“If I had a choice about going to a meeting at the studio and changing a nappy, I’d choose the nappy” – Tim Burton (film director)
It’s the big meeting; the day of reckoning, and there are big decisions to be made.
Everyone is coming – the Chairman, shareholders, stakeholders, CEO, CFO, COO, CMO, CTO and other similar titled men and women whose time is not to be wasted. The combined cost of the meeting if you totalled up the hourly rates of all attendants, is so large it would qualify as a G20 nation.
And right there in the middle of it all is you – The Chair.
If the meeting goes well, they’ll all congratulate themselves; if it goes badly, everyone will blame you. No pressure then.
There is great skill involved when called to chair a meeting, whether it is big or small, critical or minor, is an invaluable one for the modern professional. Quite apart from the massive impact a meeting can have on the fortunes of the company or organisation concerned, the outcome will often deeply affect you and your reputation.
So, it pays to be ready.
Here are a few tips to remember.
1) Start the meeting before the meeting.
Preparation. Preparation. Preparation. It’s the key to everything and no less so for meetings. If you can identify the topics of discussion early, familiarise yourself with all the issues, and even get feedback and opinions from the key attendants beforehand, you’ll be a long way down the road to a successful meeting before things even start.
2) Devise a valuable agenda.
There is no point holding a meeting to discuss things that can be resolved by email or a phone call, so don’t waste people’s time with meaningless items. Devise an agenda that makes the most of the occasion and shows respect to the cost involved in getting everyone together.
Don’t fill the agenda with stuff that everyone already agrees on. If that’s all you’re after, just post it on the group page in Facebook or Yammer and just ask everyone to ‘like’ it.
Focus instead on the key & critical issues that can only be resolved with all the people there in the same room to discuss it. If people can see that the meeting is important, they will give it the attention it deserves.
3) You are God, the Father.
You are God. You own the zone. Your house, your rules. But being in control is not the same as being dominant. Being authoritative, is not the same as being authoritarian.
Approach your role like the Big Man Himself: Guide and influence but be wary of actually coming down from on high to make demands. If you’ve done your job properly, people should look back and even doubt that you were there at all. Or if you prefer football analogies, be the referee. The best ones are impartial, in complete control, and yet hardly noticed. They are not one of the players, but they make the game flow.
Do not take sides. Do not show yourself to have a vested interest in the outcome.
Control but do not command.
4) You are also ‘Mother’.
Children will squabble. They are bound to disagree. It is your job to make sure they don’t get disagreeable.
To chair a meeting well will often require a steady hand to cajole, empower, soothe, encourage or calm down as the situation demands. You need to understand when that more maternal influence is needed and wield it, all without anyone really noticing that you’re treating them like a child.
5) Find the best decisions.
Whatever the issue, challenge or conundrum, it is your job to get the meeting to come to a decision; but not just any decision, the best decision; the right decision using all the collective intelligence of the group.
This isn’t the same as compromise. Compromise is by definition a position between other alternatives. It may be safe, but more often than not, it is also the mediocre and uninspired choice.
Rather, your duty is to help the group to seek out, identify and then get behind the right decision, whatever that may be and whoever is the source of the idea.
It means letting all voices be heard, not just the alpha male that tries to dominate every situation, and the lioness always ready to attack, but also the timid intelligent one that never speaks, the guy that loves to play devil’s advocate.
A big part of that will involve making sure the right questions get asked and then guiding the group to come up with the best answers in response.
6) Keep things moving.
Nothing destroys interest, ideas and inspiration like a meeting with no momentum. So as the guide your role is to ensure continual forward movement. When you sense the meeting is moving in circles, it’s time to step in. Put a mark in the ground and show everyone how things have gone full circle. Restate the objective to get them all refocused, then start moving again.
If that doesn’t work, you should consider breaking, moving to a different subject, or even trying some facilitative exercises or games (which you have of course previously devised) to help everyone approach the problem from a different angle.
Even if you don’t share the timings of the meeting with the attendants, you should yourself have very clear timings allocated for each part of the meeting so that you can keep the meeting on schedule.
Whatever it takes, keep things moving or face your doom.
7) Get clear action points
An action point tells you who is going to do what and by when. Every action point must have those three elements (who, what, when) to be effective. Don’t leave the meeting with anything other than total clarity on these three things, or nothing will ever get done.
8) Record decisions & action points and follow up afterwards
A meeting with no outcomes is only slightly worse than a meeting with outcomes that no one later remembers.
No one ever reads minutes. So, as much as you should make sure there is a minute taker, do not assume that people will ever look back at the minutes themselves to find out what happened.
So, if you don’t want the great decisions and action points to be lost to history, keep a clear personal record of what was decided, as well as what action points were agreed, and then send them to the relevant people after the meeting.
This way, even if people don’t read the minutes, they will still know what happened that mattered.
It’s a tough gig to chair a meeting. If you’re playing God, you shouldn’t expect to get love and thanks, but you should at least get your rewards in heaven.