Common mistakes speakers make as first time chairs

Published on 11 January 2023

An article in the Changing Your Conversations: Changing Your Outcomes programme.

What are the common mistakes that speakers make who haven’t chaired before

Good Conference Speakers can make excellent Conference Chairs. But it’s not guaranteed, they’re not the same thing. If you’re a Speaker, planning to do some Chairing for the first time, it’s worth knowing the traps you might fall into. In this article I’ll highlight some misconceptions that exist and tips that will help you make the transition. 

Chairs are actively involved, but they in a different way. Examples from other walks of life include film directors, conductors, chat show hosts and music producers. They are not acting, playing an instrument, sharing their experiences, or singing. But they are crucial to the end result. And the same goes for Conference Chairs. Here are the common mistakes that Speakers make when Chairing for the first time.

Contributing too much

Speakers bring too much of themselves to their Chairing. This can show up as a tendency to dominate a panel discussion with their opinions or experience, thereby shutting out the speakers or the audience’s input.


Contributing too little

Speakers can bring too little of themselves. They understand that their role is to enable others to shine, but they don’t know how to enable that to happen. Alternatively, they mistakenly believe that ‘the event/speakers/audience will take care of themselves’. The end result is that they end up being too passive and not contributing. 

Forgetting the team

Speakers are looked after. Their focus is on serving the audience. Chairs have more responsibilities. Their role includes supporting the speakers to shine and working closely with them. And working more closely with the Organiser. Chairs are the link between the Organiser, the Speakers and the audience. Forgetting this is a missed opportunity for a Chair to add value. 

Not expanding the Speaker skillset

Chairing well also involves expanding a typical Speaker skillset. Managing a panel discussion for example, involves different skills to Speaking. These include being curious and asking open questions, listening to responses, holding space for and managing the contributions so that everyone feels heard and has a chance to contribute.  

Bridging the gap

Acknowledge what you bring: your experience with reaching and serving audiences. And delivering for organisers stand you in good stead.

Acknowledge why you want to Chair: what do you want to get out of it?

Acknowledge the stretch: what new skills or knowledge do you need? Where can you pick that up?

Are you a Speaker looking to step into a role as Chair? If so, why not come along to my Changing Your Conversations: Changing Your Outcomes Masterclass: Essential Conference Chairing and Facilitation Skills and you'll leave with what you need to be effective.