Striving for excellence: How to ace meeting facilitation
There are few people who master meeting facilitation. Yet, anyone can improve their meeting facilitation skills. In this article you will discover a few moderation techniques you can use in your next meetings.
Meeting facilitation is one of the most important tasks in ensuring that your meetings are successful, and to effectively moderate your meetings means to know how to lead them. Therefore, it is imperative to familiarise yourself with moderation techniques, even more so given that meetings are the most used management tool.
Meeting facilitation means leveraging a meeting's highly social nature. It means that people need to be the focus. After all, a meeting is a gathering of individuals who want to work together to achieve a specific, common goal. So, it all boils down to developing emotional intelligence and utilising a variety of moderation techniques, depending on the situation. Nonetheless, meeting facilitation isn’t without its challenges. There are few people who master group facilitation without first learning a few valuable tips and tricks.
In this article, you will learn how to start moderating your meetings effectively, with a range of moderation techniques, and will discover how you can make your meetings more fruitful.
Becoming a successful meeting facilitator: A core competence
One thing is for sure: Meeting facilitation is a combination of various other tasks. Thus, good intuition and a structured approach are crucial for a meeting moderator. When moderating meetings, you must take the lead and make sure participants stay engaged during the meeting. After all, a meeting thrives on interaction and fruitful exchanges between participants. Moreover, with meeting facilitation, empathy is a core competence. As a meeting facilitator, you must put yourself in the shoes of the participants, take notes of what is happening in the (hybrid) meeting room, and offer appropriate responses.
Successful meeting facilitation however extends beyond the meeting itself, which comprises of three phases:
The meeting facilitator must be present in all phases, and observe the dynamics and needs of the participants. Likewise, for effective meeting management and decision-making, it is important to keep a finger on the pulse of the organisation's meeting culture.
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Pre-meeting: How do you organise yourself, and the meeting?
Meeting facilitation begins with choosing the meeting participants - often an underestimated task. It's the moment to check whose participation is necessary, and who can make meaningful contributions to the meeting. Otherwise, you run the risk of inviting too many people to a meeting. On the topic of meeting facilitation, notable advice comes from Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos. According to Bezos, teams should follow the 'two-pizza rule' and limit the size of their meetings to a group that could be fed with two pizzas. Essentially, participants should not get bored in meetings that are irrelevant to them, nor should they miss out on meetings where they can add value.
The pre-meeting phase includes the following:
- Creating a structured meeting agenda, with clear objectives,
- Collecting and distributing all relevant information, and
- Managing meeting preparation, asynchronously.
In-Meeting: How do you build a positive environment, and engage all participants?
The in-meeting phase comes closer to the core task of a meeting facilitator, a task that bases itself on meeting preparation. For instance, meeting facilitation can only be successful when there is a structured, relevant agenda. Contrary, when the meeting agenda is irrelevant, the meeting cannot possibly be a fruitful one.
As a meeting facilitator, it is important to help create a positive, solution-oriented environment. This helps to prevent negative spirals and inspires participants to take part actively in the meeting. Psychological safety often plays a significant role in increasing collaboration among participants and bolsters meeting productivity.
Another key challenge is to be aware of underlying group dynamics. It is necessary to keep discussions on track and not let them become one-sided, or susceptible to negative patterns such as groupthink. A good meeting facilitator needs to have the courage to cut off discussions and involve those people who are more introverted, to allow them the space to voice their ideas in front of the group.
The in-meeting phase focuses on:
- Starting and ending the meeting on time,
- Achieving the objectives through productive collaboration,
- Formulating and assigning the tasks, and
- Supporting with taking the meeting minutes.
Post-Meeting: How do you work towards improving future meetings?
When the meeting ends, your work as a facilitator continues. The meeting facilitator communicates and assigns the tasks that were agreed upon in the meeting. If the meeting objectives were achieved, then the focus shifts to the actions that need to be taken.
It is important to finalise and distribute the meeting minutes. This task is invaluable, especially in the planning, preparation, and facilitation of upcoming meetings.
Furthermore, collecting feedback from participants is imperative. By asking them to assess how the meeting went, you make it possible to improve future meetings.
Mastering meeting facilitation: Effective moderation techniques
These are the fundamentals of meeting facilitation. Now, let's see which are the most effective meeting moderation techniques. But before we start, it is important to understand that a meeting facilitator can take on a variety of roles simultaneously, including:
- Organiser (unless the role is already assigned to another person),
- Motivator, and
Apart from their many roles, remember that the facilitator's ability to be warm and humorous, within certain limits, can also be productive for meetings.
What are moderation techniques?
Moderation techniques help you, as the meeting lead, to include all participants in the discussion. They are intended to simplify the nature of conversations, and their main goals are to create a positive atmosphere, to distribute speaking time evenly, and to defuse conflicts.
Moderation techniques help you to include all participants in the discussion.
Which moderation techniques can help you in the opening of a meeting?
It's not always easy to find a good introduction for every meeting. To break the ice and get participants engaged, make sure you avoid an unnecessarily official attitude. Try to have an easy-going introduction that makes participants feel comfortable.
Here are some examples of moderation techniques to get your meetings started:
- Start with a warm-up question: Ask participants a short question and have them take turns to answer. In general, the question could be about meeting expectations, but it doesn’t have to be. For instance, as a meeting facilitator, you can ask about a favourite book or film, or an exciting experience.
- Involve participants in fitness exercises: This meeting facilitation technique is quite unusual, but it can be very effective. Asking participants to join you in small exercises that can be done in the office or remotely is a great way to get the blood pumping, increase participants' attention, and enhance their ability to concentrate.
- Do a lightning round: Ask participants to share their expectations and feelings towards the topics of the meeting. This way, everyone is involved from the beginning and can share their inputs, without needing to have extra side discussions as the meeting advances.
