Techniques of successful facilitators: Minor, yet major, things to remember

Managing meeting mechanics will help achieve intended outcomes. Explore techniques and suggestions that lead to effective facilitation.

This is part two of an article series with suggestions to help you improve as a facilitator. We all are given opportunities to facilitate discussions. Here are a few tips and proven techniques to increase your likelihood of success.

  • Set-up the room for shared discussion, ideally in a U-shape with flip charts at the open end. Have people face each other, not the back of someone’s head. Have extra agendas and plenty of paper to write comments or other important notes. Post recorded sheets wherever convenient. If wall space is not available, you may want to consider a change of location or have several flip chart easels ready for posted notes.
  • Introduce yourself and continue with participants. Ask people to answer a common question about their expectations for the meeting, or some other relevant question to gain useful information.
  • Review the agenda and basic meeting ground rules for shared participation. Get agreement on these before proceeding. This will be the first consensus agreement of the group.
  • Keep the group focused on the agenda and task at hand. Add off-topic discussion items to a “parking lot” sheet. Stay focused on the overall objective.
  • Encourage numerous viewpoints – the more important the decision, the more important it is to have all relevant information (facts, feelings and opinions) on the table. Be sure to include quieter members in the discussion, so that everyone has a chance to speak. It is the group that makes the decisions, not just those more talkative.
  • Help the group make a decision. Look for minor points of agreement and state them. Encourage new solutions and look for possible compromises.
  • If it is obvious that discussion will take longer than anticipated for any agenda item, ask the group how to handle the extended conversation. Do people want to keep discussion going and adjourn later? While things don’t always go as planned, make sure there is agreement how to proceed. If it is obvious that time will run out, mention this to the group as soon as possible, so they can spend the last few minutes deciding when and how they will finish the agenda items.
  • Focus on closure. Discussions must include identifying next steps. Make sure that agreements and decisions are properly documented and recorded.
  • Schedule the next meeting while everyone is present.
  • Remain neutral. As a facilitator, you should avoid expressing personal opinions during discussion. Your job is to make sure that all participants are involved in discussions and decisions as appropriate.
  • Take regular breaks. Almost any meeting will benefit from quick breaks. Don’t take too much time asking, just say, “Oaky, I want everyone to stand up for one minute and stretch and then we will sit down.”
  • Review personal commitments made during the meeting. Summarize what each person said they will do. Give a card to each person when they commit to doing something; ask them to write out their commitment. At the end of the meeting ask everyone to show their cards and remind them to work on their task.

Michigan State University Extension offers educational programs and assistance to organizations in areas of strategic planning, board member professional development, conflict resolution and many other topics! To learn more about this and other programs, contact an expert in your area.

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