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Welcome back to another episode of the Art of Business English podcast.Today I have got episode 219 for you and we will be looking at “how to manage a discussion when you are the chair in a meeting”.

As the chair, it is your responsibility to ensure that the meeting runs smoothly and that all participants are able to contribute their ideas and opinions in a respectful and productive manner. In this episode, we will discuss some tips and strategies that you can use to effectively manage a discussion as the chair of a meeting.

Setting the Stage

First and foremost, it is important to establish clear guidelines and expectations for the discussion. This can include setting a time limit for each speaker, outlining the topics that will be discussed, and establishing ground rules for respectful communication. By setting these guidelines at the beginning of the meeting, you can help to ensure that the discussion stays on track and that everyone has an opportunity to participate.

For instance, you could use one of the following expressions:

  • "Let's establish some meeting etiquette - Please ensure to wait your turn before speaking, refrain from interrupting others, and keep your contributions concise and relevant to the topic at hand."
  •  "Before we dive in, I'd like to remind everyone of our time constraints. I encourage everyone to share their thoughts, but let's aim to keep our comments focused and to the point, to allow time for everyone to contribute."
  • "As we begin, it’s important to agree that all ideas put forward today will be considered with an open mind. Disagreements may occur, but let's address them constructively, without resorting to personal criticism."

Active Engagement

Another important aspect of managing a discussion as the chair is to actively listen to the participants. This means paying attention to what each person is saying, asking clarifying questions when necessary, and summarizing key points to ensure that everyone is on the same page. By actively listening, you can help to facilitate a more productive and collaborative discussion.

Here are some ways in which you can ask some clarifying questions:

  • "Could you please expand on that last point? I'm particularly interested in understanding the specifics of how it affects our project timeline."
  • "I want to make sure I've got this right—when you mentioned 'streamlining the process,' were you referring to the initial phase or the implementation phase?"
  • "Before we proceed, could you clarify what 'R.O.I.' stands for? Just to ensure we all have a shared understanding as we consider its impact on our strategy."

The key with clarifying questions is to ensure that you ask specifically about what you need clarified. This will help the meeting flow faster and get to the point. If you are interested in learning more clarifying language, you can take a look at episode 13 and 99 of the podcast.

Watch the episode here

Inclusivity Is Key

In addition to listening, it is also important to encourage participation from all members of the group. This can be done by asking open-ended questions, inviting quieter members to share their thoughts, and acknowledging and valuing the contributions of all participants. By creating a supportive and inclusive environment, you can help to ensure that everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas and opinions.

Here are some expressions you could use to encourage people to participate in the meeting without making them feel uncomfortable:

  • "Julia, your insights on similar projects in the past have always been valuable. Would you mind sharing your perspective on this issue?" By acknowledging Julia's past contributions and their value, you're personally inviting her to contribute, which can boost her confidence and willingness to speak.
  • "I believe we haven't heard from everyone yet, and I would really like to make sure we get a range of viewpoints. Tom, could you please offer your thoughts on this matter?" This approach reinforces the notion that every voice is important, singling out a person (Tom, in this case) to give his viewpoints, which suggests that you value his specific input.
  • "We've had some great points raised so far, but I think it would be beneficial to hear from someone who hasn't spoken yet. Alex, you've been quite thoughtful throughout our session—do you have any thoughts to share on the topic?" By making a general statement about the importance of hearing from quieter individuals, and then inviting Alex specifically, you are creating a space for him to share his potentially reserved thoughts.

Neutrality Leads

As the chair, it is also important to remain neutral and impartial throughout the discussion. This means avoiding taking sides or expressing your own opinions too strongly, and instead focusing on facilitating the discussion and ensuring that all viewpoints are heard. By remaining neutral, you can help to create a more objective and productive discussion.

Here are some useful ways of facilitating a discussion:

  • "Let's take a step back and consider the bigger picture here. What are the primary objectives we're aiming to achieve?"
    This expression is useful to reorient the group if the discussion goes off track or gets too focused on minor details. It helps participants to refocus on the overall goals of the discussion.
  • "To build on what has been said, how can we apply these ideas to our current situation?"
    Use this expression to encourage participants to expand on existing ideas and make connections to the matter at hand. It's an effective way to keep the conversation moving forward and to delve deeper into the subject.
  • "I'd like to hear more about differing viewpoints on this topic. Does anyone have a counterargument or alternative perspective?"
    This prompt can stimulate critical thinking and comprehensive exploration of the topic. It invites participants to look at the issue from another angle, which can lead to a more thorough and balanced discussion.

Closing with Clarity

Remember, it is important to wrap up the discussion in a clear and concise manner. This can include summarizing the key points that were discussed, outlining any action items or next steps, and thanking the participants for their contributions. By providing a clear conclusion to the discussion, you can help to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that the meeting has been productive and successful.

Here is some useful language for concluding the meeting:

  • Summarizing the key points:
    "To sum up our discussion, we've agreed on A, highlighted the need for B, and recognized the importance of C as our foundation moving forward."
  • Outlining action items or next steps:
    "Moving ahead, let's ensure the following tasks are on our radar: Jane will oversee X, Rahul will coordinate with the Y team, and the Z report will be circulated by next Tuesday for feedback."
  • Thanking participants:
    "I'd like to extend a heartfelt thank you to everyone for your active participation and valuable insights today. Your contributions are what make these discussions so productive."

Final thoughts

In conclusion, managing a discussion as the chair of a meeting can be a challenging but rewarding experience. By establishing clear guidelines, actively listening, encouraging participation, remaining neutral, and wrapping up the discussion effectively, you can help to ensure that the meeting is productive and that all participants feel valued and heard.

Don’t forget to take a look at my course “Confidence in Business Meetings”, on this programme we take you through all the steps of planning, running and participating in business meetings in English and all the language skills you will ever need.

Confidence in Business Meetings

Do you want to be invisible in a meeting, hoping that you won't need to answer any questions?

If you would like to learn how to confidently participate in meetings that lead to successful outcomes and more business for you and your company, then I've got the answer.

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Andrew is the CEO and founder of the Art of Business English. Besides teaching and coaching native Spanish speakers in Business English, he is also passionate about mountain biking, sailing and healthy living. When He is not working, Andrew loves to spend time with his family and friends.

Andrew Ambrosius

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