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24 July 2018
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Chairing a meeting

Chairing a meeting is challenging and is a skill that few receive formal training for. Effective chairing is critical to ensure a successful meeting and requires preparation and awareness of the role.

Scope of the meeting – review these questions before every meeting.

  • Is the meeting essential – could email or a conference call be a more appropriate and convenient form of communication?
  • What are the aims and desired objectives of this meeting – is it dissemination of information, to make a collective decision, or to achieve progress on action plans?
  • Ensure the agenda is clear, concise and will achieve your aim – if it is a recurring meeting be sure to have running agenda items with the opportunity to recap and keep stock of progress.
  • In order to achieve the objectives, consider who needs to attend the meeting - this may evolve and you can usually add contributors as the work proceeds or if gaps are identified.

TOP TIP:  Consider having people attending for specific parts of the meeting if they are not required for all of it.

  • Will the meeting be in person, via teleconference, or both?
  • How long does the meeting need to be and how often will these meetings need to occur? This may evolve as work progresses.
  • Who does the meeting report to and how will you disseminate information to those affected by the meetings’ decisions?

TOP TIP: If meetings are going to be held regularly, and in the same format, consider writing these up as a formal terms of reference (ToR), available to all participants.


Every meeting should have a written record of what is discussed along with agreed action points – known as ‘minutes’ of the meeting. Sensitive or confidential items should not be recorded and distributed in the minutes.

There should be a dedicated individual to minute the meetings and the individual should be identified by the chair before the meeting starts. Most meetings begin by recapping and agreeing the minutes of the previous meeting and reviewing the status of agreed action points – this is an important process to monitor the committee’s work.

TOP TIP: If available from your trust, dedicated administrative assistance can be deployed in this role. Otherwise, a rolling rota for minute-taking can be a fair way to allocate this responsibility across meetings (see template). It is always worth asking for volunteers to join this rota.

The agenda

The agenda outlines what needs to be discussed to achieve the meeting’s aim. It is crucial for keeping the meeting focused, productive and to time.

TOP TIP: Build leeway for overrun in the agenda if you are concerned that the meeting may not keep to time. It is bad practice to allow a meeting to run over, especially if this is done repeatedly. Remember, the time of individual items gives participants clear guidance on the intended length and detail of discussions.

Where possible, circulate agendas and pertinent background information in advance. The order of an agenda can set the tone of the discussions. Depending on the sensitivity and length of topics, the chair has the discretion to order the agenda items as they see fit. More important items should be kept near the start of the meeting. This prevents decisions being rushed due to lack of time, or poor engagement due to reduced attention from participants.

TOP TIP: Avoid leaving difficult topics to the end as there may not be enough time to resolve issues and will finish the meeting on a negative note.

The roles and responsibilities of the chair in the meeting

The chair sets the direction of the meeting, keeping it to time and focus. A good chair ensures all participants are included in the meeting, tactfully prevents individual participants from dominating the conversation and avoids voicing their own opinion too strongly. They also listen to the discussion and draw together the main points before setting clear, actionable plans.

TOP TIP: Be tactful when trying to bring in participants who have not yet contributed to discussions.  Watch for non-verbal signals that individual are not happy and address this by giving members the opportunity to speak.  When handled respectfully and professionally by the group, this will build trust, improve teamwork and improve outcomes.

As well as housekeeping rules (eg fire drills, locations of toilets etc) it can be helpful to outline the meeting’s rules of engagement, including how participants should indicate they want to speak and how discussions will be structured. These can also be outlined at the top of the agenda.

TOP TIP: Start the meeting with a round of introductions. This is particularly helpful if there are individuals who are joining the meeting via videoconference or telephone. It should be clear from the chair’s introduction how much information participants should offer.

TOP TIP: Chairing a meeting when some or all of the participants have joined by phone is more challenging. Seeking views from those on the phone at the end of each item allows them to express their views.

Action points

Action points are crucial to ensuring progress between meetings. These are the tasks and jobs that participants agree to undertake. It is the chair’s responsibility to ensure these are clear, actionable and equitable. It should be clear who is responsible for the delivery of each action point and this should be recorded within the minutes set a time frame for the points.

When reviewing the minutes of the previous meeting it is important to run through the agreed action points. A meeting that does not produce action points is unlikely to have been an effective meeting. If actions are not completed by the date agreed, the chair will need to be appropriately firm.

For example:

At the January meeting, the finance officer was identified as the best person to solicit tenders for equipping the outpatient clinic.

The action point, in the meeting’s minutes, would read ‘Mr X to seek tenders from external companies by the next quarterly meeting’.

At the next meeting in April, when reviewing the January meeting’s minutes, the chair checks that this task has been completed. This is generally termed ‘matters arising’.

TOP TIP: A chair can find it difficult to maintain oversight of the meeting if they are too actively involved in the delivery of most of the actions. It is important to delegate appropriately but remain accountable for the delivery.

Closing a meeting

At the end of the meeting the chairperson should sum up, remind the committee members what they have accomplished and thank them for their attendance. If possible, the date and time of the next meeting should be identified or reiterated.

TOP TIP: Actively seek feedback on both the meeting format and your performance and remain open to areas of improvement. You can do this at a later time via email. If you change the way the meeting is run – acknowledge that this has been on the back of feedback. It enables participants to be more empowered and involved.

Suggested further reading

‘Time to Think’, by Nancy Kline, offers a number of useful methodologies to improve meeting participation including opening and closing rounds.

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Authored by Dr Judith Tweedie, past Chair FMLM Trainee Steering Group

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