FacilitationFacilitation.  It’s a skill that leaders need, and a role they are required to perform.  Most of us assume we can just jump in and do it, but then why are there so many poorly facilitated meetings and trainings? Whether you are an experienced pro or brand new to the role, these tips may help.

It’s a Party and You’re the Host

I learned this one a long time ago from a skilled facilitator and still use it today.  Your job as facilitator is to prepare the logistics, amenities, room, activities, and atmosphere.  It requires attention to detail before the event so that attendees can walk in and get to work.  Don’t forget to schedule the room and order any audio/visual equipment.  Send out any materials attendees need to be prepared.  If you can adjust the room temperature, be sure to set it to a comfortable level. It’s also a party host’s responsibility to make sure everyone feels welcome.  Be ready to go before people show up so that you can greet them as they walk in.

Food and Beverages

Essential.  A morning meeting means coffee and hot water need to be available.  Baked goods and some fruit are even better.  No matter what time of day, a few snacks go a long way to make people happy, and happy people participate.  A word about budget:  If you are at a small organization or have to put out the money yourself, you don’t need to splurge on an expensive spread.  It really is the thought that counts in this area.  With that in mind, do not show up with an open package of stale, tasteless leftover cookies. (FYI–I’ve seen it more than once.)

If you plan to serve alcohol, I’d encourage you to wait until after the work is complete.  No matter how informal the session, adding alcohol during an event adds complications.  Some of the attendees may not drink, others may not drink in moderation, and if the purpose of the meeting is quality discussion alcohol can impact that rather quickly.

Facilitate with Style

Let’s face it, employees are often not excited about attending a facilitated session.  The facilitator needs to do things to infuse energy and generate participation.  But, we’ve all been there when the facilitator goes overboard.  A little music might help create a welcoming atmosphere; asking people to do the Electric Slide to begin the meeting won’t.

Pay attention to people’s energy level and know their personalities.  Don’t let conversation dominators ramble on or roll over people.  Don’t put introverts on the spot in front of the entire group.  Know who you can engage to set the right tone for the meeting and let them help you get things moving. One other note about style:  Find a facilitation approach that works for you.  Don’t try and mimic some person you saw who did a great job, create your own approach borrowing things that you’ve seen work and that will connect with you and your group.

Wrap-Up on Time

People are busy.  It is important to begin a session on time, but it is absolutely essential to end it at the scheduled time.  You must be managing time throughout the session, but, don’t act rushed, or let people know you are watching time like a hawk.  Time is your responsibility.  You want attendees to be focused on the topic at hand.  If you must run over time for some reason ask for permission to keep going for a specified time.  If people agree, do not ask for another extension.

Facilitation is a skill that can and needs to be developed over time.  Great facilitators make it look easy, but it’s not.  Hopefully, these tips will help the next time you are responsible for facilitating a meeting or discussion.

Jerritt Johnston is the Owner of True North Consultants, which promotes organizational, individual and team growth through challenging, fun and relevant activities and processes.  Contact us today to see how we can help with your nonprofit board or staff development.  True North is an Authorized Partner for Everything DiSC®and The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™.