Focus on the task. As the facilitator in charge of the meeting, your main role is to help ensure a successful, productive outcome by guiding group processes effectively; therefore, purposeful direction is critical. Prior to the meeting, thoroughly define the "What, When, Where, Why, How and Who" of the meeting. Then, open the meeting by bringing clear focus to the key purpose and objective. For example, "Good morning everyone, and thank you for joining us today. The purpose of our meeting is to_______________." Use a descriptive action verb in the blank. For example, brainstorm, decide, select, recommend, approve, learn, ensure, etc. Then state the objective: "By the end of the meeting, our objective is to have_____________." Use a noun in this blank as a measurable metric. For example, "to have a list of the top three vendors" or "to have consensus with a majority vote."
Ask questions. An effective facilitator asks a combination of open- and closed-ended questions to draw forth the wisdom and experience of the group. For example, imagine using these questions the next time you meet with a team of project managers:
--What are the business goals the project is aiming to achieve?
--Are there any disadvantages to implementing this project?
--What are the consequences to the business if the project does not get approved, or fails to deliver the objectives?
Collect all data. As the facilitator, make sure that everyone hears, sees, and understands what the group members contribute during the meeting. Keep all suggestions, comments, ideas, agreements, votes, etc. visible by writing them on flip charts, boards, or via an electronic medium. Summarize what the speaker has said without changing his or her essential words. Thank speakers for their input. Consider using a colleague or group member to serve as the scribe/recorder.
Introduce and involve all attendees. If twelve or fewer people are in the group and they don't know each other, ask everyone to briefly introduce themselves when you open the meeting. Use name tags or tents if appropriate. As the facilitator, introduce yourself first; this helps others decide what they will say and how long to speak. During the meeting, keep everyone involved. Encourage the silent attendees to speak up. For example, "We haven't heard from some of you yet, and we value your input. So I encourage you to share your ideas, questions, and suggestions." If necessary, call on them: "Sally, I know you and your team had great success with your cost projection. Please share some tips with us."
Listen actively. Pay attention. Strive to hear and understand everything that is said. Repeat and paraphrase attendees' questions and comments when necessary. Be attentive to what's happening at all times. Listen for common themes and 'connect the dots.' Also, as management guru Peter Drucker advised, "Hear what isn't being said."
Intervene if necessary. As a facilitator, your goal is to support the participants in achieving the desired outcomes. Therefore, key responsibilities include controlling and managing sidebar conversations, laborious discussions, conflict among members, and punctuality. For example, you may respond to a speaker who belabors the point by saying, "Joe, in respect of time and our agreed-upon agenda, let's move on. Thank you for your comments and I've recorded them for future discussion."
Track the time, topic, and task. Keep the meeting moving along. Remind people of the time and appoint a timekeeper if necessary. If the designated time for a topic runs out, ask the group if they want to spend more time on the issue, or postpone it for later discussion. Also, be sure to end on time and summarize the main ideas, takeaways, and action steps. For example, "With five minutes remaining, let's review the key tasks to be accomplished, who is responsible for each one, and the agreed upon timeline."
Assess the group dynamics. Watch the composite body language of participants and respond accordingly. Note how they relate to one another and to you. If they are fully engaged in productive discussion, avoid interrupting. If they seem lethargic, bored or withdrawn, consider using interaction techniques, increasing your own energy level, or taking a break.
Talk neutrally. Try to keep yourself and your personal opinions out of the dynamics of the process. Rather, be a good observer and see yourself as an interested but detached instrument in the communication process. It may help to focus on issues rather than personalities. If disagreement arises, do not take sides. Instead, ask the group to resolve the issue. At all times, remain upbeat, positive, respectful, and nonpartisan. For example, "I can see this is a critical topic for many of you, because there's a lot at stake. Please remember our agreed-upon ground rules of mutual respect and non-judgment. Let's brainstorm more solutions. Who would like to begin?"
Ensure a safe and comfortable environment. Groups work best when individuals are made to feel comfortable expressing their ideas. Encourage all participants to listen to what others are saying. As the facilitator, you lead best by example. Also, ensure a conducive and functional working space with proper lighting, comfortable seating, appropriate temperature, minimal outside disturbances, and properly working equipment. Tend to physical needs such as directions to the restrooms, room temperature, and refreshments. Schedule at least a five-minute break every hour.
In closing, I encourage you to F.A.C.I.L.I.T.A.T.E. your next meeting. When you do, you'll reap the rewards of a productive and beneficial event, plus you're likely to achieve something 'truly valuable' through the full participation and engagement of your attendees.
For more tips on running effective efficient meetings, please read my past newsletter article here: http://conta.cc/1SSy66j
If you'd like to learn more about effective facilitation, communication skills, and presentation proficiency, please read my book:
Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results
(available in Hardcover, Kindle, and Audio).
Feel free to contact me directly to schedule an in-house corporate training event for your team. I would be honored to support your presentation and communication success.