How to conduct a meeting is a required skill for any one who wishes to be competent in leadership in workplace, organizations, conferences or discussions.
This post exposes the duty of the chairman in a meeting, conference or other gatherings that need harmony.
Chairmanship is a form of art. Like every other art, chairmanship is developed and improved by training and practice.
The Position of chairman is an interesting and responsible one, well within the capacity of anyone who wants to further the cause of his organization and willing to take the trouble to study the relevant procedure and the right way to conduct a meeting.
Unconsciously, certain people obviously possess the necessary qualifications for chairmanship, but it is desirable to look for the following:
- A friendly calm disposition
- Objective and clear thinking
- Good knowledge of procedure
- Absolute control of temper and good humour
The chairmanship duties are mainly administrative, whereas those of a secretary are executive.
When presiding at a meeting, the chairman is responsible for its conduct, and it is for him to see that the business is properly carried out and that order is kept.
His authority is almost absolute, so it will be appreciated that he should know how to use that authority to the best advantage.
Let us consider the qualities mentioned, with a view to understanding how they affect the smooth and efficient running of the organization concerned.
The right way to conduct a Meeting will teach you holding an important and responsible position, with control over the meetings through which the business of the organization is transacted, it will be realized that the personality of the chairman and his ability to create the correct atmosphere must have a considerable influence on the whole structure.
If he is friendly and a good mixer, others will follow his example and the general atmosphere will be friendly; but if he is inclined to the brusque and unapproachable, this attitude will be reflected in the members, there will inevitably be cliques and factions.
ALSO READ: How to Take Useful Minutes in a Meeting
A calm and even temperament is a great asset in a chairman as this creates a feeling of stability, where as if there is too much volatility, the reverse is the case.
Such a person is also more likely to remain unperturbed by a noisy meeting or difficult committee, and it is often only the efficiency of the chairman which prevents the complete breakdown of a meeting or the disruption of negotiations.
The ability to think clearly and objectively is important, especially I committee work.
The chairman is, or should be, in a position to know all the ramifications of the business on the agenda and it is his duty to put all sides of the question to the members before a decision is reached.
By withholding information, emphasizing one point or understating another in the initial stage of a discussion, or by a biased summing-up, he can often influence the result – a power which is open to abuse unless controlled by a clear brain and an open mind.
It is easy to influence people if one has knowledge and strong feelings about the matter under discussion.
The wise chairman will Endeavour not to obtrude his personal views until his opinion is sought, but present the facts and information at his disposal as clearly as possible, leaving the meeting to make its own decisions.
Our whole system of procedure is designed to produce democratic government, whether it is in the House of Assembly or on the local Town Club, and this purpose is largely destroyed if the chairman arrogates to himself the role of a dictator.
His function is to inform and advise but not to direct decisions, otherwise why have committees and conferences at all?
3. Meeting Control
Obviously, if a chairman is to carry out his function effectively, he must know the correct procedure for the type of meeting over which he is to preside.
General rules for each of the various meetings are given later in subsequent posts, and the beginner should study them carefully.
It should be emphasized that, in addition to general procedure, he should possess a sound knowledge of the rules – or Standing Orders – laid down in the constitution of his particular society, as these take precedence over any other forms of procedure.
Frequently, one hears correct procedure condemned as being stereotyped, “red tape”, detrimental to discussion, a waste of time and destructive of friendliness. These accusations are based on fallacies.
A well-run meeting will get through more business, waste less time and give greater opportunity for free speech and sound decisions than the haphazard affair where everyone talks at once, or one or two people are allowed to hold the floor to the detriment of the tempers of the rest.
How many of us have probably abstained from voting because we were not sufficiently clear on the point at issue?
Perhaps one of the most difficult things with which the average chairman has to contend is his own temper; but self-control in this respect is vital to the successful management of any meeting.
He should remember the value of humour as an antidote to rising tempers. To paraphrase a well-known saying: “A witty answer turneth away wrath”, and the chairman who has this gift is indeed fortunate.
As has been said, audiences take their tone from the presiding officer, and irritability or loss of temper by the chairman will react adversely on the meeting.
Tempers can easily become frayed from all sorts of outside causes, but nothing has a more stabilizing effect than a leader who refuses to get “rattled”.
The writer saw a very good example of effective chairmanship at a big political meeting, where feeling was running high.
