Improve Your Meetings Immediately

by Stephen Boyd | November 30, 2004

One of the reasons we don't enjoy meetings is that they are often conducted poorly. As our number of meetings increases, effective facilitation skills are essential.

Facilitating a meeting requires the ability to follow an agenda that keeps the group on the subject and encourages all members to participate freely. This is accomplished by having the group talk about the issues in an orderly and congenial fashion without one or two people dominating the discussion.

There are some mechanical concerns in facilitating a meeting. Everyone needs a copy of the agenda for the meeting. If possible, participants should have the agenda a day in advance to prepare relevant and cogent comments. The meeting needs to start and end on time. The length of the meeting should be announced at the beginning. The facilitator may set the maximum length of time any issue will be discussed. The meeting should be conducted in a comfortable environment - well-lighted with a properly controlled temperature. With these basics in place, everyone will be more alert to participate.

The facilitator must listen more than he or she speaks. If that is not the case, more consideration should be given to questioning techniques. Ask why, how, or what questions. Facilitation is not taking place if the moderator or leader is lecturing or giving his or her opinion most of the time. The goal is to encourage everyone to speak, and the facilitator must be quiet a majority of the time for that to happen.

The discussion leader must be able to summarize the progress of the discussion from time to time to keep it on track. As people are talking, assimilating information in order to summarize is important. Thus the facilitator cannot be easily distracted from the topic under discussion.

The facilitator must not take sides. He or she has the responsibility to keep the discussion moving forward and ideally to reach consensus on the topic at hand. Saying encouraging things and being nonjudgmental are essential in accomplishing this task.

The facilitator must look and act interested in the comments of everyone. Encouraging questions and comments with a pleasant demeanor throughout the meeting is vital. Short periods of silence during discussion should not be feared. Often that is a sign that people are pondering carefully what has been said.

We may never actually enjoy meetings, but if the facilitator does his or her job well, meetings can be both efficient and beneficial.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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