When we think about how to be a good meeting facilitator, we often focus on the time that we are in the meeting itself. However, the job of a good meeting facilitator starts well before meeting time and lasts long after it ends.
Good meeting facilitators endeavour to create “Mindful Meetings,” which:
- Have a clear purpose and objectives
- Involve the right people, at the right time
- Use proven techniques to get the most out of the time invested.
The key ingredients of Mindful Meetings are:
- Good facilitation
- Good record keeping
- Appropriate follow up.
Clearly, Mindful Meetings take time to plan. By making the effort to plan, you’ll find your meetings to be more effective in producing results, and you’ll have far fewer complaints about meetings!
In this blog post, I’ll describe these key ingredients and in doing so, unlock the secrets of how to be a good meeting facilitator.
How to Be a Good Meeting Facilitator: Preparation
It’s often said that the devil is in the details. Meeting planning goes beyond setting the purpose and objectives and deciding who should attend. It also involves adequate meeting space and resources to conduct the meeting, and that participants are provided sufficient lead time to attend.
Is a Meeting Required?
The first step in preparing to hold a Mindful Meeting is to determine if a meeting is needed at all. Only certain situations necessitate a meeting.
Meetings generally support planning, problem finding, brainstorming and selecting ideas, problem-solving, or evaluating. Typically, meetings are needed to:
- Present information better delivered “in person”
- Get input from others
- Gain buy-in on an issue
- Motivate and energize your team.
If the proposed meeting does not support one of the above purposes, question the necessity of having the meeting in the first place.
Invite Meeting Participants
Getting the right people to the meeting is a critical factor. First, consider what needs to be achieved at the meeting. Next, make a list of the people to invite. Beside each name on your list, identify the reason they should be invited. If there is not a productive reason to invite a person, cross them off the list. Select people who are stakeholders to what you are doing and who can make a clear contribution to achieving the meeting objectives.
If decisions are required in the meeting, make sure to select participants with decision-making authority.
As a rule of thumb, an ideal meeting size is six to eight people – beyond that, productivity goes down and the chance for conflict increases. If more people must be included, consider a professional facilitator to manage the meeting process and group dynamics.
Get Ready for the Meeting
A number of logistics must be worked through to plan a meeting. When you set the meeting date and time, ensure people have enough advance notice to make time for the meeting in their calendars and to prepare for it. Generally speaking, the longer the meeting, the more advance notice required.
Download our Meeting Logistics Worksheet, which lists all the considerations when planning your Mindful Meeting.
During the Meeting
Good meeting facilitators always:
- Start the meeting on time
- Introduce participants or allow time for people to introduce themselves briefly
- Review the reason for the meeting and the objectives
- State the desired outcomes and share how success will be defined
- Review the agenda, and talk about the steps or processes to be used during the meeting
- Go over the rules for the meeting—expected norms of behaviour that will inform how the group will work with each other.
It is likely that your meeting participants have much on their minds. As you start your meeting, consider conducting the following exercise to “ground” them in the purpose and objectives of the meeting.
Ask your meeting participants to write down their answers to the following questions:
- What three things do you bring with you today that will make this meeting a success for you?
- What three things would you like to take away with you at the end of this meeting that will make this meeting a success for you?
- How do you wish to engage, or to be, in this meeting?
This exercise is particularly helpful in situations where you want to emphasize the responsibility each participant has to meeting outcomes.
Stay on Track
As the meeting proceeds, your challenge as meeting facilitator may be to stick to the agenda while still being flexible when appropriate. If you run into difficulties with an agenda item, you can either change the agenda or park the item in question if you feel it is not appropriate to pursue it at that time.
Make sure that you listen actively, ask open-ended questions, and inquire as to how you might support someone when needed. Record decisions and actions (or assign someone ahead of time to take notes). Review periodically the decisions made and actions completed.
Wrap It Up
Just as the meeting started on time, make sure that it ends on time as well. Review with attendees the completed agenda items, decisions made, actions to be taken, and next steps. Go around the table to see if anyone has questions and make sure everyone is clear on their after-meeting actions.
After the Meeting
A meeting creates knowledge and contributes to organizational memory. As such, meeting minutes capturing the outcomes of discussion, decisions and actions should be documented, stored and made available to stakeholders per your organization’s policies on knowledge and information management.
When capturing action items, be sure to plan for success. Be realistic about what can be achieved and in what time frame. Action items should be assigned only to people in attendance so that timing and scope can be appropriately negotiated. If you need to delegate an action item to someone not at the meeting, make the action item to “contact <potential person to delegate to> about <whatever it is you want them to take on>.
Meeting minutes should be completed within an agreed-upon timeframe post meeting – the sooner the better – so that people with action items are reminded about them and can get down to work quickly.
The more tightly and consistently you follow up and follow through on your commitments to supporting the meeting process, the greater level of respect and attention you will command from meeting participants.
The key ingredients of Mindful Meetings are preparation, good facilitation, good record-keeping, and appropriate follow up. Good meeting facilitators should endeavour always to create and facilitate meetings with a clear purpose and objectives, involve the right people, and use proven techniques to get the most out of the valuable time invested.