5 tips to facilitate an awesome meeting

To Connector Monique Dupre, facilitation is much more than simply making sure a meeting runs smoothly.

“When you can draw out ideas and potential, amazing things can happen,” she says. “If people walk away from a meeting feeling empowered and motivated, you would see how that would change a lot of things – not only in the workplace, but on the personal level.”

Monique’s interest in facilitation began when she realized that the event planning she was doing for a variety of organizations and personal projects over the past 11 years – from helping refugees start gardens to fundraising at her daughter’s school to leading eco-culinary tours in France – required meetings.

In her experience, there is nothing worse than a meeting that goes on too long or has no clear purpose.

So she took an intensive workshop with renowned facilitator Barbara McKay, and began practicing what she learned. Here are her top five tips especially as it relates to Connector Teams:

1. Assign a facilitator.

A facilitator’s main role is to draw out people’s ideas as it relates to the agenda while staying neutral.

If nobody steps up, rotate turns. If someone is hesitant or thinks they might not be good at it, an alternative is to have them take notes on the board.

2. Have a clear agenda and stick to it.

At the beginning of the meeting, go around and ask people what’s most pressing to them to talk about and how much time they have. Once the agenda is agreed upon, post it up on the wall for everyone to see.

An ideal time for a meeting is one hour, but if it goes longer, make sure to take a break. Use a timekeeper to help stay on track. A “parking lot” is also a way to capture ideas or questions for another time.

whiteboard copy

Who said whiteboards had to be boring?
(photo via johnny goldstein on Flickr’s Creative Commons.)

3. Listen. Really listen.

The biggest responsibility of the facilitator is to make sure everyone feels heard. Writing ideas on a whiteboard, for example, helps people to see they were listened to. It also keeps things on track, and eliminates repetition.

Another way is to repeat back and summarize what someone just said: “This is what I heard you say. Is it okay if I put it like this?” This is good with someone who’s especially chatty.

“Even the most hot-headed, can’t-stop-talking person wants to be heard. Getting them to stop talking is the exact opposite of what should happen. Instead, channel that energy and conversation in the right direction,” she says.

How else to do this? Stand next to them. Encourage others who haven’t said much to talk. Pose a question and go around the room.

4. Ask specific questions.

Instead of questions that lead to “yes” or “no” answers, try questions that are specific and have “why” in them.

Think of it this way: asking a kid how their day was like always yields a vague answer such as “fine.” But if you ask who they went out to lunch with and why, you’ll find their answer to be much more robust.

5. Be humble.

Leave your ego and judgment at the door.

“The way I do it in my head is that I see each person as a treasure chest of amazing knowledge and wonderful experiences. They might not see it that way, but they are,” she says. “If you can step outside yourself and simply listen to what’s going on and who’s bringing what to the table, then I think you can be neutral in your actions.”

With all of this, Monique encourages you to practice  – with your partner, your kid(s), a stranger at the grocery store. Look people in the eye. Be in the moment.

“Facilitation can be learned. It’s stuff we do already but we don’t realize it. It’s just awareness and listening skills that overlap with every single conversation we have in life,” she says. “It’s communicating in a way that each person feels they have brought something to the table and walks away feeling good.”

Feel free to reach out to Monique on her blog or contact her directly for additional advice: moniquedupre@gmail.com. For more good tips, Monique recommends Barbara McKay’s blog.

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