Mastering Meeting Facilitation

Dr. Mia Cary, CEO & Change Agent, Cary Consulting

A productive, efficient meeting is a beautiful thing. Unfortunately unproductive, inefficient meetings are more often the norm. How do you become known as the person that only schedules meetings when necessary and needed? And how do you get to the point where people look forward to the next meeting you facilitate because they know they will be relevant, productive, efficient, and dare I say….fun? As with any craft, you develop it through skill enhancement, practice, and feedback. Lucky for all of us, there are several easily implementable ways to bring facilitation mastery to your meetings.

Be Clear on Purpose & Goals
First and foremost, be clear on the purpose of any meeting you plan to facilitate. Why are you scheduling this meeting? What are your goals? What do you hope to accomplish? When creating a calendar invite, include the purpose of the meeting. If you cannot define the purpose in one sentence, do not schedule the meeting. Before sending that calendar invite, confirm that a meeting is the best way to accomplish your goals for the meeting. On the day of the meeting restate the purpose at the beginning of the meeting.

Invite with Intent
With a defined purpose and goals for the meeting it is much easier to decide who should be invited to participate. If you are having trouble deciding who should attend, revisit the meeting purpose and goals.

Be prepared and be flexible. Take time before the meeting to collect all materials that will be referenced or shared during the meeting. If you asked participants to complete any pre-work, ensure the pre-work is referenced and utilized during the meeting.

Begin the meeting with introductions and a quick check-in. This acknowledges there is life outside of the meeting and helps to build trust between meeting participants by learning a little bit about each other. A check-in also provides a natural transition into the meeting and prepares participants to engage and focus on the meeting purpose and their contributions. Some examples include asking everyone to describe their day so far in one word, to share something fun that happened over the weekend, or to share something they are looking forward to later in the week. If you are planning longer meetings include multiple check-ins throughout the day.

Listen Actively
Practice active listening. As the meeting facilitator it is easy to fall into the trap of preparing what you are going to say next while a participant is speaking. Being fully prepared decreases this crutch and frees you up to listen with the intent of understanding. Active listening tips include maining eye contact with the speaker, paraphrasing what you heard then asking the speaker if what you just shared is correct, asking questions to deepen understanding, and avoiding interrupting. Being cognizant of your body language is also helpful. Are you leaning forward with an open expression or are you leaning back in your chair with a frown? Being an authentic, active listener is not always easy, however it is one of the most powerful ways to build trust and create a positive meeting environment.

Be Inclusive
Create an inclusive environment so that participants feel that their voice and perspectives are welcome. Don’t be afraid of the power of the pause. Pause often to create space for absorption and reflection and to ensure everyone has an opportunity to ask questions or share their comments. If you are facilitating a hybrid meeting that has in-person as well as virtual participants, be sure the virtual participants are not the afterthought. Ask for their input first and often. If you are meeting some or all of the participants for the first time, include your pronouns when you introduce yourself. If it is a virtual meeting include your pronouns in your profile name. This helps to create an inclusive environment by avoiding assumptions and making it clear that are all welcome.

Recap and Reframe
If the discussion is moving away from the intended purpose, recap what is being discussed and reframe where you want to go. Use a parking lot for any items that are interesting but not on topic. Ensure participants these items will not be ignored, rather revisited at another meeting or another time.

Read the Room
Look for non-verbal cues including body language. If you see folks checking out it is time to switch things up or ask a question to increase participation. This is also part of creating an inclusive environment and making space for everyone to contribute. As a master meeting facilitator you will want to encourage and balance participation, but avoid putting people on the spot. You may be thinking, “Wait, I thought getting out of our comfort zones is good because that is where growth occurs?” That’s true, however when facilitating a meeting your goal is to create such a warm, welcoming environment that participants will want to engage and voluntarily bring their full selves into the conversation.

Keep an Eye on the Clock
Arrive early and in enough time to organize yourself and deal with any technical issues. Start and end your meeting on time. This is a hot button for many meeting participants. End on time even if you have more content to cover. When deciding on meeting duration, plan to end 10 minutes before the half-hour or hour mark. This gives everyone a break in case they are heading directly into another meeting. On a related note when creating a calendar invite include the meeting time with at least one time zone. For example “10am ET Partner Meeting”. This minimizes issues with wonky calendar time zone settings.

Provide Closure and Next Steps
One way to close the meeting with contributions from all is to ask each participant to share one thing that resonated with them or one thing that they learned. At least five minutes before the meeting is scheduled to end, field any open questions then recap agreed-to next steps. Include who will do what by when and confirm understanding by all participants. End with an authentic expression of gratitude, for example thank your participants for investing their time and energy with you.

And with that, I say thank you dear reader for investing YOUR time and energy into reading this article and sharpening your saw!

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group meeting around conference table