How to chair an effective meeting

This blog post was written by Mark Wearden, an experienced NED, a nationally recognised authority on corporate governance, a prolific author, and an outstanding trainer and mentor.


Our whole experience of meetings has had to be transformed rapidly over the past three years. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, online meetings were the exception rather than the rule in the majority of organisations. Suddenly a whole new meeting culture developed to cope with Zoom, Teams etc – or did it? My posit is that the fundamental basics of chairing an effective meeting are very similar whether you are in a room or online.

Meetings take an inordinate amount of our time. But time is a defined and limited asset, and we need to make sure we make best use of it.

To effectively chair a group of people requires a wide range of natural and supernatural skills. It is a role that should only be undertaken after consideration of your own realistic time availability aligned with sufficient brain space and energy.

The problem is that it is PEOPLE that we have to chair, and they come in all different shapes and sizes, each with their own diverse and sometimes skewed version of events, and expectations of the agenda.

How, then, do you retain your sanity?  I am not suggesting that the following 5-fold route is a guarantee to chairing a successful meeting, but it should certainly help in the taking of a logical and practical approach to the issues involved.

The meeting itself

Start with the end in mind – in other words unless you know where you are trying to get to, you have no chance of getting there.

Preparation: the cerebral process Chairing the meeting: the reality

Identify the core objective(s) of the meeting.  You need to be in control of ensuring the goal is achievable.


Start with a simple summary statement of the intent, purpose and proposed flow of the meeting. Use your 5 core words.


Think your way through the likely obstacles in the path of achieving the objectives (these will be people and/or topics)


Make sure you are ready for the meeting ahead of time, start on time. Ensure you have eye contact with key participants.


Translate your route into an agenda.  Plan the optimal order and timings to achieve your objectives.


Use the structure that you have created, but be responsive and flexible to the flow and creativity of the meeting.


Contemplate the style of delivery that you will need to adopt to handle the forthcoming variety of people and issues


Keep your eye on the clock and keep brief notes against your agenda to ensure all points are covered within the timeframe


Determine the dynamic message of the meeting in your own mind.  I recommend 5 core words which you then ensure you repeat at the opening, during and in conclusion.


Ensure the objective is achieved by regular refocusing/refreshing of the conversation/discussion. Make use of your dynamic message and core words.

Keep your composure throughout your life as Chairman.  You are fulfilling the role for a reason; others have faith and confidence in your ability. Consider their expectations: Consider your own expectations: Consider the group/team/organisation expectations. Build your mental model for success and then deliver it!

Meeting dynamics, logistics and documentation

  • Why are we holding this meeting – is it just through habit?
  • Is the structure, timing and format optimal for the subject and for the people involved?
  • Are we making best use of people’s time?
Provision of data and other supportive information
  • Who is the best person in the organisation to drill into the detail?
  • Can we provide this internally, or do we need to use outside expertise?
  • Who is best placed to distil the data that has been researched and then align this with the original need?
  • This may be me, but perhaps there is someone who will take a more objective view, and free up my time!


  • Who is going to challenge this data and information?
  • This is an essential and useful proactive mental exercise.  If I cannot identify any potential challengers, perhaps I am dealing with either facile information or a complacent set of directors?   Do I need to provide a ‘devil’s advocate’ challenge?
  • What is the best form of presentation and who will prepare this?
    • A written document?
    • Figures, graphs, charts?
    • A set of PowerPoint slides?
    • A simple executive summary?
  • Remember that the human brain is much more likely to respond to something visual rather than interminable words!
  • As chair, I should be the person who understands the human need and emotional intelligence of the attendees; I can greatly enhance the focus of the information, and thus the efficacy of a meeting, by ensuring an appropriate style of presentation!
  • Has sufficient time been allocated on the meeting agenda for sensible discussion and consideration prior to any required decision?
  • When do I need to issue the information to ensure my directors have sufficient time for their consideration?
  • Do we need a decision, and how significant is it?
  • Do we need to ensure that we reference and/or minute any reference to the stakeholder sub-clauses in Section 172 of Companies Act 2006 (director’s duty to act for the success of members)?
  • As chair, I need to be clear in my mind of the significance of any potential decision.  I need to have a pre-emptive view of the type of minute that will be produced and thus ensure that necessary discussion, challenge etc has taken place.  I need to ensure that the integrity and efficacy of my directors and the process are protected by ensuring due-process, participation and the right words!


The Boardroom Effectiveness Company offers a wide range of training, coaching and consultancy services aimed at helping boards be more effective.  Take a look at our full range of services or give us a call on 01582 463465 – we’re always happy to help.

Categories: Boardroom, Training

Recomended Posts