Interrupters refused to allow the speaker to make himself heard, so instead of trying to shout them down, he quietly sat down, leaving the chairman to restore order.
The chairman stood up, but made no attempt to quell the uproar; instead, he stood up behind his table, calmly regarding the audience.
After a few moments, the hecklers realized that they were getting nowhere, and the noise gradually subsided. The chairman waited until there was complete silence, then calmly asked: “Do you want Mr. Chims to continue his talk or not? It is all the same to us”. This was so evidently true that the rest of the speech was heard in silence.
Had either speaker or chairman shown any signs of agitation or temper, that meeting would have been doomed. Naturally, disrupted meetings do not always end so happily; that this one did was entirely due to the personality of the chairman.
How to conduct a meeting: Basic rules of chairmanship to conduct a meeting
The usual procedure followed at public committee and annual general meetings, conferences, debates and discussions will be dealt with under the appropriate chapters; but a few universal rules governing all types of meetings may be helpful.
- The chairman by virtue of his office takes precedence over all others present at the meeting which he is presiding.
- He has the final say over any matter of procedure. In a situation where the meeting loses confidence in the chairman, the method to eject him from office is as follows:
A resolution must be moved by a member “That this meeting has no confidence in the chairman”, which must be seconded and put to the meeting – this is usually by the secretary. If the resolution is favoured by a large majority the chairman must vacate the chair.
The meeting will then either close or elect another chairman to complete the business.
This is a very unusual occurrence, but provides some measure of protection against inefficiency and an overbearing chairman.
The resolution of “No confidence” operates for one meeting only, but would very probably be followed by the resignation of the chairman; otherwise a most uncomfortable state of affairs would ensue.
Note that the majority required is a large one.
- The chairman usually has a casting vote, to be used only when the voting for and against the resolution is equal. If he is wise he will use this vote to support the status quo. A resolution carried against such strong opposition seldom operates well, whereas if it is rejected it leaves the situation open and the whole matter can then be re-considered at a subsequent meeting.
- If offering himself for re-election, the chairman should not preside during the actual period when the election is taking place. He should absent himself to allow unhampered discussion, and the vice-chairman or a temporary chairman takes his place. If he is re-elected, he can, if the members so desire, return to the chair to preside over the rest of the meeting.
- The chairman should always stand to address the meeting, except in committees, and even then it is often desirable.
- The chairman should insist that all questions, comments and observations made by any member of an audience or committee must be addressed to the chairman and not directly to the speaker or to anyone else in the room. Except at a committee meeting, the speaker should stand.
This rule applies to all meetings, and the chairman who fails to enforce it will quickly lose control of the audience.
While being addressed, the chairman should sit down, as the rules of chairmanship do not permit anyone else to speak while he is standing.
This gives him some control over the speakers, as the mere fact of his rising to his feet should enforce immediate silence.
The correct phrase for addressing the chairman is: “Mr. or Madam Chairman, may I ask the speaker …”; Mr. Chairman, will the speaker tell us …”; May I ask through the chair …”; or at a committee meeting, “Mr. Chairman, may I ask …”. The actual wording matters little, provided the question is definitely put through the chairman.
Unless the questioner stands, it is almost impossible to see who is speaking. The chairman should be sure that no one wishing to speak is overlooked, as this creates a feeling of frustration and may give offence.
- The appropriated procedure should be used at all times, however small and friendly the meeting. If members do not know it, they will quickly learn and appreciate the resulting efficiency and saving of time. Members attending business meetings should be expected to know the rules of the organization.
- Meetings should begin punctually and close formally, so that everyone is quite clear when the business is concluded.
- The chairman should work in close contact with the secretary. The two offices are complementary, not interchangeable, and the chairman is neither a dictator nor a passenger.
Dos and don’ts of the chairman to conduct a meeting
Be brief – a long-winded chairman is a menace. Learn to focus the point of what has to be said and express it clearly and concisely.
Learn to suffer fools gladly, and avoid impatience or sarcasm, especially with shy and nervous people, as they may be too intimidated to speak again.
Cultivate a pleasant expression and be careful not to go into a coma when listening to dull speech. Remember, the chairman is in full view of the audience and they will react to his attitude.
Audiences resent a careless appearance, so pay particular attention to personal details.
Avoid fidgeting, as idiosyncrasies and mannerisms divert the concentration of the audience.
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