Tips for effective communication for both facilitators & participants
Communication is the lifeblood of a meeting. When that lifeblood is flowing well, your meeting will be smooth, effective, and pleasant to be a part of. If the facilitator or participants are struggling to communicate, however, the meeting will become frustrating and ineffective.
The responsibility of effective communication rests upon everyone in the meeting space, but how that responsibility is fulfilled may look different depending on the person’s role. Whether you’re a facilitator leading the meeting or a participant doing the work, here are some ways you can communicate more smoothly.
As a Facilitator
As a facilitator, your goal is to ensure that your meeting’s participants do the best work they are capable of in service of the meeting’s objective. The success of your participants will hinge upon your ability to communicate – and help them communicate – as effectively as possible.
1) Listen More
Discussion time is a crucial part of any good meeting. When people are speaking, they make better connections, learn more effectively, and improve their problem-solving capabilities. Meetings are in service of those doing the work, not in service of the facilitator. Any time you as the facilitator spend talking is less time that participants are given the opportunity. Talk less, listen more.
Beware of monologuing or dominating discussion time. As a figure of authority in the room, participants are likely to be hesitant about interrupting you with their own thoughts or feelings, so it is crucial to allow space for participants to share without needing to take the baton from you by force.
What’s more, people who feel that they are being listened to will share more and be more open – this will lead to more constructive discussion. If your participants feel that they are talked at or talked over, they will check out. No one wants to contribute if they feel it will fall on deaf ears.
2) Ask Questions
Questions challenge us. They are the fertilizer to fruitful conversation. They make us think deeper and more critically about our thoughts, feelings, ideas, and opinions. Asking good questions will simultaneously engage your meeting participants and help them better articulate the things they are trying to express.
Questions also allow us to clarify our understanding of others’ contributions. If you are not 100% sure on what a participant is trying to say – or if you think others in the room may be unclear – asking clarifying questions will help the speaker better express themselves.
3) Adapt Your Communication Style
Some people are big picture-thinkers, while others care most about the details; some people are highly analytical, while others are far more concerned with creativity. Identifying and then adapting to the communication style of both your individual participants and the room as a whole is critical to the success of your facilitation.
The communication styles of those in your meeting will dictate things like which activities will come easily to them, which ones they will need a lot of encouragement to be successful with, what kind of feedback they will be receptive to, and how much guidance and redirection they may need during discussion. In order for each individual participant to have the best experience possible (and do the best work!), you will need to fit the needs of their communication styles, even if it means communicating differently than you would naturally.
Figure out what your participants respond really well to and what they need extra help with. Certain rooms may need heavy redirection to stay on task during highly engaged discussions, while others may need much more prodding to share at all. If you sense a participant getting frustrated, this may be a sign of a mismatch in their communication style and how they are being communicated within the moment.
As a Participant
Meetings cannot exist without their participants. As an attendee, it is your responsibility to participate fully and contribute your best work in service of the meeting’s objective. Your ability to communicate effectively will determine the success of the group’s teamwork.
1) Ask for What you Need
Even the most intuitive of master facilitators are not mindreaders. Be authentic about what you need to be your best self in the meeting space. This may be as simple as a request for resources or a more nuanced request for a shift in the meeting’s climate.
If a meeting is well underway and your brain is fried or you’re so hungry that you can’t focus on what anyone is saying, you’re likely not the only one feeling this way. If you need a break for coffee or a snack or a quick stretch, tell your facilitator. Breaks should be scheduled into the agenda, but sometimes we need more breaks than a facilitator could have foreseen. Heavy discussion topics or difficult activities can significantly wear down our mental energy.
If you don’t understand directions for an activity or what a facilitator means by a question, ask for clarification. The facilitator is in the room to guide you to success – part of that is making sure you understand what you’re being asked to do. Just like with breaks, if you feel confused or unclear, you’re likely not the only one.
Communicate with the facilitator if the climate of the room feels psychologically unsafe or uncomfortable. If a facilitator is asking you to be vulnerable and you do not feel that it is the right space to do so, sharing this can expose larger issues in the meeting’s expectations, tone, etc. This will allow the facilitator to either shift the climate of the room or redirect the discussion or activity to be more appropriate for all participants.
2) Don’t Just Wait Your Turn
Have you ever been sitting in a meeting and realize that you’ve been thinking so hard about what you’re going to say that you weren’t listening to others? It’s an extremely easy trap to fall into, but when we do this we are not being part of a conversation. We’re simply waiting for our turn.
Keeping a notepad and pen in front of you during a meeting can help. When you have a thought you’d like to share, make a note of it. By taking it out of your head and putting it onto the paper, you’ll be able to focus on what others are sharing. This will also allow you to organize your thoughts before you speak them; after putting your thoughts on paper, you may see that some of them are connected in ways that you didn’t realize, or you may realize that some of them aren’t as relevant to the meeting’s objective as you initially thought.
On the flip side, don’t feel pressured to share just for the sake of it. If you have something you feel inspired to contribute then do, but you don’t need to keep a tally of how many times you’ve spoken during a meeting just to prove you’re listening. Your facilitator will be able to tell that you’re engaged even if you don’t have a unique point to make on every single topic. Just beware of staying silent during disagreements – remember, silence denotes agreement.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to talk.