Facilitation is an incredibly valuable skill, one that you can use to get the most out of a meeting situation so that the experience is productive and satisfying for everyone involved. For some people this can be an exciting experience while others dread having to host in this way. Wherever you are in terms of how you feel about facilitation there is always room for improvement - these are some of the simplest ways to do more with your facilitation skills.
Getting the balance right
When you’re in a facilitation role it’s essentially your job to try and balance the need for structure as well as encouraging spontaneous contribution from those in the space. While it’s important to encourage contribution, if this becomes too unstructured it can simply be a freewheeling discussion that adds little to the topic you’re focused on. At the other end of the scale, if a meeting is too bound by process, with no participation encouraged, it can be dry and unproductive. So how do you find the right balance?
● Focus on a strong opening. The start of the meeting is often the best opportunity to set the scene and give everyone involved a clear idea of what’s going to happen next. Use this time to be specific about the goals of the session and to set parameters, such as how long the session will last and why, when and how you want people to participate.
● Give everyone an early opportunity to contribute. The best way to do this is to start with an easy question that everyone feels able to answer - this will help to ensure that participants feel comfortable contributing all the way through.
● Focus on the way that you’re coming across. Maintaining energy levels and eye contact will be key to ensuring everyone feels included and engaged. Make the most of the physical space that you’re in, whether that’s moving away from the centre of the room when you want to focus more on contributions from attendees or sitting or leaning against furniture to help encourage a casual feel to the conversation.
● Learn when to spot a dead end. Some topics can bring conversations to a close or simply won’t be part of the agenda for your session. Being able to park this for a later date and move on is a key skill to have.
● Use your questions carefully. For example, use open questions at the start of the discussion to encourage creative answers and switch to closed questions that require a “yes” or “no” response if you want to slow the session down or bring it to an end.
● Provide perspective. A big part of the facilitator’s role is to keep everyone focused on the objectives of the session and digesting the information that has come up. Regularly summarising and identifying any repeating insights or topics can be a simple way to do this.
● Avoid over-extending the session. Even if you have a few participants who just want to keep going it’s important to end the session on time and in a positive way. Crucially, make sure that you thank those who have shown up before bringing the session to a close.
Great facilitators know how to engage and steer in a group discussion context - these are some of the skills that will help you to improve the way you approach this.
Find out more by booking onto our Introduction to Facilitation Skills training course...