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.

Make the switch from simply “running a meeting” to truly “facilitating a meeting” to make better use of your time and see more productive results. Even if you simply incorporate a few key facilitation skills into your meetings, you’ll likely see huge benefits in efficiency and effectiveness. With the help of a meeting facilitator, companies can solve complex issues and arrive at solutions to challenges they have not been able to overcome on their own. 

A successful facilitator possesses several key facilitation skills that make them such an essential asset in guiding effective, successful meetings. Even if you have limited experience in facilitation, the following information and resources can help you properly understand how to facilitate a meeting using professional facilitation techniques.t The resulting meeting process will be highly functional and productive.

What Is a Facilitator? hat Qualities and Skills Should a Meeting Facilitator Have?

Before we dive in, let’s first review what a meeting facilitator is and what they do. A facilitator is someone who plans, designs, and leads a designated 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, safe spacer for all attendees to share their ideas and views. A skilled facilitator does not 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, meeting facilitators are most concerned with how meeting participants interact with one another to agree on an informed decision, 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 meeting space and keep participants interested and engaged. Fosters a feeling of psychological safety for all attendees and can manage strong personalities with grace.
  • Humility: Knows the meeting is not about them and focuses on helping the group achieve its goals. Leverages active listening skills to ensure every single person is heard and understood.
  • 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. Can manage any existing power imbalances in the group and navigate conflicting parties.

Additionally, these facilitation skills are also necessary for facilitating effective meetings:

  • Advanced preparation
  • Clear communication
  • Active listening
  • Asking open-ended questions
  • Time management
  • Establishing a feeling of psychological safety in the meeting space
  • Creating focus amongst the group
  • Unbiased objectivity
  • Managing the group decision-making process

Best Practices for Facilitating a Meeting

When considering how to facilitate a meeting, look at the role facilitators play before, during, and after meetings. We break down key action items for meeting facilitators below.

Before the Meeting

Facilitators help with planning and logistics. They strategically plan a thorough meeting agenda to follow, which lists action items and key decisions that need to be made.. 

Plan to establish the purpose of the meeting very early in the agenda, as it’s important that all attendees are in agreement on that purpose. Without a clear purpose, there is no reason to hold a meeting, yet fruitless meetings still get held. A good meeting purpose will highlight the core issues that should be addressed and the key decisions that must be made. A facilitator then utilizes the agenda during the meeting to stay on track toward the desired goals. 

A meeting 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 agenda item 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.

When gathering in person, it’s critical for meeting facilitators to create an inviting and open environment and set the meeting space up for success. Based on the meeting design, facilitators consider the best kind of seating arrangement, lighting, and props (items like a whiteboard, post-it notes, sketch paper, and pencils, etc.) that are needed to support it. 

For example, if the team 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. Skilled facilitators also establish the kind of energy they want in the room before attendees even arrive, so most successful facilitators will approach the session with enthusiasm and positivity. 

Remote Facilitation Considerations

Virtual facilitation is now arguably just as important as in-person facilitation due to today’s consistently remote and hybrid work environments (such as Zoom fatigue, increased external distractions, technical difficulties, and time zone differences). 

Below are some pro-level virtual facilitation strategies we recommend planning ahead of time in order to have the most effective remote meetings:

  1. Turn on your camera: Encourage all meeting attendees to use their cameras, which is important for human connection and engagement.
  2. 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.
  3. Piecemeal information: To promote meeting effectiveness and productivity during virtual facilitation, try to avoid cognitive overload on attendees. Due to the relative newness of regular remote meetings, facilitators 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). 
  4. Provide necessary support: A key component of virtual facilitation is helping attendees understand technicalities specific to the online 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 meeting agenda, including the meeting duration, agenda items, activities, breaks, voting, etc. so everyone knows what to expect. Establish any ground rules that are necessary to create a psychologically safe space where everyone will feel included and comfortable.

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.

Skilled facilitators also make sure all attendees are participating in equal measures so that no single person is dominating the conversation. To do this, they conduct room intelligence

Another skill that effective facilitators bring to the table is their ability to cut through the noise, conversation, and debate. The facilitator can find the common ground between everyone’s input and then “bubble up” what the group is really saying. They distill conversations and key discussion points, navigating any conflict and leading consensus decision-making. 

Remote Facilitation Considerations

Ensuring 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. Establish early in the meeting that silence is okay while team members mull over different topics, and, though this is a voluntary process, the outcome will be better if everyone contributes.

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, thus preventing 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.

During the meeting, a facilitator’s main goal 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 the facilitator gave people time to share their views, and all attendees are on the same page when it comes to the final conclusions. 

Pro Tip: Try out our Control Room app, a simple tool filled with meeting activities that keep your team engaged and captures feedback.

Finally, an effective facilitator will have a quality record of the decision-making process and any discoveries that were made. This log 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 action items.

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After The Meeting

After the session is over, a facilitator still has more work to do. To ensure that the collaboration done in the meeting does not go to waste, the facilitator reports the key information so it can be synthesized and implemented. 

A good facilitator will ask themselves a list of questions after the meeting, such as:

  • 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 meeting facilitator curates and organizes all of the important findings to share with the team, setting them up for future success.

When to Use a Professional Facilitator

If you have a gathering that is especially important, sensitive, or complex, you might get a lot out of working with a professional facilitator. An external facilitator can also shake up a languishing atmosphere in team meetings, bringing about greater engagement and increased positivity that goes beyond the meeting. 

A skilled facilitator can help whether a company is looking to innovate, solve a complex issue, or gain a new perspective to help business. When you need a fresh and impartial perspective, think about looking for an expert facilitator. 

Additionally, Facilitation Lab is a good resource—it’s a free weekly virtual meetup focused on helping facilitators learn how to facilitate meetings successfully and hone their craft. By attending a Facilitation Lab meeting, you can get a better feeling for how prepared you are to facilitate a meeting.

Meetings don’t actually need to be frustrating or feel like a waste of time. By applying basic facilitation skills and best practices, your next meeting can be effective and successful, even in a remote or hybrid setting. 

Discover Facilitation Training and Certification from Voltage Control

If you’re committed to becoming a professional facilitator, level up your expertise by pursuing Facilitation Certification from Voltage Control. This widely-recognized certification shows your familiarity with the different facilitation methodologies and approaches.

If you’re earlier in your journey to becoming a facilitator, check out the Voltage Control blog for the latest trends and insights on the industry, plus the Control the Room podcast. Additionally, we host self-paced facilitation training courses and live, expert-led workshops.

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