By definition, facilitating means “to make easier or less difficult; help forward.” Every meeting usually needs a meeting facilitator, someone to help participants stay involved, to lead discussions, and to identify and solve problems. Teams will almost always develop better, more creative solutions when the meeting has good facilitation and will be more likely to support the implementation of the solutions. So, it’s the meeting facilitator’s role to guide the group through an effective process, without influencing the decisions.

For a manager to facilitate a meeting, he or she needs to be willing to let go of their power and be open to different outcomes and approaches. If the facilitator feels strongly about the issue at hand, it might be a better idea to ask someone else to take over.

Meeting facilitator skills & responsibilities

Now, let’s get practical. What makes a good meeting facilitator? What are some skills you need as a meeting facilitator?

Agenda planning

A well-structured collaborative meeting starts with agenda planning. Define the purpose of the meeting, select topics that are relevant for everyone and invite participation, and ask people to contribute to the meeting agenda. Make sure every agenda item has one person responsible and an estimated time frame. To learn more about meeting agenda’s, check out How to create an effective meeting agenda.

Environment and climate settings

Meeting results will suffer when people are uncomfortable, can’t see or hear each other, or are hungry. So, take time to look at your meeting room:

  • Is the room bright enough?
  • Is the sound working and are background noises eliminated as much as possible?
  • Are the chairs comfortable?
  • Is there enough to eat and drink? (Or not, if you need to focus on a short meeting)
  • Can people see each other and the screen?

Active listening

As a meeting facilitator, it’s really important that you know how to listen to people. Active listening requires focus and concentrated effort. First of all, show interest using both verbal and nonverbal messages such as maintaining eye contact, nodding your head and smiling, saying ‘yes’ or ‘mmm-hmm’ to encourage people to continue speaking. Secondly, remain patient, neutral and non-judgmental. Pauses and short periods of silence should be accepted. Don’t jump in with questions or comments, give the speaker some time to explore their thoughts and feelings! Third, when you feel like the person is finished speaking, ask for clarification if needed, summarize the person’s message in your own words and give the speaker the chance to correct. This ensures the speaker that listened and understood.

Leading a brainstorm

Most people think brainstorm sessions are easy to facilitate. That’s not quite true. People usually brainstorm to come up with as many ideas a possible that might be a solution for a certain problem. Important things to remember during a brainstorm:

  • Don’t judge
  • Identify goals
  • Set a time limit
  • Avoid group think
  • Work together

Conflict resolution

When different people and personalities come together to discuss or decide, they will disagree occasionally and some sort of conflict will occur. In fact, conflict is viewed as part of the process for effective decision-making. A facilitator must learn how to harness the power of conflict in a positive way and must consider different personalities. To learn more, read our blog about how to handle different personalities in your meeting.

Meeting facilitator as timekeeper

During the meeting, the facilitator guides the group through the agenda and keeps an eye on the time, so the meeting facilitator also takes on the role of timekeeper. You don’t want to get stuck too long on certain agenda points because you won’t have enough time left to handle every other topic. So, during the meeting, keep an eye on the time and give a signal when people need to start wrapping up their discussion and move on to the next point.

Non-verbal communication skills

More than 50 percent of communication is nonverbal. A meeting facilitator needs to be able to read the group’s body language in order to understand and react to them. So, during the meeting, make sure to consider people’s non-verbal communication by paying attention to their body language, facial expressions, small noises. Be aware of people who look confused or lost, and rephrase questions or ideas.

Asking (the right) questions

Good questions stimulate great discussion. A good question is both answerable and challenging. It will ask for analysis and critical thinking. Think about your questions. Closed questions have only one correct, often short, answer that doesn’t really stimulate discussion. On the other hand, open-ended questions, using “why” and “how”, elicit discussion and sharing. There’s more than one correct answer, so people will start discussing with each other.  So, take some time to consider your question. Will it encourage people to think and discuss?

Consensus building

Consensus means that everyone has had an opportunity to share their thoughts and perspectives and that you’ve used this to come to a decision. Good facilitation will help the group from idea sharing to effective decision making. However, remember that consensus is not the ultimate goal. In the end, it’s all about the best solution for a problem.

Recording

Meeting facilitation involves knowing when to turn to a flipchart or whiteboard to capture what people are saying. By writing down ideas or discussion points, people feel like their ideas are being heard and valued. Make it easy for people to elaborate and discuss by summarizing and recording important aspects of the conversation.

Need a helping hand?

After reading this blog you’re already on your way to becoming a skillful meeting facilitator. That’s great! Now, let GAIKU help you. GAIKU is an easy to use web app that guides you before, during and after any type of meeting. It will make scheduling and structuring meetings easy, and will prepare and distribute your meeting minutes and action points in no time. Sign up for GAIKU and get the most out of your meetings!

Want to learn more? Check out our other blogs that might help you facilitate a meeting: