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How to chair a successful meeting

I’m not going to write from a position of any authority on this one. I can’t bear meetings, in person or online, and have spent my career avoiding as many as I can. As a result, I’ve chaired only a handful. I wasn’t great at it.

However, the subject came up the other day, and I thought I’d find some recent writing on how it should be done. Has anything much changed in the era of Zoom meetings? It would seem not. The same half dozen rules apply as ever.

  • Have clear goals for the meeting to stay focused and not waste time. Participants should be asked in advance if they have any specific objectives in mind, and a summary should be distributed.
  • Having an agenda helps ensure everything is covered. Again, this needs to go out in advance, with approximate durations for each item. Start and end the meeting on time, and watch the clock according to the agenda. If items can’t be covered properly in the time available, let participants know that the result will be a follow-up meeting. Try to structure any initial chat, as people join the meeting, to be positive.
  • Ensure it’s clearly understood that a meeting is an opportunity for everyone to contribute their ideas and thoughts. If the meeting is online, establish a clear way for participants to signal that they want to speak, and do not overlook it.
  • Keep the meeting on track. If someone starts to bring up a new topic that isn’t on the agenda, quickly make sure they know that it can be discussed at a more appropriate time.
  • Send out a summary of the meeting where any tasks, assignments and deadlines can be clarified. Encourage participants to query these notes within a short, defined timescale.

…and of course…

  • Don’t even hold the meeting unless it’s necessary and the best way to do things.