To facilitate a meeting you need handle the meeting in such a way that it takes the focus away from one leader and distributes leadership to all the members of the group. Facilitation is often contrasted to presentation where information is delivered to a group. Presentation is leader-centered while facilitation is group-centered.
The Meeting Facilitator
The facilitator is the person responsible for managing the process of the group-centered meeting. The Facilitator helps the group to arrive at their objective by ensuring everyone’s contribution is heard and that the processes being used are productive. He or she may also be required to help set meeting structures and manage conflicts.
Effective facilitators remain neutral to the discussion and need to be acceptable to everyone involved. They should not take a position on the issues raised nor should they advocate a solution. The objectivity of the facilitator will encourage the group members to voice their opinions. To become an effective facilitator, he or she needs to have knowledge of group process and an appreciation of democratic management. Keen observation and sensitivity are also a must-have for a facilitator to be effective.
Planning a Facilitated Meeting
The following are some steps to take when preparing for a facilitated meeting:
- Find the right venue. The meeting venue should be conducive to comfortable discussion. Make sure you have all the required materials such as markers, nametags and flip chart paper. If breakaway rooms will be used, make sure they are also adequately prepared.
- Set enough time for the facilitated meeting, it should not be rushed.
- Prepare a facilitation plan. The facilitator should not go blindly into a meeting; it always pays to be prepared. He or she should know the objective of the meeting, the expectations of the group and the profile of the participants.
- Plan how the meeting will be documented. To assist with the follow up process, the meeting should be documented.
- The facilitator should also prepare internally before facilitating a meeting. He or she should be in a relaxed frame of mind before facilitating.
Encouraging Participation in the Meeting
These are some of the ways a facilitator can encourage participation in the meeting:
- Provide the participants with some preparation guidelines in the meeting agenda.
- Make sure everyone is comfortable before starting the meeting.
- Make sure that all participants know that participation is not just welcome but integral to the process.
- Acknowledge all contributions both verbally and non-verbally.
- Be careful not to respond to a contribution in a way that may be seen as devaluing the contribution.
- Encourage participation by directly asking everyone their opinion on a subject matter.
- Build on responses by integrating each member’s response with that of other members.
- Contribution can also be encouraged by intentionally keeping silent.
- Thanking each member for their contribution can encourage greater involvement in succeeding meetings.
Gathering Information during the Meeting
The following are some techniques that a facilitator may use to gather information during the meeting:
- In the Go-round technique, each member gets a turn to speak without getting interrupted.
- Break out groups can be formed to divide the participants into smaller groups. A representative from each group will share the group’s point of view.
- The brainstorming technique involves getting as many ideas from the group in a limited time. Any idea is verbalized whether good or bad. When the time is up the ideas are discussed by the group.
- The Fishbowl Method may be used when an intense discussion of a subject is needed, but the group is large and the time is limited. In this technique, a sample of the group discusses the topic while the rest function as observers.
Synthesizing and Summarizing
Synthesis is an integration of key points in the discussion and summarizing is a recap of what has transpired during the meeting. The following are some ways the facilitator can synthesise or summarize during the meeting:
- Let the participants summarize or synthesize themselves.
- Ask a participant to provide a synthesis or summary.
- Offer a tentative synthesis or summary and seek for the group’s clarification.
- Refer back to the agenda or published documentation.