Last week I had the honor and pleasure to facilitate an afternoon SCORE workshop for a group of small business owners titled, A Strategic Planning Process that Energizes Your Business. Being directly after lunch, I knew the session needed to crackle with energy or else nap time would soon be upon us.
Here are some of my favorite group facilitation tools and tips for captivating the attention of participants and accomplishing meeting objectives:
- Clear Meeting Objectives– Prior to the facilitation, get together with key leaders and stakeholders to define the objectives of the upcoming meeting. These objectives are your ultimate targets, or goals, to accomplish.
- Written Agenda– Seems obvious, doesn’t it? You’d be surprised at how many meetings I have attended at which people don’t know why they are there. A written agenda, at the very least, provides a good framework to channel discussions. Sending it out to the participants before the meeting is a bonus.
- Declarations of Understanding– I begin every facilitated meeting by asking the participants, “What are your desires and expectations for this meeting and of me.” I capture their ideas on a flipchart. Then I share with the participants what I desire and expect of them, listing everything on another flipchart. Next, I hang both flipcharts on a wall so we can all refer to them throughout the meeting, if necessary, in order to keep things on track. My favorite desires and expectations of participants are:
- Respect each other’s opinions
- Participate wholeheartedly
- Hold honest, candid discussions
- Share air time
- Honor confidentiality
- Keep discussions focused on the topic
- Be on time
- Have fun!
- Involvement– Make the meeting fun, engaging and interesting by constantly changing the dynamics. Use exhibits (highly technical training tools) to dramatize your point. Use open-ended questions to get participants talking—their air time should be about ten times more than the amount of your air time. If you, as the facilitator, talk too much, you will never fully realize the value of the participants’ contributions. Also, be sure to get people up from their chairs and moving about from time to time. One way is to let them get up to vote (with smiley-face or star stickers) on the group ideas that have already been captured on flipcharts. This is the “physical exercise” part of your program.
- Spare the Slides– Too many wordy slides are boring and put people to sleep. Use words sparingly on your slides—just enough to tee up an agenda item, exercise, or story. And, remember the famous saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
- Storyboarding– I love to use colorful Post-It Notes as an active, enjoyable way to gather participant input, using their own words. It is also an effective way to diffuse dominant personalities and give everyone (even the quietest, contemplative ones) equal opportunity to provide input during the process. It’s a great way to keep people focused on the agenda item being discussed, and it moves things along much more quickly.
- Bin Items– During storyboarding time, if the group starts to get off track by discussing something other than what is on the agenda, capture the item/idea on a flipchart labeled “Bin” so it can be addressed at another time. This action has a very valuable two-fold effect: (1) It lets participants know that you heard them and that their ideas won’t be forgotten, and (2) it allows you, as the facilitator, to move on and refocus everyone’s attention on that day’s agenda.
- Small Group Activities– Use small group activities when you need to hone in on different facets of an idea. Afterwards, bring everyone together again as a large group and allow the leaders from each small group to share their results, encouraging participants from the larger group to add their input, too. This enables you to work efficiently on several dimensions of a topic simultaneously. As an added benefit, this method has the effect of taming the herd.
- Strategic Breaks– Let participants take a breather after intense discussions or when they become a little giddy. Also, if their eyes are glazing over or turning yellow, it’s time for a break. Let them clear their minds and tend to their other physical needs.
- Acknowledgment– Post the entire group’s work on the walls during the session so participants can see what they have accomplished during their time together. Compliment them sincerely on their great work from time to time. Let them see the progress they are making toward completing the agenda items and give them encouragement that there is a light at the end of the tunnel—and it’s not a train.
I hope these tips help you to enjoy facilitating groups as much as I do.
Much success and fulfillment,
(Adapted from Chapter 15 of Energize Your Business: Engage Your Employees with an Inspiring Strategic Planning Process. Read free chapters and learn more at www.EnergizeYourBusiness.biz .)