Chairing a meeting effectively

Points to remember when chairing a meeting ensuring you are unbiased and successful

Many union reps will chair meetings as part of their role and those that don't may in the future or will in someone's absence.

What makes a good chair?

Below are some general pointers about what makes a good chair of a meeting. Some reps will have these skills, possibly without realising them, others will benefit from development in some of these areas:

  • An understanding of the issues and topics being discussed
  • A personal knowledge of the meeting attendees
  • Strength of personality and character allowing you to stand your ground and to effectively manage the meeting. Be able to utilise your authority e.g. prevent discussions wandering, prevent those without anything new to add repeating the same point, being able to move on when a point is discussed as far as possible etc
  • Being able to sum-up the points made in discussions so that before a vote the members know what they being asked to decide on. This requires you to have an understanding of the issues and topics being discussed and keenly listening to the discussions
  • Knowing how things should be done e.g. knowing the ‘standing orders’ (rules governing the meeting)  and not have to look them up
  • The ability to deal with people outside meetings.

It is important to get feedback from others about your ability to chair. Ask others what they think your weaknesses are, possibly asking them how the meeting progressed and what weaknesses there were. Look at how others chair meetings (for instance in branch executive or other union meetings) and create some best practice.

General running of meeting

Before the meeting starts:

  • Have an agenda and, in conjunction with the secretary, ensure everyone has a copy in advance
  • Book a room and make sure it is easily found. Give directions if required and arrange sign posts if needed
  • Arrange seating to encourage maximum interaction and contribution. This may involve everyone sitting around a table for reasonable sized group

Starting the meeting:

  • Make sure you begin the meeting promptly on time
  • Introduce yourself and welcome all to the meeting especially new members/attendees or guests.

Fun stuff:

(A meeting doesn't just have to be about presenting/reading/discussing papers, other things can be done too)

  • Presentations about important developments. If a presentation is included may be an idea to have paper copies so these can be taken away and members aren't too distracted by taking down too many notes
  • Include slides, overheads, videos, etc. Once again, provide copies where possible, summaries of the information on the video could be useful
  • Invite outside speakers to talk about issues relevant to the committee
  • Training events - e.g. games
  • Review what has previously been done, and congratulate members when things have been accomplished
  • Bring refreshments (or allow an appropriate break if the meeting is lengthy).

Finishing the meeting:

  • Always finish on time wherever possible
  • Talk to other members about what has been discussed/or other issues if they wish
  • Make sure the minutes are written up and circulated to the members well in advance of the next meeting (speak to the secretary).

At the first meeting

DO get organised in advance

DO have a written agenda

DO introduce yourself as maybe new members or others observing don't know who you are

DO make everyone feel comfortable

DO have a method to get member's ideas, for example; brainstorming, open debate

DO have expectations about how members should give input

DO enjoy yourself

DO finish on time

DON’T talk too much as the chair – chairing is about facilitating a meeting, not dominating ittry to cover too much

DON’T have it lasting too long

DON’T assume everyone has the same knowledge or knows what you are talking about


Let members know when discussion has drifted from the topic. Usually it will quickly return to it. Remind members of the topic and the goals of the meeting.

  • Summarise what less active members have said and link associated points together. Accept parts of ideas and ask for them to be developed.
  • Spot likely problems - summarise feelings as well as content to anticipate problems.
  • State the problem - never blame anyone, and discuss any areas of disagreement in a constructive manner.
  • Clear up what decisions the group has to make, do not waste time on other things.

Remember to avoid

  • taking sides
  • becoming a participant of the discussion
  • manipulating participants toward your own agenda
  • criticising the values and ideas of others
  • forcing your own ideas on the group, if necessary relinquish the  chair to a colleague so you can take part
  • making decisions for the members without asking them for agreement
  • saying too much.


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