Top 10 Rules For Facilitating A Successful Meeting

August 11, 2017 •  5 minute read • by Saeed

“A meeting is an event at which the minutes are kept and the hours are lost.” ~ Unknown

When you are tasked with facilitating a meeting, there are some fundamental rules of the road to follow to get you safely to your destination. By definition, facilitation is any activity that makes an action or a process easy or easier. Here are the top 10 rules I’ve learned and honed after 25 years of facilitating meetings:

  1. Start the meeting well. First impressions count. Setting the right tone for the meeting is important. Review the agenda to let people know what’s up for discussion. Review the objectives. Set a positive tone with an inspirational opening activity. Please don’t make it cheesy. To the extent possible, make it relevant to the meeting at hand.
  2. Keep your eye on the objectives. Without objectives and/or stated purpose, meetings can easily turn into aimless social gatherings rather than productive working sessions. Be very clear about your purpose and pursue it with focus. You objectives should align with your agenda items. The whole agenda should work as a, well, as a whole. Aim for harmony.
  3. Maintain your focusControl tangents. Be careful about going on for too long and raising extraneous points. Bring your focus back to the stated agenda item, question or topic at hand when you find yourself taking unnecessary detours. If others are rambling, do the same. Remember, you are air traffic control and everyone is either trying to take off or to land and your job is maintain some sense of order.
  4. Keep it short. Keep it simple. Keep it succinct. Agenda items, presentation, discussions, back and forths, and Q&As are best delivered in short sprints rather than long marathons. Long marathons test peoples’ attention spans. These days, our attentions are a major commodity not to be taken for granted or abused. Respect it. Don’t just be a bystander to a discussion that unfolds after someone says something provocative. Facilitate. Your task is to help people come to a common understanding or to consensus efficiently (BTW: consensus is not that everyone must necessarily agree with each other but rather that they can live with the decisions being made). Help people retain the information. Don’t babble like a brook and don’t let others do so either. When answers are long and rambling, people don’t know what to hang on to. Your job is to anchor them in something.
  5. Review “homework” from the last meeting. Not only does it remind participants what happened last week, it holds attendees accountable. It demonstrates continuity from one meeting to the next. It validates your work before and your work after.
  6. Attendees should walk away with concrete next steps or Action Items. The world’s most successful organizations demand that attendees leave meetings with actionable tasks. Apple, Google, Microsoft. You name it. Action is the name of the game. People talk too much and process too much at the expense of action – especially in the nonprofit world.
  7. Bring solutions, not problems. There are times when you need to develop solutions in the meeting to a stated problem. But I have sat through so many meetings where the facilitators have created a process to give the illusion of inclusion when they already know the solution. Forgive me, but that is a crazy waste of time. If you know the solution bring it. Let the attendees discuss your solution not the problem you already have a solution to.
  8. Make careful transitions. Before you transition from one agenda item to another, ask if everyone is finished with the current topic. Have a bridge that takes you from one point to the next. Good writers do this with their paragraphs. There is a bridge that takes the reader from one paragraph to the next. Good facilitators do the same thing.
  9. Every item should have an end time. Constraints breed creativity. People mistakenly think that open ended discussion lead to innovation. Wrong. By not placing an end time to agenda items or discussions, we encourage rambling, off-topic and useless conversation. Time constraints kick in a sense of urgency and urgency ignites attention. Creativity then starts to flow.
  10. End the meeting well. A productive meeting needs to end on the right note to set the stage for the work to continue. End on the same positive note you started. Congratulate. Inspire. Encourage. Above all, evaluate. Ask participants for what worked well and would could be improved the next time around. Use the feedback to improve the next meeting.

Successful meeting facilitation is a skill. It’s both art and science. Done well, I believe it has the power to create impactful change. Done poorly, it’s just one more of the drudgeries we have to deal with at work.

Good Luck.

©2017 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

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