It's not all on the conductor of an orchestra

Published on 5 April 2022

John Wilson is a pretty amazing conductor with many internationally reputed orchestras, who I’ve seen perform on more than occasion.  Sometimes my seat was in the choir section. These seats are behind the orchestra and from this position you get to see and hear the performance from a whole new perspective.

You see the whole of the conductor’s performance, as opposed to just the back of their head. And you see the orchestra differently, the percussion section for instance, somewhat at the back and out of sight when viewed from the more ‘usual’ seats.

I really like the Choir seats. You see more and you see and hear differently, which results in a different experience. I began to see similarities between this occasion and a meeting, and what you could take from John Wilson’s performance and put to use as a Chair of a meeting. I started by thinking about what might be on his mind as he prepares for his work.

What’s on the agenda: He’ll get to know the score, the shape of this piece, length, tempo, moments of quiet, difficult parts. How it begins, how it ends. Who’s in the room: He’ll think about the musicians, who they are, and their particular part in the piece. He’ll think about what how he can get the best from them.

What’s my role: He’ll remind himself of why he’s there. What his actions are. How he contributes his part, to bring out the best in the musicians, to make the music as it was meant to be made.

What are we aiming for: He’ll also think about what the group is trying to achieve together. What the piece of music is about. What they are all trying to create as a team, through their endeavours.

What do you notice about this description that relates to Chairing? Here are one or two thoughts.

It’s not all on Mr Wilson: there’s the score, the musicians and the collective goal. They all have a role. Aside from his specific responsibilities, the meeting is a collective endeavour.

A great outcome doesn’t just ‘happen’: it is created. And takes work by all. There will be a number of rehearsals before the journey is completed. During this time, the whole group learns about each other. And Mr Wilson learns about them.

Wilson plays the orchestra: his role is to bring them together, to accompany them as they accompany each other on the journey from first note to last. He keeps them on track and to time. His job is to get the best from those in the room.

John Wilson conducts. The musicians each bring their expertise in playing their particular instruments. And they come together around a piece of music. They work together, to lift it off the page and into the world. And between them, they produce a performance. Something wonderful is created, that leads to an experience for John Wilson, the orchestra and the audience to enjoy.

Has this got you thinking differently about how you Chair meetings? Would you like to learn more about how to run more productive, effective meetings? Book onto my Effective Chairing Masterclass and we’ll work on making yours more worthwhile.  

Thanks for reading. And thanks to Lyndsay Hughes for your comment that inspired this piece.


John Scarrott
John Scarrott

Trainer and Coach, John Scarrott Training and Coaching

John Scarrott is a Trainer and Coach working with association professionals on their approach to speaking, chairing meetings, presentations, communication and influence. John is a former Membership Director, with over 25-years’ experience of making presentations. He is the retained trainer in Public Speaking and Presentation Skills for the AAE and also for the Institute of Data & Marketing. John is a professionally qualified coach with a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) Credential from the International Coach Federation. He has spoken in the UK and internationally working with association professionals across Europe and in India and Australia.