I remember my very first Toastmaster meeting. Watching the chair of the day run the meeting, I was thinking, “What? Me chair a meeting? No way. It’s going to be a long long time before I take on that role!”
It wasn’t that long.
But between my thought that first day and the first time I chaired a meeting, there was a shift in perspective. I came to see it as something which, upon analysis, wasn’t all that difficult yet offered a tremendous opportunity.
Having now chaired many meetings in my Toastmaster career, here’s how I see the role.
The chair of the meeting holds an energetic space for the agenda to unfold, and for all participants in the room. One could think of it as creating a safe container within which all club members can experience their own success. Think of the possibilities that open up outside of a Toastmaster meeting once you can ‘build the container’.
Spontaneity is a good skill to have as chair for two reasons.
First, sometimes spontaneous decisions have to be made. Something goes wrong, some technology doesn’t work, something unexpected is added to the agenda, all these require a decision and an action. It’s up to the chair to handle those moments.
Secondly, in Toastmasters the chair is responsible for what we call transitions. A transition is that brief space in time when one thing ends and another is about to begin. How do we smoothly move from inspirator to evaluator to speaker and so on?
What we say in those moments can’t be planned in advance. After all, the chair doesn’t know exactly what each person is going to say. Our challenge in the moment is to find something that bridges the gap.
Each club agrees the chair has the authority to open and close the meeting, to make introductions, to explain roles, and to make sure the meeting stays on schedule. It’s the nature of the role itself that grants the chair that authority. The chair also learns how to pass that authority to others in their particular roles, with an introduction and frequently with a handshake.
However within the role, there is also the possibility to develop the abilities of a natural leader. This is known as earned authority. Earned authority is a quality that a person has outside any particular role, and would extend beyond the role of chair. Our club has the good fortune to have many such people in our midst.
To those who have yet to chair a meeting, who have had a similar thought to mine at my first meeting, and who are waiting for some future moment to say yes, I invite you to look at the role of chair with fresh eyes.
What do YOU see?