How to chair a meeting.

Why do meetings use a Chair/Facilitator?
Sit back and think of all meetings you have gone to, especially all the bad meetings you have gone to, the ones in which you were very annoyed with how it was chaired and take a note of what was wrong with them. Some of these problems might sound familiar:
-After hours of discussion no conclusion is reached and few important decisions are made.
-Participants keep wandering from topic to topic and so nothing is discussed in detail.
-People constantly interrupt and talk over each other resulting in participants feeling they don’t get a chance to express their views properly.
The job of a Chair/Facilitator is to try to prevent these problems and to ensure everybody is able to participate in the discussion AND to ensure that decisions are made.
Meetings in which everyone can contribute equally are essential to the democratic process, they are central to the anarchist idea of politics.
General Rules of Thumb
1. Facilitators should keep their contribution to a minimum. If you are continuously contributing you need to hand over the job of facilitating to someone else.
2. At the beginning of the meeting the facilitator should draw up an Agenda (asking for suggestions from the group) and get a volunteer to minute decisions (this is more important in a decision making meeting than in a discussion meeting). Ideally the minute taker and the facilitator work together, the minute taker checks that decisions are made by asking how they should be minuted if he or she isn’t clear. This can greatly help the meeting to focus.
3. Stick to the agenda. Stop people from speaking if they drift off topic (tell them where on the agenda their topic is and ask them to wait until it comes up before giving their two cents)
4. Do not let participants interrupt each other.
5. Do not let people speak out of turn (ask people to raise their hands if they want to speak and then note their name down in the speaking stack). This, combined with preventing interruptions means that participants will feel they can get their point across.
6. Try to avoid two people getting into a dialogue with each other as this means they will dominate the discussion. Try asking the meeting if anyone who hasn't spoken yet would like to say anything.
7. Always let people who haven’t spoken in before people who have spoken, despite their position on the speaking stack.
8. Always be aware of the time. Try to start on time and allocate an appropriate amount of time to discussing agenda items. If you have a one hour meeting and six agenda items, then you could have 10 minutes discussion on each, though it normally makes more sense to allocate more time to items of particular importance.
9. If the group you are chairing for don't know each other or if new people turn up to a meeting, it makes sense to have people introduce themselves to break the ice. You as the chair should start and then go around the group so everyone feels a little more comfortable before you get started with the meeting.
10. The chair must pay close attention to the group discussion as s/he may have to put some order on discussions which can cover several inter-related topics. Giving a quick run through of what has been decided and what still needs to be decided can help a discussion on a topic (organising an event for example) stay focused.
There are a number of additional skills that a chair can develop (including conflict resolution) but this text is only meant to be a quick introduction to why facilitators are needed and how that role is meant to work.

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