Meeting Facilitation Best Practices for Effective Meetings
How do you successfully facilitate a meeting? 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, don’t worry. You’re not alone, and you also could likely benefit from incorporating facilitation and moderation skills for better and more effective meetings. 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 effective, successful meetings. The following information and resources will help you properly set up and run meetings using facilitation and moderation best practices so that they are highly functional and productive.
What is a Facilitator, and what qualities and skills should they have?
Before we dive in, let’s first review what a facilitator is and what they do. A facilitator is someone who plans, designs, and leads a key group meeting or event. For more information on what a facilitator does and when you need one, see our post here. 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 unbiased 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.
As a best practice, a great facilitator should possess the following 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. This is especially important in today’s increasing virtual and hybrid workplace.
- 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.
Additionally, these skills are also necessary for facilitating effective meetings:
- Advanced preparation
- Clear communication
- Active listening
- Asking questions
- Establishing a psychologically safe environment for sharing
- Creating focus amongst the group
- Unbiased objectivity
- Managing the group decision process
Best Practices for Facilitating a Meeting
Let’s take a look at the role facilitators play before, during, and after meetings in order to make them most effective.
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.
For in-person meetings, it’s 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.
Virtual facilitation is now arguably just as, if not even more, important than in-person due to its unique considerations in today’s environment (such as Zoom fatigue, increased external distractions, technical difficulties, and time zone differences). Below are some pro-level virtual facilitation strategies we recommend planning for ahead of time in order to have the most effective meetings:
- Turn on your camera: Encourage all meeting attendees to use their cameras, which is important for human connection and engagement.
- Learn by doing: Make your meetings interactive. This will not only keep people engaged, but it will also help with retention, engagement and a sense of ownership. Use a collaborative tool such as MURAL-a virtual whiteboard tool-to allow team members to engage and work together in real time. Pro Tip: New to MURAL? Download our MURAL cheat sheet for a quick reference for how to use MURAL first.
- Piecemeal information: To promote meeting effectiveness and productivity during virtual meetings as a facilitator, try to avoid cognitive overload on attendees. The virtual landscape is a newer frontier than in-person meetings. Therefore, you need a new process of facilitation that best serves team members in a virtual space. One example of doing this is in our remote design sprints – we request our Design Sprint participants commit to a series of mini-workshops rather than asking them to commit to the five full days (which is the typical length of time for an in-person Design Sprint). Between each mini-workshop, we assign homework and set the expectation that they will present their work at the next group session.
- Provide necessary support: A key component of virtual facilitation is helping attendees understand technicalities specific to the tools you are using. Make sure everyone understands how to use the features of the video conference platform you are meeting on and any other virtual workshop tools they will need prior to the meeting.
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.
Ensure equal participation is typically more difficult on Zoom – to help mitigate this, encourage use of the “raise hand” and chat box features (and make sure you’re checking them). It can be tough to know when to contribute and how to do so respectfully in a virtual space. Ask people to use the button or chat box when they want to be called on. It is a clear indicator of desired speaking space and it prevents multiple people from talking at once. You don’t want anyone to feel overlooked or that their opinion doesn’t matter. These features are simple yet powerful ways to ensure voices do not go unheard.
Pro Tip: Download our Facilitator’s Guide to Questions – this guide was developed for facilitators to always know what questions to ask to keep your meetings effective.
The main goal of facilitation efforts during the meeting is to help the group reach a consensus in the allotted time (remember to allow more time in a virtual setting, or schedule several mini-meetings or workshops to tackle larger tasks or projects). 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. Pro Tip: Try out our Control Room app, a simple tool filled with meeting activities that keep your team engaged and captures feedback.
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. Record meetings whenever possible, which allows everyone to revisit the information when it’s time to plan the next steps.
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After The Meeting
The meeting facilitation best practices for after the meeting is to ensure there’s a process for playback and reporting to synthesize the information gathered from the meeting so that your team can implement the knowledge effectively. What decisions were made? What are your next steps? How can you apply what was learned in an impactful way? What tasks are still outstanding? A facilitator curates and organizes all of the important findings shares them with the team and helps to set you up for future 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. Or if greater engagement and increased positivity are imperative to the task at hand. 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, fresh and impartial perspective, think about looking for an expert facilitator. Additionally, if you and your organization are new to virtual facilitation, a professional facilitator could be a great fit. Facilitation Lab is also a good resource – it’s a free weekly virtual meetup focused on helping facilitators hone their craft to help improve the quality of meetings.
Although they often seem to be, meetings don’t actually need to be frustrating or feel like a waste of time. By applying facilitating skills and best practices, your next meeting can be effective and successful, even in a virtual, remote, or hybrid setting.
Looking for an Expert Facilitator?
Voltage Control offers a range of options for innovation training, design sprints, and design thinking facilitation. Please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to talk.