Originally published in the IAF Global Flipchart – for facilitators, by facilitators. Download the template below.

Facilitation can get complicated. There are the needs of the client and the purpose of the meeting. The room needs to be set up and material acquired. And then there are venues and breaks and participants… If I didn't prepare my sessions well, I'd probably lose my head.

After I've mapped the general flow of the process, I usually prepare two versions of the schedule:

  • The official agenda – to be shared with participants, this documents contains the most important information: overall objectives and location, titles and timing of the sessions and a short description of their objectives or flow (names of speakers or exercise, as applicable)
  • The facilitation plan – this internal document has two functions: it communicates the meeting design to the direct client – and it contains all the information I need to facilitate the meeting with ease and flexibility. The more complex the meeting, the more detailed the facilitation plan.

I like using a spreadsheet to prepare my facilitation plan – this makes me feel organised. My current template has two sheets.

First, I collect all background information about the meeting:

  • Guiding question: What is the main need or purpose of the meeting?
  • Participants: How many participants will there be? What do I know about them?
  • Objectives: What are the main objectives for the meeting?
  • Results: What tangible results do we want to take home – and how will we harvest them?
  • Logistics: Where does the meeting take place? What do I know about the room?
  • Team: Who's involved in the preparation – in which role? Don't forget to include mobile numbers here.
  • Travel: How will I get to the meeting – and where will I stay?
  • Material: What material do I need to bring? What will the client take care of?

The second sheet then contains the detailed flow of the meeting, with the columns:

  • Time: When will this part of the programme start?
  • Duration: How long will this part of the programme last?
  • Title / description: What is the official title and description of this section?
  • Method / instructions: What method will we use? Any particular instructions?
  • Questions / content: What are the questions that guide this section? Any content that we need to bring in (e.g. introductions, ground rules, framings)?
  • Preparation / material: What material do we need for this section? Anything else to prepare?

I usually start by mapping out the time available: When does the meeting start and end? When do meals need to happen? What might be a good time for a break? Next, I will try to find titles for the sessions and draft a rough description. This information will also be included in the official agenda.

Then it is time for the details. I'll create a new row for each new, timed step of the programme and estimate their duration. This is often a good reality check: does my design realistically fit the time available?

After I've attempted a first description of the methods and questions for the meeting, I discuss the draft design with the client: how does it fit their needs? Any new information that we need to take into account? Usually the agenda goes through multiple iterations and refinements during which I simplify and clarify the design and add more precision in the instructions and guidance I want to bring in.

For each phase of the programme, I'll also map what materials I will need: how many post-its? What type of markers? How many flipcharts – and what should be on them? This will then help me pack and prepare the room on the day.

A copy of the facilitation plan is always in my back pocket as I facilitate – together with an empty card and a pen to capture changes, ideas and needs as they arise. I've yet to see a meeting that went entirely as planned: emergence is part of working with groups.

And yet: a good facilitation plan is an essential tool for me to keep calm and present when I facilitate. If you want, you can download my facilitation plan template below to help you prepare next time.

How do you prepare your sessions? What's in your facilitation plan?

Download the facilitation plan template

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