The good news is: nearly everyone can become a better facilitator. The bad news? It requires practice and testing. But rest assured, after trying out these five steps in a few upcoming meetings, “facilitation” can definitely go up on your LinkedIn profile.
1. Help everyone arrive prepared and focused
This might sound as basic as 1-2-3, but excellent meeting facilitation begins long before anyone enters the room. Do the meeting participants know where they need to be, when they need to be there? If the meeting takes place at a location some haven’t been to before, have you touched base with your team about how to get there?
As a facilitator, minimizing the stress level of the participants should be a key focus. We’re all familiar with the panic induced by finishing final tasks before jetting off to a new location and stressing about arriving late. What a waste of energy! A good facilitator does everything they can to enable participants to show up on time, focused and ready to deploy their creativity.
2. Worship the agenda
For some, this word that sounds like a broken record, but for others “agenda” trumpets clarity, order and productivity. An agenda that’s well structured and shared beforehand can do wonders for keeping a meeting on track and deepening the level of conversation.
An agenda can also be “good cop” and “bad cop” all in one. You can blame it, lean on it, call it a tyrant, call it a savior — it can be whatever you need it to be. An agenda gives you the full capacity to steer conversations without coming off as domineering.
If there is a lot of great discussion around a certain agenda item, but you’re risking going over time, suggest making that particular point the subject of its own separate meeting. While everyone may be enjoying the conversation, what will be more gratifying at the end of the day is successfully addressing all you set out to discuss.
3. Include and facilitate
As a facilitator you have to be an advocate of fairness. Inclusion is a cornerstone of facilitation and it might be the one thing that most noticeably distinguishes a great facilitator from a good one. A good one gets things done and moves through all the conversation points. A great facilitator does all that while making sure everyone’s included and treated fairly.
A study done conducted at Brigham Young University shows that a whopping 75% of the talking time in meetings is taken up by men. The statistics might not be as dramatic in your organization, but keeping track of who is taking space to speak and who is holding back is an important part of the job of a facilitator.
Include the more introverted colleagues and people from various departments to diversify the opinions in the room. Don’t forget about the interns and more experienced senior colleagues. While more outspoken ones might feel they’re being limited, the core purpose of any meeting should be to gather and debate a range of opinions.
4. Keep calm and facilitate on
A disagreeable colleague, a decision that sparks an argument, or a stakeholder that needs to leave before the end of the meeting — these are but a few tricky situations that facilitators need to handle on a regular basis. Here you can take a page from your coffee mug: “keep calm and carry on.” Keep your end goal in mind and focus on working with whatever there is instead of worrying about whatever you’re missing.
Over time you’ll develop a toolkit in your brain, a flowchart if you will, that will guide you towards the right solution even at the most trying times. And if you’re caught completely by surprise be honest with participants and take it as a learning opportunity!
5. Collect wisdom for the future
Focused facilitation can be hard work, but sorry to say, the work doesn’t end the moment all the agenda points have been discussed! While the meeting may have been effective in terms of action items decided upon and responsibilities delegated, we see a lot of meeting organizers lose momentum and miss out on chances to make their next meeting even better.
Before everyone leaves the room, try running a simple poll. Have all participants, on the count of three, rate the meeting by holding up 1-5 fingers. Ask the participant who gave the lowest rating to ask what could be improved, and the one with the highest to weigh in on what was so positive about it. Take note of what is said and incorporate this wisdom as you plan for your next meeting.
Facilitation may seem like a difficult and draining process, but if you develop the right habits, it doesn’t have to be like that at all — it can actually be invigorating and inspiring in the extreme. While it is a skill set to be mastered over time, you can press the fast-forward button with a tool like RunYourMeeting that helps you create collaborative agendas, reach concrete decisions, delegate specific action items, and structure future meetings without redundant work. And if you’re facilitating your meetings online, you’re in luck! We have an article all about that.