Learning at Work week is an annual event in May. It aims to to put a spotlight on the importance and benefits of learning and development at work. This year it takes place from 14th-20th May and the theme is 'Networked for Learning'.

ScOPT are running a series of articles on the website to tie in with Learning at Work week.

This post is by ScOPT Trustee Moira Dunworth gives some top tips to take you from a quivering wreck to a poised and effective meeting Chair!


Top tips for effective chairing of meetings

Moira Dunworth

The theme of Learning at Work Week 2018 is ‘networked for learning’. One of our most often-used forms of networking is meetings. Many people quail at the thought of chairing a work meeting. Here are my top tips to take you from a quivering wreck to a poised and effective Chair.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

  • Know the agenda in detail. You are the Chair so you should re-order it in any way that seems to you to be helpful for an effective meeting.
  • Read all papers which are going to be discussed.
  • Know the rules of the meeting including those about voting. Maybe you have a casting vote. Be prepared to use it wisely.
  • Know, if you can, who is going to attend the meeting. Know their names and their roles. Writing that down in advance will free up your headspace.
  • Be aware of the gendered nature of the space. Be aware of where people are sitting and be very aware that those sitting within your immediate line of sight have an advantage in terms of being selected to speak.

The agenda

  •  You are the Chair. You do not have to take the agenda in the order in which it has been prepared. Feel relaxed about moving the items around when that would facilitate the work of the meeting or help any member who can’t be there for the whole meeting. If you do that, mark changes clearly on your copy so that you don’t forget to go back to the items you skipped.

Be clear

  • Sit where you can most easily be seen and heard by the participants.
  • Speak clearly and without digressions.
  • Insist that people speak through you.
  • Your decision on the management of the meeting and on voting is final. If you decide that there has been sufficient discussion on one item and you move onto the next item, do not brook any attempt to hinder that process. Your objective is the smooth and timely operation of the meeting, not giving everyone a chance to hear the sound of their own voice (again).

Be able to ask for help

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help from others. This might be in counting raised hands, in fetching water or a missing paper. You can hold your authority without having to do everything yourself.

Hesitation vs decision

  • Listen to people.
  • Make sure that a range of voices has been heard on an item.
  • Pause.
  • Decide on that item
  • Move on.
  • When asking the floor for a view, don’t give more than two choices, they can’t respond with a show of hands to more than a simple question such as ‘Shall we move on?’


  • Gender is huge element of any meeting. Women, generally, speak less in meetings. Men, sometimes, speak over women, interrupt and take credit for an idea first suggested by a woman. Do not tolerate the first two and be alert for the third.
  • Be prepared to say ‘we have not heard from many of the women in this meeting on this point. Could I have a view from some women on this?’ Pause. Just wait for a full minute and you will see women responding – you may not need anything as long as a minute. Most of the meeting will appreciate that approach and you may then find it replicated by other chairs.

If you are challenged...

  • Your role as Chair is to ensure the smooth and effective running of the meeting. Ask the challenger to respect that.
  • Don’t pander.
  • Don’t get sidetracked.
  • Do ask for support from others … ‘can I take an indicative vote? Who wishes me to move on at this point?’


  • Have confidence in yourself. That confidence comes from excellent preparation and clarity as to the purpose of the meeting and of your role.

Good luck!


One Comment

  1. Deirdre Fitzpatrick says:

    Great article Moira! Some great advice that really works! I took cognizance of your advice this week when I chaired a meeting via Skype. I found that the advice listed in your article was even more relevant when using technology. The importance of confident clear communication is even more important when chairing a Skype meeting with multiple participants across the country. I certainly learned that it is possible to chair a meeting remotely and in fact, having a chair who is on Skype ensures that other participants who are on Skype, are given equal attention rather than a disproportionate amount of time spent on those who attend in person.

    Thanks for some great and very valid pointers!

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