The similarities and differences between the skillsets and when to use them for important gatherings.

When you think about meetings, what’s the first thought or feeling that comes to mind? If it’s reluctance, annoyance, avoidance, frustration, unproductiveness, ambiguity, or a waste of precious work time, you could likely benefit from incorporating facilitation and moderation skills.

The truth is that most meetings are unproductive, so those feelings are valid. According to Doodle’s 2019 State of Meetings Report, unproductive business meetings cost companies an estimated $531 billion in lost productivity and employee time last year. That staggering number doesn’t even include additional expenses like travel, according to Forbes’ report.

Doodle’s report also included employee accounts as to why they consider most meetings wasteful and unnecessary. The reasons included: poor planning, lack of an agenda, failure to stick to an agenda, poor reception on video conference calls, late arrivals or early departures from attendees, and lack of attendee attention (i.e. texting or doing other work during the meeting). We’re here to share the skills and processes you need to solve all of these woes. 

Whether in person or virtual, there are several tangible ways to change a meeting’s tune. The following information will help you properly set up and run meetings using facilitation and moderation skills so that they are highly functional and productive. Let’s change the way we meet so we can do important work!

Facilitation Skills

A facilitator is someone who plans, designs, and leads a key group meeting or event. Their job is to ensure that the team meets its objectives, have fruitful conversations, and that the group gets what they need and want out of a gathering. Think of them as the “Switzerland” of your meeting. They don’t come armed with a personal agenda or opinions about the topic at hand. Instead, they are experts at guiding groups through decision-making processes.

“Great facilitators help groups identify priorities, share ideas and frame conclusions. They keep a team excited about the topic and eager to contribute. And they largely remain neutral. The only imprint they leave is that of a job well done!” –Forbes

A great facilitator possesses the following skills and qualities:

  • Confidence: Able to control the room and keep participants interested and engaged.
  • Humility: Knows the meeting is not about them and focuses on helping the group achieve its goals.
  • Flexibility: Comfortable course-correcting during the gathering if things change, participants want something different, or the agenda needs to change.
  • Curiosity: Interested in their client’s problems, product, or challenge and is excited to learn more about it.
  • Experience: Has successfully led meetings and gatherings for clients and companies before.

Facilitators do much more than lead the meeting or gathering itself. While we think about facilitators doing most of their work in-the-moment, they are also essential to planning and wrap-up activities; they guide the participant experience from start to finish. 

Before the meeting

Facilitators help with planning and logistics. This includes supporting the team to identify the purpose of the meeting–without a clear purpose, there is no reason to hold a meeting–as well as the goals and outcomes they would like to address. A facilitator then helps build an agenda around the desired goals. An agenda serves as the roadmap for the meeting. It is a carefully designed plan that outlines the exact activities that will take place during your session, including the allotted time each activity or topic will last as well as the start, end, and break times. Sticking to a sound agenda throughout the meeting helps to keep attendees focused and engaged, save time, and create desired results. 

During the meeting:

The facilitator is the leader of the meeting, they run the show. They guide the room (both in-person and virtual) to ensure everyone stays on track. The facilitator watches the clock, makes sure the agenda is being followed accordingly, and tells the group when it’s time to move on to the next activity or discussion. They also make sure all attendees are participating in equal measures so that no one person is dominating the conversation and everyone has the opportunity to weigh in and be heard; they conduct room intelligence. Another skill that facilitators bring to the table is their ability to cut through the noise, conversation, and debate and “bubble up” what the group is saying. They distill conversations and key discussion points and can summarize what they hear the group saying. (That’s why they’ll probably ask for Post-It notes and a whiteboard in the room–also available remotely with virtual whiteboard tools like MURAL.)

After the Meeting:

Playback and reporting are facilitation skills that help to synthesize the information gathered from the meeting so that your team can implement the knowledge. What decisions were made? What are your next steps? How can you apply what was learned in an impactful way? A facilitator curates all of the important findings and helps to set you up for future success. 

When to use a facilitator

You probably don’t need a facilitator for that weekly team meeting or your average gettogether. But, if you have a gathering that is especially important, high-stakes, sensitive, or complex, you might get a lot out of working with a facilitator. When you need outside, and impartial, perspective, think about looking for an expert facilitator.

An expert facilitator can be especially helpful for leading large group virtual meetings. The virtual business landscape is new to many and it can be difficult to implement the most successful practices and skills to run productive remote meetings. Check out Virtual Work Guide for tips and tools to help you operate remote work and meetings. 

Moderation Skills

Moderating requires a “softer” skillset in that they serve more as an MC (master of ceremonies). While a facilitator’s position of responsibility directly influences a group’s outcome, a moderator predominately oversees communication activity to keep the conversation organized in a meeting or online forum. A moderator’s job is to make sure the speakers and events of the meeting are organized so that the audience gets the most out of the experience. They introduce the speaker(s), keep the time, and ask and moderate questions. Like a facilitator, a moderator is at their best when they act as a neutral party. Their objective is to be an unbiased liaison. This individual presides over the meeting or discussion in order to monitor participant exchanges and seamlessly move the discussion from topic to topic. Unlike a facilitator, moderators do not design the meeting structure and happenings and are not responsible for the results. They solely focus upon helping people come to an agreement and keep the peace rather than obtaining responsibility for leading a process (helping people make decisions and achieve results) as a facilitator does. 

“Moderation is a tool that assists communication in a team, ensuring that the resources participants bring to the table can be employed optimally. The participants play an active part in decision-making and reform processes. The role of the moderator is to provide problem-solving assistance and make participants aware of other points of view as well.” -Bethany Prykucki for MSU.

A great moderator possesses the following skills and qualities:

  • Active listening: Focuses on what is being said throughout the meeting. Expresses gestures of acknowledgment like nodding their head, leaning forward to listen, and holding receptive body language. Uses participant comments to summarize and debrief on topics–reflects what is being said back to the group for clarity. 
  • Flexibility: Adapts to the flow of discussion. Remains open to changes in the agenda, within reason–sticks to the schedule but allows for wiggle room as they see fit. Adjusts to the energy in the room and requests from participants accordingly. 
  • Inclusive & Respectful: Recognizes and engages all participants in the meeting, respects various points of view and establishes respect among the room. 
  • Organization: Follows the meeting agenda, prepares for the unexpected, manages the time, keeps the discussion moving, and focused. 
  • Enthusiasm: Expresses a high energy level to elevate the room while paying attention to participants and recognizing the group dynamic.

When to use a moderator

The skills of a moderator are beneficial to implement for larger meetings or ones that go beyond conversational. Gatherings that are held to reach an important decision or discuss controversial content would benefit from the leadership of a neutral party. Anything more complex would best be suited to a facilitator.

Sometimes it is necessary to have both a moderator and a facilitator. For example, during most of our virtual workshops, we have an active facilitator that runs the workshop events, manages attendee participation, and synthesizes the data. A moderator keeps track of the time and assigns participants to breakout rooms and answers tactical questions. The facilitator is in charge of the workshop process and the moderator is in charge of organization and time management.

Event moderator and facilitator, respectively during our Future of Facilitation virtual workshop.

Before you host your next important meeting, consider implementing facilitation and moderation skills to have a productive meeting, and generate results.

Need help building a better meeting? Bring in a professional facilitator from Voltage Control.

Voltage Control designs and facilitates innovation training, Design Sprints, and design thinking workshops, both in-person and virtual. Please reach out to us at if you want to talk.