Having facilitated many meetings and workshops through the years, I have been fortunate enough to garner thanks from the participants.

One of the questions participants asked me frequently was, “How did you become such a good meeting facilitator?” After all, facilitating meetings is an important skill demanded of managers, entrepreneurs, trainers, and community leaders. It is easy to talk out loud, but it is harder to allow others to talk freely, exchange ideas, and help bridge gaps and discrepancies, and arrive at a mutually acceptable decision in the group.

Actions: Successful meeting and workshop facilitation

So how do we facilitate effective meetings? We call it L.I.S.T.E.N. (Lose yourself, Introduction, Start casual, Tabulate, Encapsulate, and Notify after).

1) Lose yourself. Facilitating a meeting is VERY different from speaking on stage. When you are speaking on stage, you are drawing the audience’s attention towards you. You are the center of attention. However, when you facilitate a meeting or workshop, the attention is on the participants, and you are merely a bridge for the participants. This is the most powerful tip we can provide as facilitators. Let go of your own ego and listen intently your participants’ questions, and immediately direct them to the right participants who can answer them. When your participants draw silence, you may find ways to open the questions up by rephrasing them into more digestible and more easily answered forms.

2) Introduction. Before a meeting starts, get your participants to introduce themselves. Instead of simply asking them to introduce their names and job titles, have them introduce their neighbors instead. This will create an instant “icebreaker” and break down barriers between your participants. Many icebreakers focus on introducing the commercial or work aspects of participants. We suggest having your participants introduce lesser-known aspects of themselves or their neighbors, such as unusual hobbies or interests. This may serve as a “wake-up trick”.

3) Start casual. Meetings are serious business. However, starting on too serious a note can drive down interest and morale quickly, and drains the collective interest of the participants. Therefore, after getting everyone acquainted (or re-acquainted), start the session with some remotely related topic or question that may be thought provoking but light-hearted. For example, if you are talking about “how to increase productivity with limited resources” as the central theme, you may start the session with the question “What is the funniest thing you encountered when managing people”, and give the participants 3 minutes to brainstorm. Have the participants present their “funniest thing”.

4) Tabulate. Meetings need to be engaging, not only by voice, but by visuals as well. People forget what they have said after some time. If you facilitate meetings, have a flipchart ready and write down bullet points of what ALL the participants said as you move along the session. This will help your participants remember what they said, as well as help them focus on key issues that you help link between participants.

5) Encapsulate. After every key question, encapsulate (summarize) all the key bullet points raised by the participants. This will help them remember better what everyone raised, in terms of key concerns, and suggested ways to solve problems. Encapsulate before moving on to the next key question for open discussion. Do NOT allow question after question to move on and on, since participants will become drained quickly. When you encapsulate each key question and related bullet points by the participants, it also allows participants to take a breather and lean back a little.

6) Notify. After the meeting or workshop is completed, aim to finish the minutes or summary and forward by email to all participants as soon as possible. You do not need to be verbose in your minutes. Simple bullet points and action items by participants in a column format (use a spreadsheet or a word processing software) will be appreciated.

The ego is a double-edged sword. If you need impact and confidence on a platform such as a stage speech, your ego may need to come to the forefront to appear convincing and compelling to your audience. However, your ego needs to take second fiddle to your audience if you are facilitating a meeting, since it is their voices that needs to be heard, not yours.

These are some writings we did in 2003 (published as “DotZen”, a paperback book that was widely publicized), and we extracted some which are still relevant today, in the areas of branding, marketing, sales, publicity, and business improvement. If we find some time outside that of helping our clients grow and taking a rest, we will try to write some more.

Copyright©2003 Seamus Phan & Ter Hui Peng. All rights reserved.