We have all been to meetings which do not seem to be going anywhere - the discussion sidetracks away from agenda (or even worse, there was no agenda), attendees are not prepared to participate and there is lack of structure to the meeting. To summarize – it was a waste of time for everyone involved. Most meetings are ineffective because of the lack of a meeting facilitator to drive the meeting agenda and arrive at expected outcome at the end of the meeting.

In this guide, we share seven tips to level up your meeting facilitation to ensure that every meeting you drive is productive. For those in a rush, we have outlined the key takeaways –

1. Share meeting agenda and designate a note taker

2. Kick-start the meeting with an icebreaker

3. Go over the agenda, meeting structure and expected outcomes

4. Encourage and equalize participation

5. Keep up the energy of the (virtual) room

6. Facilitate discussion by asking questions

7. Resolve or park conflict to power through the agenda

Let’s dive deeper into each of these suggestions in more detail.

1. Share meeting agenda and designate a note taker

Meeting agenda is a list of activities, tasks, goals that the meeting owner or participants wish to discuss and accomplish during the meeting. Building and sharing agenda ahead of the meeting encourages meeting attendees to prepare for the discussion and be an active participant in the meeting. It also gives attendees an opportunity to suggest modifications to the agenda and thereby, taking a combined ownership of driving the agenda forward.

Along with sharing an agenda before the meeting, remember to assign a note taker for the meeting to capture meeting minutes. This will ensure that the meeting discussion gets accurately documented including key decisions, action items and next steps. Assigning the note taker ahead of the meeting will give them enough time to prepare for note taking and ask clarifying questions if needed.

2. Kick-start the meeting with an icebreaker

We all are busy with work and, with being remote, often do not find time to connect with our teammates. Hence, it is very refreshing if a meeting starts with 1-2 min of non-work conversations. It gives attendees a couple of minutes to reset themselves after their last meeting, get comfortable with others in the room and build a rapport. These conversations should be extremely light weight and casual. E.g., if you are facilitating a meeting with stakeholders from different functional groups, take a moment to do a quick round introduction or if it is a team meeting, talk about your weekend or any upcoming fun activity outside of work.

   

3. Go over the agenda, meeting structure and expected outcomes

This is a good way to set expectations with the group and prepare them for what’s coming next. Take 1-2 min to go over the meeting objective, expected meeting outcome and outline how you plan to spend the rest of the meeting time. This will help meeting attendees structure their thought according to your agenda and prevent situations where people begin to skip agenda topics unknowingly and thereby derailing the discussion. This will also help the note taker structure their notes and be more efficient when capturing the discussion details.

4. Encourage and equalize participation

Every meeting has two kinds of attendees: “The celebrities” who love to talk, participate actively in discussions, keep the meeting momentum going and often end up dominating the discussion. Then we have “The listeners” who remain silent, speak only when spoken to, and shy away from any active discussion. It is the responsibility of the meeting facilitator to ensure that the discussion is balanced and there are inputs from everyone. This can be achieved by nudging the listeners of the group to speak up by asking open-ended questions like – “what do you think about this approach?” or “any thoughts or suggestions on how we can achieve this?”. Another way to promote participation would be to create a collaborative document/white board and ask attendees to note down their thoughts. “The listeners” might be more comfortable sharing their thoughts through this process instead of speaking up during the meeting.  

5. Keep up the energy of the (virtual) room

It is the meeting facilitator’s responsibility to manage the energy of the room, pick up on visual/body language queues and respond accordingly. If the attendees seem tired, uncomfortable, disconnected with the discussion, or simply not satisfied with the meeting progress - it might be a good time to reset, and course correct. This is extremely important for meetings that are intense like leadership reviews, goal setting, brainstorming sessions etc. or emotionally demanding like professional development, yearly reviews, team-health discussions etc. A few ideas to help bring back positive energy in the room are –

  • If it is a long meeting, take 5 min breaks after every 45 minutes of intense discussion or when the energy of the room is low
  • If the meeting is scheduled during lunch hours, convert it into a lunch meeting. Even better arrange for company sponsored lunch for the team
  • Break the monotony of the discussion by asking participants to add ideas on a whiteboard or collaborative document
  • Change the format of the meeting. Example – if you have conducted brainstorming sessions as a large group in the past, pivot that into creating smaller teams and conducting a mini hackathon

6. Facilitate discussion by asking questions

A meeting facilitator is not expected to know all (or any) answers for the discussion at hand (Afterall, that’s why there is a meeting!). However, it is the meeting facilitator’s responsibility to drive the discussion towards meeting outcomes - key decisions and action items/next steps. This can be achieved by asking questions and then follow-up questions till the group gets to the expected outcome or closer to taking a decision. This requires the facilitator to actively listen, understand the point of views being presented and only ask leading questions when the discussion seems to wither away or go nowhere.  

A few questions or prompts that can be raised by the meeting facilitator are –

  • What would you say are some drawbacks of taking this approach?
  • Does this mental model align with the leadership thought process?
  • What are other alternative approaches that we can take?
  • Is there any other viewpoint from the group?
  • Are we overlooking any potential blockers by taking this approach?
  • How would we measure success for this project?
  • Can you expand on your idea?
  • Can you provide context on your idea for the larger audience to understand?

7. Resolve or park conflict to power through the agenda

In a meeting, different people from varied personal and professional backgrounds come together for a discussion. This inevitably results in conflict and differences of opinion. These disagreements over ideas, key decisions or action items should not be discouraged, rather, the meeting facilitator should view this as an opportunity to have an exhaustive discussion by going over all contrasting viewpoints that might have been missed otherwise. If such situations arise, instead of silencing the voice, the meeting facilitator can do a few things to ensure that the discussion still results in an outcome –

  • Meeting facilitator can ensure that every attendee gets an opportunity to raise their viewpoints by asking leading questions and gently nudging the attendees to speak up
  • In case the discussion stagnates, park the conflict to be either resurfaced at a later point or to be raised to leadership