, in respect of the goal. If this is due to a lack of preparedness then it doesn’t reflect well on the individual or the group as a whole.
 
If you are the chair, then think about who you need to draw in to each agenda item. Are they clear about the fact that they will be expected in input?
 
If you have a standard agenda, then consider whether all items need equal air time.
 
Standard agendas are very useful. But, there is a danger that you will find yourselves going over old ground or talking about something for the sake of it only because it’s on the agenda. If you are chairing, take care to ensure that you move quickly through those items that don’t need so much attention this time.
 
This brings me on to PARTICIPATION. If you are chairing then making sure that there is opportunity for all to take part is one of your most important roles.
 
This can be tricky. No one likes the creeping death of ‘going round the room’ for everyone’s thoughts! Some people need time to process and assimilate their thoughts. Others will fill the air because ‘someone has to’. Most are spending more time trying to think up something unique to say rather than listening to anyone else!
 
As chair, you need to be sensitive and alert enough to notice when someone wants to input but are not getting the opportunity to do so.
 
Also consider whether everyone needs to be at the meeting for the whole time? If parts of the agenda are going to be irrelevant to some participants then let them go. They will thank you for it. No one wants to sit through a discussion which they are of no part and to which they cannot add any value. This will feel like wasted time to them and will undermine the value they felt had brought.
 
There has to be safe space for REFLECTION. What is going well? What is not? What needs to be done? Allow for some open discussion and ability for everyone to chip in with potential solutions. Only by creating a safe environment will people start to open up. Allow for creative thinking and for ideas to form through discussion about problems.
 
Shutting down dialogue too quickly will make others reluctant to engage.
 
TIMING of the meeting is important. Yes, you want to stick to time, and avoid meetings over running as much as possible. When structuring the agenda or managing the meeting you need to be conscious of which discussion to allow to run and which can be taken forward outside of the meeting by a smaller group of participants.
 
Make sure you have scheduled enough time. 
Start on time. Waiting for latecomers is extremely frustrating for those on time. Give an extra minute or two at most but then crack on. Unless people have a very reasonable excuse for being late then starting on time will ensure they know that promptness is necessary and expected.
Don’t be afraid to end the meeting early if there is no need to drag it out.
 
Don’t start the meeting by giving the impression that you are too busy for the meeting! Making people aware of the timescale for the meeting can be helpful. But, not when it is delivered in such a way that participants know that discussion is not welcomed. Opening a meeting with comments such as: ‘time is money’; ‘we all have other/better things to be getting on with’; or ‘I only have an hour to give to this’; are rarely conducive to productive dynamic meetings.
Finally, unless people leave the meeting feeling there has been PROGRESS, as a result of the meeting, then it has failedLet’s be honest, not everyone will feel like every minute of the meeting was invaluable to them. But, everyone should leave with a clear idea of what the next steps will be, and the part they need to play in those. Check in with everyone to ensure they have got what they needed out of the meeting, and that they know what is expected of them as a result.
THANK everyone – for their time and input.
REASSURE the group if it has been a difficult meeting. Help them leave with a positive feeling whenever possible and if there are only challenges ahead remind them that they can do difficult.
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If you need coaching support on any leadership issues in your role then I can help. With 30 plus years experience and a passion for helping people to increase confidence in their role I have solutions to the problems you face.
 
mandy@positivelypracticalleadership.co.uk
 
 
 
 

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