How to plan a meeting that people want to attend

Start with an outline.

An outline is an effective thought organizing tool. For me, this particular outline has been useful for planning a results-oriented facilitation: 

  1. First, define and record the specific topic to be addressed. Ask yourself, what is bringing this group together? What is the event or focus of the meeting? Likely, the facilitator has already met with group leaders, reviewed existing data, or even conducted surveys or focus groups and has a good understanding of the group’s expectations. 
  2. Identify the purpose of the facilitation. Why is this topic being addressed? Write a clear statement of the reason for the facilitated meeting. Once clarified you may wish to have this purpose posted on a flip chart as a reference during the meeting. 
  3. The next step is to determine anticipated goals and outcomes, usually written as action-oriented objectives. 
  4. Now, consider the facilitation tools that could be used to meet the goals and outcomes. A variety of idea-generating, prioritizing and multi-purpose tools may be found on the web. Determine which tools are most appropriate and the order in which they might be used. 
  5. Work through the facilitation process. Are there specific questions that should be asked of the group in order to fully utilize the tools? What additional information do the participants need to move forward toward their goals and objectives? What responses might you hear from the group? Having a general idea of what the participants might say will help the facilitator to be better prepared. 
  6. Make a list of materials and supplies. What resources do you need to effectively use the tools chosen? What else is needed to provide a successful process (name tags, notecards, pencils, markers, flip charts, etc.)? 
  7. Prepare opening comments. How will you introduce the topic, goals and desired outcomes of the facilitation? Are there visuals, like the meeting purpose, that you should post to keep the group on topic and focused? 
  8. And, most importantly, expect the unexpected! Two books that provide excellent suggestions to manage the unexpected are Standing in the Fire (Dressler, 2010) and Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There! (Weisbord and Jannoff, 2007). 

Finally, as a facilitator, our role is to help a group of people understand their common objectives and assist them to plan how to achieve those objectives. Facilitating a group of people is really about the group – not the facilitator! 

To learn more about how to facilitate a results-oriented meeting, Michigan State University Extensions’ Leadership and Community Engagement team offer a variety of programs, including Facilitative Leadership and Advanced Facilitative Leadership. These workshops are designed to help leaders, managers and citizens build important skills and teach tools that promote effective communication.