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Attempt at chairing a clinical meeting

From seating plans to introducing speakers – the success of the event rests

with you, says

Dr Stefan Cembrowicz

After a few years in practice most of us have developed some interests as a diversion from day-to-day general practice such as clinical assistant sessions, medicolegal work, child health, teaching and training, or occupational medicine.

These can act as safety valves and diversions to the daily grind as well as putting some more shekels in your wallet.

As a spin-off from your interest, you may well one day be asked to chair a meeting relevant to your special subject.

It's useful to think about the meeting before it starts – here is my advice:

lMake sure you are there in good time to greet your guests.

lFind out beforehand who your audience is likely to consist of. Your introduction will be brief but should relate to your audience mix.

lThink about how you would like the seating arranged; didactic lecturers may prefer formal rows of seats to talk to but this layout may make more interactive speakers uncomfortable. If you are not in a lecture theatre you do not have to sit in rows. Make sure the front rows are not empty; the speaker may feel he or she has halitosis!

lBefore you introduce your speaker, mention housekeeping issues – where the fire escape is – and ask for mobiles to be switched off (a blackboard to record the names of those whose phones ring can be very persuasive).

lMake sure that PGEA has been approved and remind your audience to sign in, and to submit their feedbacks afterwards.

lStart on time, and tell the audience that you will see the meeting finishes on time (those hurrying away to evening surgeries will be grateful).

lA mini-biography of each speaker (prepared by means of a brief chat with them beforehand) identifying their area of expertise helps place them for the less-focused.

lSome more creative speakers encourage questions during a speech, though these can be divergent and sometimes disruptive.

Otherwise field questions after the talk and always have one or two up your sleeve to break the ice in case your speaker has stunned the audience into silence (or somnolence).

Some audience members may have their own hobbyhorse to talk about; tactfully suggest these issues may be best discussed at greater length over lunch/tea/in small groups (the rest of the audience are there to hear the speaker, and may have heard enough of your persistent questioner in previous encounters).

lBe prepared. Think about a back-up speaker beforehand. The worst-case scenario is having to give the talk yourself if the speaker doesn't turn up (yes it does happen and it's very character-building).

Make sure you can confidently operate the lights, microphones, projector and power, or have a technician handy who can help.

Check the laser pointer and have a spare projector bulb ready. Make sure you know who you will ask to help if someone is taken ill during the meeting.

lLast but not least, fees. If a drug company or postgraduate centre is sponsoring the meeting it is reasonable to expect a fee. There

isn't a set scale, so discuss this directly with your sponsor beforehand.

In general, it seems reasonable to base this on a proportion of a day's locum fees – as a provincial GP I have been offered £75-£120 for chairing some recent afternoon meetings but this is a matter for personal negotiation.

It would be reasonable to suggest more if the meeting were longer or more prestigious, but your part is not as major as that of the speakers.

lWhen time is up, draw to a close, thank the speakers and your sponsors and remind your audience to return their PGEA forms.

lRelax, enjoy the meeting, and don't forget to include yourself in the list of attenders for PGEA points.

Stefan Cembrowicz is a GP in Bristol

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