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Leading meetings in English

What makes leading a meeting in English so hard?

Leading meetings can be hard enough in your own language. All eyes are on you, and you are responsible for achieving an outcome in an allotted space of time. You need to deal with derailers and challenges – for example manage comments, build inclusion, develop buy in, deal with challenging meeting members, and know when to start and stop discussions. Any experienced chair person knows that this is often not an easy task! And this is even harder when you have to do it in a foreign language.

Leading meetings in English can bring even more challenges:

  • Will you have to manage participants from different cultures?
  • How will you ensure involvement when some participants speak good English, and some don’t?
  • How will you manage the balance of power that language skills bring to the native speakers?
  • Are you comfortable enough working in English? 

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Relax – it’s all about the meeting, not you!

When I’ve had to run meetings in Spanish or German, it took me a while to realize that it doesn’t help to worry about these questions. I quickly learned that the participants were actually interested in the content of the meeting – and not my grammar. I also learnt that the native speakers really appreciated the fact that I was doing all this in another language. I relaxed.

Divide the meeting up mentally

As long as you have a structure, and some key language ready to manage the structure, you’ll be just fine. Divide the meeting into sections – for example the start of the meeting, during the meeting, and the end of the meeting. And then think about what your role is at each stage. Here are some ideas, but you’ll probably be able to think of others that are relevant to you. And then make sure you’ve got a few phrases practised for each stage. Knowing that you are able to use phrases like these, gives you that extra confidence you need when leading a meeting in English.

English phrases for the start of the meeting

At this stage you need to set the scene. This could include:

  • Introducing the purpose: Thanks for getting here on time. Today we’re here to discuss the… / The aim of today’s meeting is to….
  • Giving an overview: We’re going to run through the main points of the agenda, the main points we plan to cover today are….
  • Outlining procedures: we’ll start from the top, and there should be some time for AOB at the end.

English phrases for during the meeting

What’s your main role here? Basically throughout the meeting you are responsible for maintaining structure and focus, so that a clear outcome can be reached. If that doesn’t happen, what was the point of the meeting? In order to make sure this happens, you might need to:

  • Invite comments: Henri, what are your thoughts on that? Xi, perhaps you could tell us what you think about that?
  • Ask questions to clarify information: Could you run that by us again please? I’m sorry, but I’m not sure I was clear about what you meant when you said….,
  • Clarify what someone else means: Are you saying that…? What I understood was that you’d….? Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re saying that……So, what you’re saying is…? Can I check that I’ve understood that correctly?
  • Test everyone’s understanding: Eva, could you summarize the main points of that discussion for us? What were the key points from that?
  • Steer towards the objective: Could we bring the discussion back on course? This is really interesting, but we’re drifting away from what we’re supposed to be talking about.
  • Interrupt: I don’t want to interrupt you but…, If I could just come in here…., Svetlana, let me just stop you there
  • Holding off an interruption: Could we come back to that later? If I could just finish what I was saying…. Can I just finish making my point?

English phrases for ending the meeting

This stage is about tying everything up neatly and making sure everyone leaves the room knowing why they were there and what they have to do next.

  • Summarize: So, to summarize then…., So, if I may, let me just run through what we’ve agreed here….
  • Confirm decisions: We’ve agreed that… Everyone thought it would be a good idea to….
  • Set next meeting: Would Monday 13th at 11:00 work for everyone?, Let’s schedule the next meeting…
  • Delegate tasks: Our next steps are to…., Luis kindly volunteered to…, Elizabeth agreed to send us all the ….

Share what works

Let us know about your experiences of leading meetings in English. What have been your main concerns? What did you do to overcome them? What advice do you have for others who have to lead meetings in English?

1 reply
  1. Jennie Wright
    Jennie Wright says:

    Kate, you are completely right! Everyone always worries about grammar problems and accuracy when, in reality, grammar errors make very little difference in a meeting.

    For me it’s important for everyone to be honest if there is a problem with communication, not when there is a grammar slip. In my meetings, I make sure everyone is following by being not just the moderator but the language supporter also. This brings the language issue more into the open and people can feel more comfortable saying if they are not following.

    Thanks for the post – an important message for any business person working in a foreign language.

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