How to be a Great Chair for Your Next Online Meeting

In: BlogDate: May 03, 2022By: Paul Gapper

When people attend the Chairing Remote Meetings workshop, they often come looking for insight into the best online tools: Jamboard, Miro, Sli.do, Mentimeter, etc. We discuss them, and then we talk about the most important tool that a remote chair can use: the tennis racket.

Paul explains more in this blog and how you can be a great chair for your next online meeting.

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Before I explain, let’s reflect on some research that was done a few years ago. It looked at which type of meeting was the most successful: structured or unstructured. Which do you think it was? 

It turned out it didn’t matter. What did was the number of people who participated. The more people who did, the more productive the meeting was, face-to-face or online.

So, what does that suggest is the role of a chair? Perhaps, to enable that participation. We have all been there: someone in the meeting, sometimes even the chair themselves, dominates the discussion. Flies buzz around our heads, our thoughts drift to other things. 

The tennis racket is the chair’s ability to keep the conversational ball bouncing around the room. Every time it bounces towards them, they knock it out to someone else. They make sure that as many people as possible get a chance to play.

Just as important is the chair’s ability to listen. Think about the last time you were talking to a colleague and their attention wandered. Your willingness to talk reduces, the things you might have said, you do not say. There is a great quote from Nancy Kline: "The quality of your attention can determine the quality of another person’s thought."

In other words, the more deeply we are listened to, the more deeply we speak. The role of the chair, here, is to be that listener. To model what is needed from all the attendees.

When was the last time you attended an online meeting and noticed that someone (or more than one) was checking or answering their emails? How did you know? The movement of their eyes? Their disengagement? On the course, sometimes people will ask about how to read body language online. But think how quickly we pick up other people’s disengagement. This, despite the limitations of small images on Zoom or Teams.

Another quote, this time from Elise Keith: "You cannot have a meeting of minds when most of the minds are not in the meeting."

On courses, I ask people to give me a list of the ground rules they would like for their online meetings. People say, ‘Respect for others,’ ‘Contributions,’ ‘Speaking one at a time.’  Not to do your emails,’ ‘Keep your cameras on.’ 

My suggestion is not to impose ground rules on the meeting, but rather to have a discussion with the group, an agenda item, everyone contributing to an agreement. From that point on, to uphold what has been agreed. (Regarding having cameras on, sometimes people have good reasons to keep them off. In which case, this can be allowed for in the agreement.)

Sometimes there is a reason why some people contribute, and others don’t. Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking describes the way in which extraverts thrive on instantaneous responses, coming up with ideas as they speak. They love the big audience. Introverts prefer to have time to think, may thrive in smaller discussion groups. A chair can help this by providing opportunity for the subject to be thought about before the meeting, giving participants a minute to reflect.

But what about those online tools? They are many and varied, but at Happy meetings we use two: Jamboard (equivalent to an online flipchart with Post-Its) and break-out rooms. Occasionally, a poll. Beyond that, it’s what has always made meetings productive, the ability of all the attendees to participate, the willingness of the chair to listen.

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Learn More Techniques for Chairing Remote Meetings in our Workshops

Explore more tips with our short online workshop, Chairing Remote Meetings. This two-hour session will look at how to chair remote meetings. With most people working from home, we will consider how to facilitate productive and enjoyable meetings that achieve the purpose for which they have been arranged. This next runs online on 24th May.

You'll be able to explore chairing meetings in more detail in our one-day workshop, Chairing Meetings. The day will provide information on carrying through the role of chair and will consider some of the difficulties that can confront the person in the chair.

Both workshops are available as a private group session for your organisation, held online or in the classroom. Contact us for pricing and availability.

Why learn online with Happy?

  • Interactive and engaging - just like our classroom sessions
  • Bitesize or full-day sessions - fit around your schedule
  • Learn from home - all you need is a quiet place to call from and an internet connection
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Paul Gapper

Paul is a Masters qualified trainer with experience in interpersonal skills, work skills and management training. He has worked in the public, private and voluntary sectors for over fifteen years. Paul has a Distinction in the Institute of Personnel Development Training Certificate and the teacher-training certificate for Mindfulness-Based Approaches from the Oxford Mindfulness Centre. In 2017, Paul was a Finalist for the Learning Professional of the Year at the 2017 Learning Awards.

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