How to chair a better meeting

Dan Bishop, head of operations and services at the Association of Chairs, reveals how to make the best use of everyone's time

What qualities make a good chair?

Being enthusiastic and able to inspire enthusiasm in others is essential. If a meeting has been tiring and tense, you need to make sure people stay motivated so they will come back next time. Some say that being an extravert helps, but introverts can make good chairs too.

What’s the role of the chair during a meeting?

The chair plays a leadership role in that they are responsible for leading the discussion, steering the committee towards decisions and guiding people through their duties. There’s a bit of a myth that chairs can make decisions by themselves, but in fact, they have very few powers unless specifically granted in your constitution.

What makes a good chair?

It’s important to be authoritative without being dictatorial. You have to respect that you’re all colleagues and equals around the room, and remember that everyone is a volunteer. Be warm and friendly, both in meetings and outside of meetings, but also willing to call people out if they’re not contributing positively to a discussion.

How should you plan your agenda?

It’s important to think about the order of items. If there’s something contentious, consider its position on the list carefully. Some people like to get the harder conversations over with first, but personally, I prefer to have the more general updates at the start, so you’ve got the information you need to make the bigger decisions. Above all, be sensitive and consider changes in tone and energy as you move through the different agenda items.

What’s the best way to deal with people who are too talkative?

You could say: ‘That’s great – I’d just like to stop you there so we can hear from others on this topic.’ Bring in people who aren’t talking enough, for example: ‘Before I open this up for discussion, I want to hear what so-and-so has to say.’

How should you deal with conflict between committee members?

People often want the same outcome but passionately disagree on how to go about it. Identify which areas they can agree on so you can move forward. Keeping the tone positive helps. If people are being rude, it helps to have a code of conduct to refer to. You might say: ‘We all agreed on these values, and we’re not behaving like that right now.’

How do you make sure a meeting runs to time?

Sending information out in advance saves time – you don’t want to be reading out stats in the meeting. Being clear on priorities is helpful, as is being aware of your form on particular topics – if you’ve discussed something in previous meetings, how long has it taken? If a discussion isn’t reaching a consensus, decide to return to it at the next meeting or set up a working group.


  • The Association of Chairs is a membership body for chairs of charities and non-profit organisations. See their free guide for chairs.