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Your first... time chairing a medical meeting

Preparation is the key to making sure your meeting runs smoothly, says Dr Stefan Cembrowicz

Preparation is the key to making sure your meeting runs smoothly, says Dr Stefan Cembrowicz

After a few years in practice most of us have developed some interests as an addition to day-to-day general practice, such as medico-legal work, teaching and training, or perhaps as a GPSI in minor surgery, addiction management or child health.

These act as diversions from the daily grind as well as adding a few coins to the coffers. There's a good chance that one day you will be asked to chair an educational meeting about your special subject. Make sure you are well prepared if you want your first meeting to be a success.

Before the meeting starts

  • Be there early to greet your guests. Make introductions and set the tone for the meeting
  • Find out beforehand who your audience is. Your introduction will be brief but should be pitched at the right level for your audience
  • A mini-biography of each speaker (prepared by a brief chat beforehand) helps place them for the less focused members of the audience
  • 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 happens, and is very character building)
  • Make sure you can confidently operate the lights, microphones, projector and Powerpoint, or have a technician handy. 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!
  • Think about how you would like the seating arranged. Didactic lecturers may prefer formal rows of seats to address but more interactive speakers may find this 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
  • Last but not least, fees. 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

Before you start

  • Run through housekeeping issues before you start – where to find the toilets, where the fire escape is, arrangements for refreshments
  • Ask for mobiles to be switched off (a blackboard to record the names of those whose phones ring can be very persuasive). Remember to mention your sponsor
  • Remind your audience to sign in, and to submit feedback afterwards

Ensuring a successful meeting

  • Start on time, and tell the audience that you will finish on time – those hurrying away to evening surgeries will be grateful
  • Some creative speakers encourage questions during their talk, otherwise field questions afterwards. Have one or two questions up your sleeve to break the ice just in case the speaker has stunned the audience into silence
  • Some audience members may have their own hobby horse to talk about; tactfully suggest that these issues may be better discussed over lunch/tea/in small groups. The audience are there to hear the speaker, and may have heard enough of your persistent questioner in previous encounters

Closing the meeting

  • When time is up, draw to a close, thank the speakers and your sponsors, and remind the audience one more time to complete an evaluation form

And finally…..

  • Relax, enjoy the meeting, and don't forget to include yourself in the list of attendees for a certificate of attendance for your PLP

Stefan Cembrowicz is a GP trainer in Bristol

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