Top 10 Secrets of Effective Meeting Facilitation - Novacrea Research
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Top 10 Secrets of Effective Meeting Facilitation

Effective meeting facilitation is a process of guiding participants through a meeting to achieve stated objectives. An effective facilitator:

  • Thinks through and manages the meeting objectives, processes, and group dynamics of participants
  • Creates buy-ins from the group
  • Encourages all members of a group to participate, draws out ideas and knowledge from different members
  • Enables participants to offer their best ideas and make decisions with commitment and enthusiasm

Here are 10 keys to successful facilitation and competencies you should look for when you hire a professional facilitator:

1. Understand your audience. Find out more about your audience before facilitating a meeting or workshop. Try to understand their concerns and interests in the topic by sending them a proposed agenda or a short pre-meeting questionnaire. Doing so will help participants feel more included and create a more positive atmosphere for the meeting. In addition, a benefit to understanding your audience will enable you to discover more useful discussions than the one you had planned.

2. Clearly articulate your purpose and intended outcomes. Your role as a facilitator is to manage discussions of the group and lay the foundation for what outcomes they should expect. Doing so will help your audience anticipate how they can participate in the discussions, take ownership for the meeting and its outcomes, and benefit from this experience.

3. Create a positive atmosphere during the meeting. Create a relaxed and safe environment where all meeting participants feel comfortable to speak up and share their ideas. You can create this safe environment by asking the group to agree on some ground rules for participation, such as speak one at a time, respecting different views, and agreeing on a maximum number of points that each person can make to any one discussion. If all participants agree to these ground rules, they will have shared ownership and shared responsibility to ensure that these ground rules are followed.

4. Show respect for your audience. Recognize each participant’s strengths and ideas, and respect their opinions. Value diversity and be sensitive to the different needs and interests of participants. Understand that these differences might be due to years of service with your company, education, profession, gender, or age.

5. Be flexible. Identify possible resistances from your audience, understand their expectations and manage their expectations. Be aware that things can go wrong during a meeting. Be prepared to modify meeting agenda as appropriate and continue with your facilitation while keeping the purpose of the meeting in mind. Adjust meeting activities to suit your participants and adapt your personal style to the group.

6. Practice active listening. As a facilitator, you listen to what the participants are saying and try to make sense of it. You clarify goals, acronyms, and definitions to ensure clear understanding for all participants. To foster a sense of trust and openness among the participants, you want to pause from time to time and summarize the discussions, draw conclusions, and identify next steps. As the facilitator, you are in a unique position to listen to all points of view and integrate ideas.

7. Handle conflicts with assertiveness and sensitivity. If conflicts occur, listen to both parties and paraphrase what they say. Listen to their underlying emotions (e.g., “you seem to feel frustrated, can you tell us more about…”) and promote an atmosphere of collaboration instead of defensiveness. Show participants that differences in opinions are valued and respected. Gently guide your participants back to the purpose of the meeting.

8. Manage time effectively. As a facilitator, you need to move the group and cover critical points on the meeting agenda. Prioritize the issues to be discussed on two dimensions: importance versus urgency. Focus on issues that are of high importance and high urgency first, and then move on to issues that are important but less urgent. To avoid interruptions from dominant participants, assign them to perform specific tasks (e.g., scribing or taking notes for their small group) while still engaging other participants in the room.

9. Produce insightful documents. A key delivery of facilitation is a complete document of the group’s insights. With the help of note takers who record the group’s input and decisions during the meeting, you can keep track of all the group-generated data and produce a comprehensive report complete with charts and tables. This document can then be shared with all meeting participants.

10. Maintain integrity, professionalism, and authenticity. As a facilitator, you maintain personal integrity and behave confidently and honestly. You model authenticity for the group by showing enthusiasm and openly admitting mistakes and lack of knowledge. You keep your ego out of the discussion as your focus is on the group and on ensuring group success.

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