The ability to chair meetings is an important skill to develop as a project manager and/or researcher. The Chairperson, in short, is the person responsible for setting the pace of the meeting and making sure everyone stays focused. While this blog post primarily focuses on tips for actually managing a meeting as the Chairperson, you may also want to check out my blog post on planning a research meeting if you’re new to this role. Properly planning the research meeting is a foundational step to chairing a meeting; not having things like an agenda or clear purpose for the meeting makes for a pretty ineffective meeting.1
Start (and End) On Time
Starting and ending on time is important.2 Starting late looks disorganized, and ending late could be interpreted as not respecting people’s time.
A few rules of thumb:
- Arrive early. If you’re hosting the meeting, try to arrive at your meeting location about 10-15 minutes early if possible.3 This gives you time to set up.
- Don’t wait for latecomers. Start the meeting on time rather than waiting for stragglers.2-3 In health research, it isn’t uncommon for people to be late due to patient care responsibilities. However, you don’t want to waste everyone else’s time by waiting for someone to show up. You can catch up latecomers when they arrive or through circulating the meeting minutes afterwards.
- Be respectful of others’ schedules if a meeting goes late. Sometimes a meeting runs late. It happens. As the Chairperson, you need to acknowledge the time and ensure people are okay with the meeting going late.1 I like to make it clear that anyone who needs to leave at the initially planned time is free to do so.
Get everyone to introduce themselves at the start of the meeting if they don’t already know each other. In my experience it’s also helpful for people to describe their role on the project. This will help avoid some potential awkwardness or interruptions later in the meeting as people try to figure out who’s responsible for what.
Keep Everyone Focused and On Track
One time I was in a teleconference when another researcher – who I was calling in with from the same location – quietly told me that a meeting participant was tweeting during the call. I politely pointed out to my colleague that he was clearly also on Twitter. I think the irony may have been lost on my colleague because he “liked” the participant’s tweets in an attempt to call out this individual for being on Twitter during a meeting.
Managing these sorts of issues – whether it’s an in-person or virtual meeting – is part of chairing a meeting. As the Chairperson, you need to maintain control and keep the meeting focused.2 This involves maintaining a fine balance between ensuring everyone is involved but not putting them on the spot. Quieter participants could be shy, have little to say, or they may be new to the group.
Or they might be tweeting.
Typically I give introverts an opportunity to speak by asking if anyone has anything to add before we move on to the next agenda item. In my experience (as a project manager and introvert), shy people will often speak up at this point.
Keeping things on track also includes watching the clock to ensure the meeting ends on time and too much time isn’t spent on one agenda item.2 You should also shutdown any sidebar conversations.1 In a similar vein, keep an eye out for discussion that is not relevant at this time, needs further investigation, requires another person there to make a decision, or only concerns a small number of the meeting participants. These items can be moved to Other Business at the end of the meeting or tabled for future discussion as appropriate.
Maintain an Open, Collaborative Environment
One of the first steps to maintaining a collaborative environment is thanking the people who helped organize the meeting or are helping out during it.3 For example, if someone has joined the meeting to take meeting minutes, acknowledge and thank them at the beginning of the meeting.
A collaborative environment should be open to new ideas; suggestions shouldn’t just be shot down. As a Chairperson, you need to model cooperation and collaboration,4 but you also need to maintain authority3 because you’re the one establishing the group’s norms for meetings.4 You can do this by listening to everyone’s ideas – even if they depart from the opinions of the majority – because everyone in a meeting will bring their own unique ideas and perspectives.3 In research meetings in particular you are often sitting around a table with people who are respected experts in their field. While opinions may clash, it doesn’t mean they’re wrong.
Take Meeting Minutes
Taking meeting minutes is important because it ensures there is a record of what was discussed, decisions made, and who is responsible for any further actions.
Include the following in your meeting minutes:
- Date, time and location
- Name of project / meeting
- Names of attendees and those who were unable to attend (“regrets”)
- Agenda items and notes on the discussion, follow-up to be done and who is responsible for any action items
- When the meeting ended
- When the next meeting will be occurring (if known)
Whether you take notes on your computer or on paper is really a matter of personal preference. I’m a fast typer and I’ve developed my own shorthand (thank you nursing school!) so I’m comfortable doing either. Typically I use my computer, but I recommend using an old-fashioned pen and paper if you’re on a webconference because the microphone will pick up the sound of you typing. Very annoying for others on the call. You may also want to avoid taking minutes on your computer if you are a slow typer or are easily distracted by email/social media.
Handwritten minutes need to be typed up afterwards. Although scanning and photocopying are faster, others may not be able to read your writing. A scanned handwritten version is also less advantageous for team collaboration and accuracy because does not allow the rest of the team to easily make additions or changes.
Circulating the Minutes
Review for any typos, and then get key members of the team (e.g. the Principal Investigators) to review your minutes before they are circulated. Remember, surprised PI = unhappy PI.
Once they are approved by key individuals, the minutes can be circulated to the rest of the team. Make sure you also save the minutes in the appropriate location. Depending on your project and ethics requirements, this could be on an internal server, Google Drive, or Dropbox.
- Mohr Catalano, E. (2016). Managing effective meetings. In A. J. Viera, & R. Kramer (Eds.), Management and Leadership Skills for Medical Faculty (pp. 77-83). New York: Springer.
- Caruth, D., & Caruth, G. (2012). Three prongs to managing meetings. Industrial Management, 54(6), 28-30.
- Dobson, A. (1999). Managing meetings: How to prepare for them, how to run them, how to follow up the results (2nd). Plymbridge House: Plymouth, UK.
- Levasseur, R. (1992). People skills: What every professional should know about designing and managing meetings. Interfaces, 22(2), 11-14.