- Make sure participants get to know each: If participants haven’t met before the meeting, it's recommended to use moderation techniques to allow them to get acquainted. These can be in the form of short self-presentations, pair interviews, or a get-to-know-matrix.
- Balance the time allocated to each topic: Both good meeting organisation and time keeping are essential parts of meeting facilitation. But these are not always possible, especially when the meeting agenda has many topics. Therefore, balancing the time allocated to each agenda item is essential. As a meeting facilitator, you should ask participants to help you set the agenda, and find ways to keep to the allocated time. By doing so, everyone agrees on the agenda items and the time allocated to each topic.
It's important at the beginning of each meeting to create a warm, welcoming environment in which participants feel comfortable and able to participate fully.
Which moderation techniques can help during a meeting?
Once you break the ice and start the meeting, your work is not over. Your job as a meeting facilitator is now to keep the discussions going, and involve as many participants as possible - while at the same time keeping the meeting productive.
You should be able to assess any situation and intervene early if problems arise, or if you see that discussions steer away from the pre-agreed topics.
Here are some examples of in-meeting moderation techniques:
- Brainstorming: Despite being widely used, brainstorming is still one of the best ways to generate new ideas, or test and improve existing processes. At the same time, this moderation technique triggers creativity and helps get those who are more introverted involved in the discussion. Brainstorming offers a wide range of possibilities, from simple shout-outs to topic clusters, where people write down ideas as keywords.
- Brainwriting: Sometimes it's a good idea to embrace more unconventional moderation techniques such as silence. This can help overcome blockages in productivity and help to raise participation during meetings. In some cases, for example, it helps to replace a presentation with silent reading. Brainwriting is an effective alternative to brainstorming: Participants write down their thoughts on a piece of paper before they discuss them with the group. The idea behind this method is that silent thinking produces improved results. Since everyone thinks alone, there's a chance that different approaches can come up, various solutions that might have been otherwise suppressed during a collective brainstorming session.1
- The one-point question: This moderation technique is perfect for spontaneously assessing actions that need further discussion. By using this technique, the importance of tasks can be evaluated quickly. For example, you can present several options on a whiteboard or a flip chart, and with the help of sticky notes, participants can assign weights to them before questions are asked. Plus this moderation technique can be implemented with ease in virtual meetings, too.
- The multi-points question: As the name suggests, this moderation technique allows each participant to use several sticky notes to determine, and balance, the importance of main meeting topics. This way, participants have an overview of all topic options.
- The card question: With this moderation technique, the principle is simple: You ask a question and participants write down a short answer to it, on a card. Following, you collect all the cards and place them on a pin board where they are visible. Together, participants discuss the answers.
- The metaplan technique: This moderation technique is suitable to make connections, and structure or prioritise processes. At its core, it's an extension of the card question. You ask participants to share ideas on topics by using a card. Following, each participant explains their ideas and connects them to the ideas of other participants. This way, ideas and structure become more visible to everyone.
It's essential to involve all participants, and show each of them empathy. As a meeting facilitator, you need to be able to assess situations swiftly and with accuracy. In the end, the goal of meeting facilitation is active participation, as opposed to passive participation.
Which moderation techniques can help you after a meeting?
At the end of a meeting, it's important to review what has been achieved, as well as to summarise the outcomes. Each agenda item should have a clear conclusion so that participants know that it has been completed.
The closure of any meeting requires high focus, because without it, previous discussions may become meaningless in the context of future meetings.
Here are some examples of moderation techniques to close a meeting:
- Compile outcomes: This is a key task for any successful meeting. After all, results should be clear, and written down to be included in the meeting minutes. This also helps review the meeting's main events. When you summarise the outcomes, these are reinforced. And it makes the next steps more concrete. Contrary, when there are disagreements, you need to assess whether a specific discussion needs to be re-opened.
- Say 'thank you': This simple gesture can go a long way, and needs to be a part of every meeting. As a meeting facilitator, you should be careful and avoid empty phrases. For instance, a sincere 'thank you' is worth much more than a more wooden 'thank you for your attention'.
- Send good vibes: It's beneficial to end the meeting on a positive tone. This way, participants leave the meeting feeling good, feeling positive energy. At this stage, it is important to focus on achievements and appreciate great results.
Successful meeting facilitation boils down to personal choices
Meetings, the most used of all leadership tools, can reach higher levels of success thanks to meeting facilitation, which is an acquired skill. Therefore, if you want to facilitate meetings effectively, then you need to have some knowledge in the area and learn a few basic moderation techniques. Meetings are highly social events, so as a meeting facilitator, you need to assess people's mood all the time and constantly check the room temperature.
You need to pay attention to the pre-, in-, and post-meeting phases, so that your meeting rises to expectations.
After all, a successful meeting does not mean simply ticking items off of an agenda. Some useful tips on how to lead a meeting well and become a great meeting facilitator can help you a great deal. However, there is no golden book of rules for meeting facilitation. There are only guidelines and moderation techniques, which you can use as and when you need them. The aim is to make use of synergies effectively: The total should be able to contribute much more than the sum of its parts. In other words, a meeting as an entirety must be productive and worth the time of all its participants.
Because in meetings you have to - as the martial arts legend Bruce Lee explains - "Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own." In the end, it all comes down to accepting what you know, filtering out unnecessary information, and letting the remaining information help you develop a personal style. Plus, remember that it's to your advantage, both as a leader and as a meeting facilitator, to be charismatic and convey a positive attitude, no matter the situation or the group of people you lead.
1 ‘The Surprising Science of Meetings: How You Can Lead your Team to Peak Performance’, Steven G. Rogelberg, 2019.