Meetings are a curse of modern life - and if they go on for hours without getting anywhere you might as well have stayed in bed. But it doesn't have to be that way. A well prepared chair can keep things on track, get the meeting finished on time and make sure there are meaningful results. It just takes organisation and discipline.
Key skills for keeping meetings under control include:
>> Assertiveness The more contentious the issue, the firmer you need to be. Don't be rude or dogmatic, but use phrases such as 'I think we should hear what Ms Smith thinks,' to ensure everyone has their say. And you'll also need to stop people butting in.
>> Stay on course Assess the importance of each item on the agenda, and allocate time to each topic. If one issue begins to dominate, take control. Suggest a further meeting, or that the main parties continue the discussion later or that a decision is taken there and then, but don't force a rushed decision just to keep the meeting moving.
>> Active listening This invisible skill is arguably the chair's toughest challenge. Don't let your mind wander. Focus on what each person is saying, make sure it relates to the business in hand, and be aware of how long they are taking to make their point.
This may be used to end a topic or discussion, or to establish that everyone knows what action is now required. State concisely what was said in an impartial way and end with a clear statement about what is expected to happen next. It takes practice, but it's a technique worth developing.