More often than not, you’ll find yourself in the situation where external facilitation is just not an option. Maybe there’s no budget, maybe there are political concerns or maybe there is simply no time to involve yet another person.

Still, your meetings are important, and you need to be sure that you get the best possible results. You and your participants have better things to do than sit in yet another unfocused and unproductive workshop.

What can you do?

  1. Be clear about the purpose of the meeting. Where do you want to stand by the end of the day? Do you want to brainstorm options, take a decision, generate momentum? Then work backwards: How can you get there?
  2. Prepare a facilitator’s agenda. In addition to the overview agenda for participants, prepare a detailed agenda and flow of the meeting. I usually take notes of: time and duration, description and purpose, additional facilitation instructions, material and preparation. I also note roles and responsibilities. Here’s an example of a meeting I led in May: Before the event is starting, do a dry run with all people involved in staging the event.
    Download the template.
  3. Think through the participant’s experience. Which questions do they have at various points in the process? When are you going to communicate what in the run-up to the meeting? Do you have an answer for all logistical questions? What is going to happen after the meeting? How are you going to document it and report from it?
  4. Assign a Master of Ceremonies. Even when you have clear responsibilities for each session, you’ll benefit from having someone who keeps an eye on the overall timing and atmosphere of the event. This person is then also the first point of call for programme related questions (and possibly logistics).
  5. Involve your participants. By definition, your participants are smart and have something to contribute to your meeting (why else would you invite them?). It’s a wasted opportunity to only allow them to speak during the coffee breaks. Use questions to lead the discussion and be clear about the time constraints: Sometimes, 2-3 statements are enough to answer a question.
  6. Invest in facilitation training. It’s a lot cheaper to train your staff in the art of facilitation than to rely on outside experts forever. I can recommend the ICA’s Technology of Participation or the Art of Hosting.

What else has helped you to make the best of your meetings?

Update: Apparently counting isn’t my forte. Merging related points is. And suddenly, there were only six steps when seven were promised. Here’s now a bonus point:

  1. Honor time. Every single topic on your agenda is important and would probably deserve its own day-long workshop, but alas, that is not what your participants have signed up for. Keeping an event on time means keeping it focused – and more likely to produce results.
7 steps for better meetings
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One thought on “7 steps for better meetings

  • 26 January 2012 at 02:19
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    #7 a good point! I often find that this is the hardest to deal with, the kinds of things that are on our meeting agendas are often complex and it seems impossible to box them in to the limited time that we invariably have…

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