I'm so glad I don't chair any groups. For having seen, last night, the chairman of a rail user group in action, I think to myself "there, but for the grace of God, go I".
Some 'credits'. Newcomers were being welcomed / chatted to. The women (I make the gender point intentioanlly!) were making sure everyone had a tea or coffee. The meeting was (correctly) started a few minutes after the scheduled time - a bit of a tradition with this group as there are always one or two stragglers late in. Our chair told a personal story that provided a link into our guest speaker, told us a bit about that speaker and told the speaker a bit about the group and what we wanted to hear about from him, and confirmed roughtly how long he was to talk for.
Those of us who wanted to make notes during the presentation could have done with some light - we were placed into pitch darkness prior to the presentation, illuminated only by the glow from the projected slides. And we could have done without the sound of music from elsewhere in the building making it quite hard to hear the speaker.
An hour passes - a pleasant mixture of things I already knew / standard slides but ones which others may well not have seen before, and new / updated interesting material, numbers, comments ... and we get to that "fateful" final slide - "Any Questions".
Yes, of course the chairman has himself a series of questions, and we launch into some of them ... with a pause after a handful to let some favoured members of the audience who he knows ask questions too. There's a tendency for people to ask multiple questions, and for the chair to step back and let off-topic elements ride for quite a while, but in time the chair comes back and adds another question of his own.
The chair *does* go somewhhat around the room, "noticing" his pals, and (good on him) first time attendees to the meeting. Then when there's just one of this group left - I can predict it - "We've time for just one more question". The question is asked and answered. It then turns out that there is time for another question from the chair (must be his 5th or 6th) which is duly asked and answered, then a vote of thanks ... and a quick set of announcements from the chair about upcoming meetings, changes and other things that he wants us to know about, and the meeting concludes. There's one particular member who does a "may I but in and let the group know ..." to get a wider input of his information; he's very knowledgable, he's the late arrival, and he's well known - he "gets away" with it. Many readers will know him, smile and acknowledge his passion, and admire how he gets around and attention even with mobility issues.
For the rest of us? Those who are not favoured by the chair? The user group's membership sales pitch suggests that members can listen to and ask questions of expert speakers. No - that's not the case unless your the privelidged few. These days there are looks back an forth between some of us in the audience who know we won'd be called - watching the chair "at it" again as he does at every meeting. To some extent, I would weep if I wasn't laughing because these days our rail contacts do provide us with other routes where something important needs to be raised, and its scarsely worth joining the scrum of previous questioners as they gather around the speaker after the meeting to re-make, or perhaps carry on the convesation about, the issues they have already raised.
Like I said ... this is not a pitch for a chair role anywhere. I would make the "hogging" mistake at least, I know. Seeing the example does remind me what a good job Chris and Frank, Peter and Colin do at the meetings that I attend from time to time, and I commend them for that! (written 2014-09-25, updated 2014-09-26)
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