There are some things you can do on the fly—change your lunch plans, call your grandma, even skip town for the weekend—but facilitating a meeting should not be one of them. We have all been in frustrating meetings that run too long, stray off topic, or are dominated by Chatty Charlie. A skilled facilitator can save us all from all this by creating a space for efficient and inclusive meetings. This post contains five pointers from experts that will help you facilitate meetings that people actually want to attend.
1. Set the tone before the meeting starts
Send out an agenda in plenty of time before the meeting so attendees can prepare their thoughts and contributions. Before the meeting begins, ask participants to put away their devices and distractions. This helps everybody focus and clear their minds for the important tasks at hand. (Bonus tip: If the meeting topic is less important than regular old emails, consider whether you should be holding the meeting at all.) Finally, show respect by making it a point to start on time, even if others are running late.
2. Ask Questions
A facilitator supports the conversation. This means you should focus on active listening. Be willing to go slightly off-script in order to address an attendee’s concerns. Use attentive body language, lean forward and avoid crossed arms. When you’re really in tune with the group, you can pose appropriate leading questions to further the discussion. Try to remain neutral and present questions from multiple perspectives. Remember that it is not your job to offer up answers and solutions. Your job is to help the group reach solutions among themselves.
3. Have the right focus
Focus on the emotions of your colleagues. Try to read the room: If people are fidgeting or distracted, they’re probably not invested in the discussion. If the room feels tense, take a minute to pause and assess everyone’s feelings, especially if the meeting topic is controversial or sensitive. Facilitators should also focus on outcomes. They articulate the goal of the meeting first and set deliberate follow up steps before the meeting is over. Include action items and to-dos in the meetings notes, and have a plan for the appropriate people to follow up. Consider having a “parking lot” for off-topic ideas. If the conversation veers away from the predetermined purpose or if people suggest ideas that need to be explored later, have a physical space to write them down—a whiteboard, notecard, or in the meeting notes—and schedule a time with the key people to consider those topics.
4. Draw participation from everyone
Before the meeting, send an agenda that has assigned contributions or tasks for the meeting in a balanced way. This reduces the risk that Chatty Charlie will dominate the conversation and promotes inclusiveness. If you know one team member does not voluntarily contribute in group settings, have her prepare some thoughts ahead of time and give her time to share. Another way to get everyone’s feedback is to pose a question, then give everyone time to jot down their thoughts before anyone can speak up. This gives the quiet thinkers in the room a chance to articulate their thoughts before the quick responders jump in.
5. End on time
Overtime is only fun in soccer games. Unless everyone volunteers to extend their time together, stick to your timeline or risk losing their focus when you need it most. Conclude the meeting by reiterating action items and setting a return meeting time, if applicable. Thank the participants for coming, and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback on how you did after the meeting. With constructive feedback and lots of practice, you can become an expert meeting facilitator.