How to chair a meeting: 9 ways to make a success of it

Conference room with empty chairs - CC0 Public Domain

Finely honed after years of experience, here are my top tips for how to chair a meeting with the traditional ‘panel of speakers followed by questions’ format:

  1. Start late. It’s unfair to start before everyone is there.
  2. Make up for starting late by finishing late. Otherwise, you’re cruelly cutting short the session people have given up their own time to attend.
  3. Make extensive opening remarks as the chair. This allows people who realise they have turned up to the wrong room to gracefully make their exit pretending that an urgent call has just come through on their phone.
  4. Call the panel speakers in random order. This gives everything an extra little buzz of excitement that keeps attention levels up and makes the speakers perform at their best.
  5. Do not cut off your opening speakers, even if their opening remarks ‘over-run’. That’s because different people speak at very different speeds. Keeping everyone to the same time limits is unfair.
  6. When it comes to questions, always take the first three from white men. There’ll be far more of them wanting to ask questions so you need to get a good number of them in first to have a chance of being fair in who you call.
  7. Make sure every questioner introduces themselves properly: people like knowing who is taking so get all the questioners to give a two minute personal introduction ahead of their question.
  8. Do not force an adversarial mindset on the audience: it is fine if someone wants to make a short speech rather than ask a question.
  9. Turn off the lights: it’s the best way to make sure people really concentrate on what’s being said.


With apologies to the excellent post ‘No one likes a meeting. Can we fix this?‘ and to Janet Grauberg for sending the post my way.

4 responses to “How to chair a meeting: 9 ways to make a success of it”

  1. Ah, but it’s important when making those extensive opening remarks to talk about things only slightly connected to the subject of the night. This broadens the debate and may entice those people present by mistake to stay, uncertain what the meeting is about. One of them might one day be in your place!

    You’ve also missed the necessity of only looking over one side of the room when taking questions. You will never be a referee.

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