Overcome Nerves As a First Time Chairperson
Chairing a meeting for the first time can be a nerve-racking experience and can even paralyze some people. However, it is an important role and being selected to chair a meeting is an acknowledgment that you are considered a good leader and moderator for your group, so take heart in that knowledge and get prepared!
- Make sure that you have all the papers needed. Ask the secretary and any other relevant members to provide you with the right papers. It is also prudent to read the principle materials that will be discussed at the meeting to avoid any feelings of ambush or uncertainty as to what is being discussed.
- Form your own view of the possible directions of the meeting. In the main, a chairperson is viewed as a neutral party who is expected to steer the meeting and take account of all viewpoints there. This doesn't necessarily mean that you cannot show your colors (that depends on the constitution or nature of the group being chaired) but it does place an onus on you to show respect for all viewpoints and to expect that from all participants. If you have worked out in advance what possible issues and concerns might be, along with any potential for volatile situations, you will be well-prepared for whatever may arise. Plan in advance how you will deal with each possible scenario.
- Remain calm. All eyes are generally not on you for content - eyes will be on you for leadership and summarizing of viewpoints. This means you need to note the views, directions and options that arise during the meeting so that you can reflect the discussion back to the group and present decisions to be voted on as needed. If you are a chairperson in the position of being able to influence a meeting's outcome through direct voting or taking the final decision on meeting items, then your having noted everyone's views and summarization becomes even more important as a means by which you justify your decisions.
- Know the rules governing the meeting. You should read through the rules relating to the meeting. Ask questions of office-bearers before attending the meeting so that you are not uncertain about things. Remember this if you remember nothing else - "the rules are your friends". They are the tools by which you can keep order in the meeting, direct members back to the relevant points of discussion and support your casting vote. The rules will help you to be a more effective chairperson.
- Take a deep breath before you enter the room. It helps to arrive a few minutes early to set up your papers and to greet meeting participants. If you don't know their names, have a visual diagram of who is sitting where by name that you can refer to. Keep a small notepad and favorite pen or pencil to write down salient points, questions and summarizations. Make sure that your papers are all in order before commencing the meeting.
- Be honest. People are generally forgiving if you make it clear you are a novice. If you don't know something, you can say that you will take it on notice and get back, or you can open the question to the meeting group. Or, you can admit that you don't know as you are still learning and that you place yourself at the grace of those around you to assist in responding. This last action will, of course, depend on the context of the meeting and may not be appropriate in some environments where it is important to convey a sense of control. But in the main, it is better to be open and transparent about your limitations than to perform an action that causes difficulties for the project, group or process in the long-run.
- Trust in your abilities. As stated at the outset, it is important to trust yourself. You are in this role because others believe that you can perform it. Everyone expects a learning curve and provided you accept that your meeting members have faith in you, it is likely you will quickly grow to love the role.
- Use briefing documents and bullet points to guide you through the chairing sessions.
- It helps for every meeting member to have nameplates unless you all know one another well.
- Chairing a meeting is ultimately about keeping order and ensuring that meeting members feel that they have had their points of view put across fairly. Your role is as a facilitator, a leader and a constructive voice.
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