Do I Really Want to Attend That Meeting? Insights for Successful Facilitation

Mark J. Komen, President
Kodyne, Inc.
Minneapolis, MN

Anyone love meetings?  I didn’t think so.  Why not?  Here are some common complaints:

  • Lax facilitation or none at all
  • Feeling that nothing gets accomplished/waste of time
  • Take too long
  • Boring presentations/not interactive
  • Someone or a few people dominate the discussion/not hearing from others
  • Too many off-topic detours
  • Attendees not coming prepared
  • Zoom burnout
  • Technical glitches
  • Death by PowerPoint
  • Too many #%!!** meetings!

If you don’t see your favorite “hate” on this list, please send it to me!  But as you CAN see, and as we all know, there are plenty of ways to lose your audience and turn people off – even if you have awesome content to share or to present.  As a person who hosts and facilitates many meetings each month, here are some of my top tips:

Consider that there are different types of meetings

Be clear about the type of meeting you are hosting. Here’s a short list and some general clarification. Note that each type of meeting may have their own specific operating rules and protocols.

  • Status reporting – updating the group regarding work-in-process or pending news items
  • Problem-solving – looking for solutions to current or future issues
  • Brainstorming – creative ideation
  • Panel discussion – information sharing from a group of experts
  • Forum/Town Hall – topic-based presentation and discussion – often used to gather input from participants on issues and their perspectives
  • Training – educational meeting promoting policies, procedures, skill and competency development, etc.
  • Planning – visioning and strategy/action step identification
  • Huddles – very brief status meetings involving small groups of attendees
  • Workshop – interactive, in-depth training which may draw from participants’ personal experiences
  • Retreat/Conference – Deep dive session(s) that may combine several other meeting types and may be done over multiple days

One huge mistake is when meeting facilitators try to do too much and end up intermixing multiple meeting types in the same time span.  For instance, a 1-hour status reporting meeting may morph into a problem-solving and/or brainstorming session without the time or preparation to productively execute them.  Identifying the need for those sessions to be held at a separate day/time will allow the group to move through the original agenda successfully.  Another approach is to set an agenda that divides the meeting into sections.  For example, set the first part of the scheduled session for reporting status and then the second part for brainstorming.  I recommend this approach to be planned for and communicated so attendees know this upfront.

Avoid time-wasting meeting distractions

  • Noise – phones ringing, kids needing attention, construction activity, production line activity…
  • Phone calls, texts and emails – non-emergency contacts that distract participants. I know these come in during the session but I encourage participants to let me know in advance if they are expecting an important call and need to step away.  This expectation tends to influence attendees to not become engaged non-critical items.
  • Technical Interruptions – poor internet connectivity, muted mics, files that won’t open. Often these can be overcome with testing before the meeting starts.
  • Unpolished presentations – although not a focus of this article, poorly organized content and delivery is a huge distraction for attendees.

Meeting Management and the role of the facilitator

The facilitator is crucial to the success of the meeting, whether the meeting is in-person or delivered virtually.  Here are some key actions facilitators need to take so participants can get the most from their time investment in attending:

  • Make sure the meeting has a clear purpose with an agenda and then manage to it
  • Set time expectations and control the flow so the meeting doesn’t exceed the allotted time set. Attendees likely have other priorities and commitments to address.
  • Eliminate participant introductions or severely limit the time allowed for these. I’ve seen significant amounts of valuable meeting time used up because of this.
  • Keep track of important items that emerge during the session and schedule a time/date for those to be addressed at a later time. I like to capture these in a “parking lot” document or on a flip chart.  Also – invite those who need or want to be present at the follow-up meeting.
  • Call a time-out when the group is off-topic or getting lost in unnecessary details and guide them back to the topic at hand
  • Limit people who ramble on, over-share or provide detail that is not relevant to the discussion
  • Ensure quiet participants have a chance to contribute as they may be looking for an opportunity to enter the conversation and share their thoughts
  • Limit side conversations – chat boxes are handy during virtual meetings but still are distractions
  • Take breaks – people need to step away to refresh their concentration, stretch, visit the restroom, respond to emails or texts, etc.
  • Summarize key points and end the meeting with clarity (next steps, action item assignments etc.)

Make it a valuable experience

Meetings are important for getting your team, customers or community together on the same page.  They don’t have to be endurance contests or time-wasters.  If you’ve designed awesome content, use these tips to help make the experience a peak one for your participants.

©2022 Mark J. Komen.  All rights reserved worldwide