Notes on Chairing Meetings
Chairing the discussion circle is an important skill. Here are some observations built up from our project which might help.
- The most important thing to remember is that the meeting is a discussion for the benefit of the participants. Despite the seriousness of themes - we sometimes, deliberately, look into the abyss - our evenings are enjoyable.
- The objective is not to create a list of actions. (The only actions ever created would be housekeeping issues to do with the running of the Circle). However, we are in favour of active citizenship and individuals may well decide to do something further as a result our discussions
- All views are important and worthy. Personal attacks, hopefully only verbal, are unacceptable.
- Give everyone a chance to share their views. Encourage the reticent. Observe body language to tease out the opinions of those who are less likely to 'shout up'
- Don't allow a few to dominate. Use phrases like 'June next followed by Fred then Jim' to create order when there is particular interest in a topic.
- Certain members might take a long time to get their views across. Patience might deliver a brilliant insight into the issue. There is however a balance, remind the persisently long winded - gently - that each person has only a minute or less to express a view.
- The Chair person is allowed to express views and participate in the discussion but great care is required so as not to abuse your position. Take particular care not to 'push' your pet view - it's not about you!
- The agenda, or notes, are a guide in this type of meeting. Timings are best left flexible depending on the energy generated around each point. It does not matter if you get so much energy that you don't get through all the points. You can always use the rest as a sequel in a future meeting.
- It can be helpful to recap and summarize the main points of the discussion at certain points throughout the meeting.
- You can handle a group from about 6-16 people. Any bigger and individual participation and hence enjoyment is reduced. Any smaller and the discussion can be stunted.
- It helps the group to have a number of chair persons so that, there is variety, absences are covered, work load is shared and there is opportunity for personal development.
- It is probably necessary to have a leader, who may or may not chair, but who takes responsibility for the circle as a whole. One of the main jobs for the leader is generating by agreement the forward programme of discussion topics.