Facilitation and Moderation Skills for Better Meetings

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. With the help of a facilitator, companies can solve problems and arrive at solutions to challenges they have not been able to overcome on their own. 

 A successful facilitator possesses several key skills that make them such an essential asset in guiding meetings. 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.

Facilitation Skills

A facilitator is someone who plans, designs, and leads a key group meeting or event. The best facilitators help groups efficiently and cordially reach their goals or solutions to their problems by creating an inclusive and open environment for all attendees to share their ideas and views. They don’t come armed with a personal agenda or opinions about the topic at hand. Instead, they are experts at guiding groups through the decision-making processes.

Overall, they are most interested and concerned with how meeting participants interact with one another to attain solutions, and they make sure that conclusions are successfully reached.

Facilitators serve as an unbiased leader, a reflection, and then an organizer of what is said.

The skills that every excellent facilitator brings to the table.

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.

How to Facilitate a Meeting

Let’s take a look at the role facilitators play before, during, and after meetings.

Before the Meeting

Facilitators help with planning and logistics. They strategically plan a thorough agenda to follow that supports a strategy that will best produce the client’s needs. 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.

It’s also critical for facilitators to create an inviting and open environment and set the room up for success. Based on the meeting design, facilitators consider the best kind of seating arrangement, lighting, and props (whiteboard, post-it notes, sketch paper, and pencils, etc.) that are needed to support it. For example, if the meeting is best set up for open discussion, they may arrange chairs in a semi-circle or formation that will best foster communication among the group. Facilitators also establish the kind of energy they want in the room before attendees even arrive and supply the group with everything they will need to be successful.

Set up the room for success.
Set up the room for success.

During The Meeting

To facilitate meetings like a pro, start the meeting by informing the group what the gathering is about and how it will work. Discuss the agenda outline: meeting duration, activities, breaks, voting, etc. so everyone knows what to expect. Then lead attendees through it.

The facilitator’s purpose is to guide the room. 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. Has a discussion run long or a topic gone too far off track? Redirect the group back to the matter at hand and tackle one task at a time.

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.

Source: SessionLab
Source: Session Lab

The main goal of facilitation efforts during the meeting is to help the group reach a consensus in the allotted time. Not everyone will necessarily agree on one solution or conclusion. The most important thing is that everyone involved has the opportunity to voice their views and be respectfully heard and that everyone understands how and why the conclusions were reached.

Finally, documenting the most important talking points and discoveries made is an ongoing and critical task for a facilitator during a meeting. It is vital to have a record of matters discussed for a few reasons. For one, it can be a helpful way to keep progress on track and to avoid repeating previously visited irrelevant topics. A written or audibly recorded record of the meeting also allows the client to revisit the information when it’s time to plan the next steps.

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.

Set up the room for success.

When to use a facilitator

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. A facilitator can help whether a company is looking to innovate, solve a problem, or gain a new perspective to help business. When you need an outside and impartial perspective, think about looking for an expert facilitator. For meetings that are not so complex, a moderator may be a better fit.

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.
Working through ideas

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.

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