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Chairing meetings

How to chair your first meeting

Being asked to chair your first meeting can be a daunting prospect. My simple guide below outlines the key aspects you need to be aware of.

1. Understand the meeting objectives

If you’re the chair of the meeting then you are the one setting the objectives for that meeting.

You need to:

  • Understand what the objectives of the meeting are
  • Communicate those objectives to all attendees
  • Control the meeting as it progresses toward those objectives
  • See that the objectives have been met at the end of the meeting.

2. Put together a great meeting agenda

Making sure you have an agenda is essential, circulate it in advance so everyone knows where the meeting is, what time it is and what it’s about.

Read my 15 point agenda checklist for a great meeting to make sure you’ve got the best agenda you can write.

3. Choose attendees carefully

As Chair you are responsible for deciding who needs to attend the meeting. After all not everyone needs to attend your meeting and just because someone wants to attend, does not mean they should!

When choosing your meeting participants:

  • Compare the meeting objectives with the person you want to invite. They are the ‘stakeholders’ someone who has a right or responsibility for an area that your meeting covers. You need to decide if this particular stakeholder is required to ensure this objective is met
  • Formally invite people – if necessary phone them in advance, explain what the meeting is, why they need to attend and what you are expecting them to do
  • Follow up a verbal invite with a digital calendar invite (even non-technical users value these)
  • If someone is bringing someone with them,a  lieutenant if you like, then make sure you understand why they are doing this – is it to hand over tasks, is it because they don’t fully understand everything?

4. Keep a close eye on the clock

Being a chair of the meeting means you are in charge of the time! Don’t let it run away from you. As a new chair you want to get a reputation for always running meetings that finish on time. Believe me, everyone will thank you, and ask you to chair again.

Why is it important to finish on time?

Well we all know ‘Time is money.’ You can even work out the cost of your meeting: count up the number of people in the meeting, estimate how much they are being paid by the hour and multiply it all together.  So if you have 10 people each being paid $20 an hour – the total cost of your meeting is $200. If you go on for an extra 15 minutes at the end, then your meeting costs another $50!

A few thoughts on time keeping during a meeting:

  • The more people you have in a meeting the shorter it should be
  • Everyone’s time is valuable, not just yours, not just the most important person in the room
  • Always start a meeting on time  (if people aren’t there don’t worry that’s their problem, not yours)
  • Finish a meeting at the scheduled time SUPER IMPORTANT (even if you start late, you still have to finish on time.)
  • If you are concerned about overrun then assign a duration to each agenda item and stick to it
  • If you are really concerned about time, establish your tough ground rules at the beginning of the meeting – “I will stop you speaking if you overrun by talking over you! We are all busy people, I hope you don’t mind…”

However there is only one really good way to control a meeting’s time and that’s to be in control of the meeting, have presence, be more organised than everyone else, understand what the meeting is for and people will naturally defer to you.

5. Assign a minute taker

Lastly, make sure someone is taking the minutes. It shouldn’t be you. Ask someone you know is conscientious, to do this, usually you would ask at the beginning of the meeting.

A minute taker (often known as the meeting secretary) has the job to:

  • Record any key findings
  • Record actions and allocated person
  • Circulate those actions within 24 hours of the meeting finishing (sooner if possible) (why not recommend Pailz as a great tool for making this easy)
  • Accurately reflect what was decided in the meeting and nothing more(no additions)
  • Minutes do not need to be a word for word account of everything that is said.

Well, hopefully I haven’t put you off chairing your first meeting. It may be something you never thought you’d do. When I was asked to chair an important meeting at the tender age of 23, I was handed the papers and had Shakespeare quoted at me: ‘some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.’ The people in the meeting were all a lot older and wiser.  If that’s you then don’t worry, no-one likes being the chair and everyone is always pleased that someone else is taking the responsibility.

Stick to the basics above, be cool and you’ll be fine. Let us know how it went in the comments below.


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