Last week, we discussed techniques that you can employ in order to chair meetings effectively and efficiently. Specifically, we discussed the need to ensure that all the meeting business is discussed, that everyone’s views are heard, that the meeting starts and ends on time and most importantly, that clear decisions are made. Today, we continue with the same discussion by looking at what you need to prepare as Chair of the meeting before the meeting and also how you can address some of the difficult issues during the meeting.
There are four key things that you need to do prior to the meeting. As Chair, you need to make sure that the Secretary has sent out the Agenda to all members of the committee well in time with good notice period before the meeting date. If there is material that needs to be read in support of the meeting, make sure the material is circulated to members well in advance, preferably with the draft agenda. This pack of pre-reading material should include minutes of the previous meeting, any reports to be presented at the meeting, any analyses and recommendations that are to be discussed as well as all other bulky documents. This is very important because it allows members to read carefully, in their own time, all the important meeting documents. This way, members come to the meeting very well informed about key issues to be discussed. Thirdly, if there are any other tools needed by the members or logistical issues that need to be addressed, you need to be sure that all that has been handled by the secretariat or other officers. Finally, as Chair, you need to clearly understand the goal of the meeting so that when the day comes, you direct the meeting accordingly.
During the conduct of the meeting, you need to be in control. Do not lose control of the deliberations of the meeting at all. Below are five key issues that you need to manage to ensure that the meeting stays on course.
1. People coming late for meetings: You cannot wait for everyone – certainly not all late comers. You need to stamp out your authority and take a tough stance against coming late for the meeting. At a reasonable time, start the meeting as near the official start time as possible. A team of largely late coming people cannot form a winning team at all. It is your responsibility as Chairman to make your committee a winning team.
2. Someone speaking too long: It is not uncommon to find that one member is dominating in the discussions. As Chairman, you need to manage such instances. You may need to politely curtail his or her contributions in a very smart way. You could say things like: “We have heard from Mr. Phiri. Can we hear other alternative views?” If others are not forthcoming, you may need to ask specific members to contribute.
3. Two people debating: At times two people keep debating for a long time. As chair, you need to curtail that debate at the right time – not too early and not too late either. The simple way of cutting that debate is to say “We have heard the views of Mrs. Kachingwe and Mr. Mbengano. What do others think?” This is a very simple statement and yet very helpful one in nicely cutting the two-person debate and to regain the control of the meeting.
4. Someone mentioning the same point many times: When someone continues to repeat the same point several times, you need to summarise for him or her and assure him or her that the point made is important and has been clearly understood.
5. Long meetings: The first trick for managing long meetings is preparation. Let everyone come to the meeting prepared – having read all the important documents, minutes of previous minutes and reports. Secondly, you need to steer the meeting deliberations and be in control as discussed above. Some issues that turn out to be big topics need to be set aside and assigned to a sub-committee or Task Force that can later attend to the emerging big topic so that they can report at the next meeting.