Chairing international meetings

It can be difficult to chair an international meeting if your first language is not English. The role of a chairperson is to make sure that the objectives of the meeting are met, and that the people attending the meeting know what they need to do next. The chair should also make sure that everyone in the meeting can participate and understand what’s going on. To chair a successful meeting, you need to keep to the agenda and time constraints, and also be sensitive to people and clarify or summarise where necessary.

The chair directs the meeting, dealing with the meeting formalities and making sure that the points on the agenda are covered. Chairs are “neutral”, and only vote when there is a “tie”. In these cases, they have the “casting” (or deciding) vote.

Dealing with formalities

As a chair, you’ll probably want to first welcome people to the meeting, ask if they all have an agenda, then get down to business.

Useful phrases:
“Thank you everyone for coming today.”
“I’ve called a meeting to discuss…”
“The purpose of this meeting is to…”
“Has everyone received a copy of the agenda?”
“Let’s get started.”

Dealing with the agenda

The chair leads the participants through the points in the agenda, which might contain the following sections:

1. Apologies for absence (apologies from those people invited to the meeting but who can’t attend)

“I’ve received the following apologies for absence from….”

2. Minutes of the previous meeting (people check to see if the notes from the last meeting are correct)

“Can we take the minutes as read?”

3. Matters arising (people report on what they have done as a result of the last meeting)

“Are there any matters arising from the last meeting?”

4. Action points (the main points for discussion)

“I’d like to go to point one on the agenda.”

5. AOB (Any other business: people can make any additional points before the meeting finishes)

“Is there any other business?”

6. Date of next meeting

“I’d like to propose that we meet again on…”
“I think that just about wraps it up for today..”
“Thank you everyone for coming.”

Keeping control of the meeting

As a chair, you should work through the sections on the agenda, making sure people stick to the point, and that there are enough contributions for decisions to be made or action to be taken. However, if the meeting appears to be “going round in circles”, you should also be able to move the discussion on and defer action until more information has been gathered.

Keeping the meeting focused on the objectives

“We’re getting a little sidetracked here. Can we stick to the main points?”
“Let’s not get off the subject.”
“Can we get back to the agenda?”

Moving on to a different point

“Could we move on to item 2 on the agenda?”
“If nobody has anything else to add, perhaps we could look at the next point.”

Deferring action

“I think we should leave this for now.”
“Can we come back to this point later?”

Asking for people’s opinions

“I’d like to give the floor to…”
“Does anyone have anything else to add?”
“What are your views on this?”

Asking for agreement or a vote

“Can we have a show of hands?”
“Can we put this to the vote?”
“Are we in agreement on this?”

Clarifying and summarising

“So, in a nutshell, you’re saying…”
“Could I just clarify something here…”
“I’d just like to summarise the key points.”
“So, to summarise…”