I suppose it began when I was seventeen and a sixth former at Beverley Grammar School in The East Riding of Yorkshire. Our debating society met every month in partnership with the sixth form of Beverley Girls' High School. Having been a noteworthy contributor at the debating society the previous school year, I was nominated to take the chair in the 1971-72 school year and accepted.
As far as I can recall, we debated topics like abortion, the existence of God, improving Beverley, trade unionism and legalising marijuana. The "motions" always began with "This house believes...." and there were proposers and seconders. It was all done quite formally before a vote was taken. And there I was at the centre of it all, bringing discipline to the proceedings in an uncharacteristically neutral manner.
Move on a few years to my university days. The University of Stirling was very politicised and there were regular well-attended meetings of the students union in the biggest lecture theatre. Two hundred attendees was not unusual - often more than that depending upon current issues.
I joined the "General Meetings Committee" which had the responsibility of organising and publicising these meetings. It was never my intention to become the chair of proceedings but that it was happened more or less by default. I found myself at the heart of angry debates about boycotting South Africa and rent rises on the university campus. There I was at the front with my notes and a microphone, following the rules, following the debates and imposing order. I was very conscious of the need to give speaking opportunities to a wide range of voices - not just the familiar politicos who often sounded like empty vessels. At first it was all extremely nerve-wracking but I got used to the role and grew in confidence.
Once I had to say to the country's future Home Secretary John Reid, "I am sorry Mr Reid but your time is up. You were warned and now could you please leave the platform!" This was followed by thunderous applause from the assembled students. Mr Reid grabbed his notes and moved sheepishly out of the spotlight that he enjoyed so much.
When I became a Head of English in Sheffield, I had to chair weekly department meetings which I enjoyed and which were straightforward collegiate events until around 2005 when the school's new headteacher started sending members of her inner circle to all department meetings to spy on our discussions. All in the name of "school improvement". Of course none of these unwelcome visitors were English specialists.
Some time around 1995/96 I was nominated to chair whole school staff meetings. I did this for three or four years. It meant putting out agendas, chairing the meetings and publicising minutes.
These meetings were held in a spacious classroom. At one point I decided to start arranging the seats into a massive circle before each meeting in order to facilitate debate. No longer was it school managers effectively lecturing a fidgety, disengaged audience . I would address quiet teachers directly, "What do you think about that Bob?" or "I see you are shaking your head about that Mary. Can you please tell us why?"
I listened and showed respect for my colleagues. I sought to engage them and to a large extent it worked. I always made sure that the meetings did not overrun as they had often done before for I knew that many staff had family duties to fulfil at the end of the school day. It would not be fair to overrun. All of this was greatly appreciated by what I used to call "shop floor" teachers. They felt their voices were at last being heard.
So that's it. Upon reflection, I believe I can rightly declare that chairing meetings was something that I had a talent for. It came naturally to me and that Radio 4 item brought it all flooding back. Order! Order!
When I was young, we studied Robert's Rules of Order in school and most organizations somewhat followed them. These days, all the organizations I belong to really have no order to them and it is a shame. Meetings end up dragging on way longer than necessary or occasionally become contentious. I miss those days of order in meetings.ReplyDelete
I used to find that items at the top of a meetings agenda received much more "airtime" than items lower down the agenda. That wasn't healthy or right and it was a tendency I tried to alter. Meetings should be purposeful and as you say - orderly too.Delete
I'm sure you were an excellent meeting chairman.ReplyDelete
Order! Order Ms Moon! All remarks should be addressed through the chair.Delete
My experience of meetings during my working life in both the private and public sectors was mostly of a disorganised free-for-all where the loudest were the only ones heard. I gave up trying to contribute after a while.ReplyDelete
Some people - mostly men - just love the sound of their own voices.Delete
Somehow it does not surprise me that you chaired the meetings and allowed all to be heard. As a nurse I'm lucky that I don't often have to attend meetings. I'm not a fan of sitting and I loath listening to people who drone on and one, especially those who start off with, "Well, in the past...".ReplyDelete
My husband worked for Philips for years and there were some interesting meetings. At one meeting there were no chairs. I sped up the process substantially.
I can't see how a big meeting would work without a chairperson to guide it.Delete
I interpreted "no chairs" to mean nothing to sit on!Delete
It's often difficult to tell when you are being obtuse or attempting a joke. My interpretation of Pixie's comment was that everyone had to stand up which is what sped up the process.Delete
No. I was not being obtuse. I thought that she was referring to chairpersons. Pixies are mischievous little beings.Delete
Too funny. I meant no chairs to sit upon but I also wrote "I" instead of "It". Pixies can be mischievious, it's true.Delete
Thanks for the clarification you little imp!Delete
As a confirmed introvert (every personality test I've ever taken pegs me as such) I despise meetings and never like to be in front of folks. Despite that (or maybe because of it), I'm actually quite good at leading things. I'm organized, keep to an agenda, and rein folks in when necessary.ReplyDelete
It sounds as if your talents have served you well over the years.
I forgot to say that when I was on jury service the others jurors asked me to be the foreman which gave me a nice, warm feeling.Delete
Well done, YP. It is very frustrating to be compelled to be at a poorly run meeting, and to then have it run over the scheduled time makes it even worse. It does appear you had a natural talent made keener by lifelong practice.ReplyDelete
There are many things that I was no good at but chairing meetings was not one of them Jenny. Thanks for calling by again. I hope you are okay.Delete
Were you like Sir Robin Day with a big bow tie YP?ReplyDelete
More like Sir Robin Night with a big cudgel Dave!Delete
You clearly have the chairing-gene. Very few of my work colleagues had it. Would have made their (long, frequently off-topic) meetings less excruciating. Whenever I chaired a meeting, I provided a reasonable agenda and a set time limit. Forced folks to stick to the issue(s). Quickly intervened if anyone started off on a meandering monologue (usual suspects). Sought opinions of the less talkative. Never went over the allotted time--often came in under which was greatly appreciated, but still covered everything on the agenda. Gave a five minute warning before the close of the meeting, briefly summed up the discussion, leaving a few minutes for clarifications. Done. Folks always seem surprised by how much we could accomplish in a short period of time. Long, poorly chaired meetings are less productive; almost always a waste of people's time.ReplyDelete
It's nice for people to walk away from meetings feeling that their time had not been wasted.Delete
I hope never to go to another meeting again.ReplyDelete
You may need to go to a speed awareness meeting when the cops finally catch up with you.Delete
It is definitely a gift and one that many administrators don't have! In group work, I tend to take charge because I can't stand disorganized and meandering meetings.ReplyDelete
That is what inspired me to chair whole school staff meetings.Delete
You had the talent to begin with and then you had the experience to go with it. A good chairman can Improve meetings greatly. I tried to make sure that everybody expressed their ideas. It was a good idea to keep to a schedule and time .ReplyDelete
We could have written a transatlantic bestseller together - "The Conduct of School Meetings" by Professors Red & Pudding.Delete
YP - I think the NYT is following your blog. There are a couple of articles the last two day about the value (or not) of holding meetings, especially the idea that being in an office is necessary for innovation.ReplyDelete
I've run my share of meetings, and I can't say it's something I ever enjoyed! (Or that I miss now.)ReplyDelete