A facilitator is more than just a master of ceremonies who can keep a meeting or workshop rolling along. Businesses task professional facilitators with everything from developing the agendas and creating attainable objectives to ensuring a safe environment where participants can be productive. The same goes within the education world where workshops or classrooms should be efficiently facilitated.

It isn't easy, and it takes a lot of specialized skills. If you find yourself needing to facilitate a meeting or classroom, the following 8 skill tips will come in handy:

1. Let people know the role of a facilitator

Knowing what to do as a facilitator and what not to do, is one of the most crucial parts of the job. Yet having the capacity to convey the role of a facilitator to a third party is perhaps more critical for your success. To prevent issues down the line, make sure that you explain what to expect from you before hosting a meeting or class.

2. Create and share specific meeting/class objectives

Imagine packing up the car and heading off on vacation without anyone in the car knowing the destination. Sure, you may wind up somewhere amazing, but it is much more likely you be spending your night in an awful motel on the roadside because you got lost. The same thing will usually occur if you try to lead a meeting or class without writing precise objectives. Good goals are achievable. In this situation, achievable means that the objectives will not require any more time, resources or permissions than those available in the current session.

3. Write and stick to an agenda

Preparation prevents poor performance, and without a plan, you're probably not going to have a very successful session. So, make sure you write one and provide it to all attendees well in advance to give everyone enough time to get ready. A good agenda includes the objective, as discussed above, and a list of topics that the session will cover. When coming up with the topics, you must know the purpose for including each one and how it directly helps reach the overall objective of the meeting or class.

If you can't find a direct correlation between the topic and the goal, leave it out, and save it for another time. When you do not plan to lead the discussion on a particular topic personally, the agenda must specify who will be in charge of that part. Including a timeframe for each topic will help keep everything on track and discourage endless discussions.

4. Take ownership of the meeting/classroom

These days, many companies are pushing a more democratic approach towards leadership, but this won't work within the limitations of a meeting. While it is a good idea to assign roles like note-taker, time-keeper or presenter to other meeting participants, remember that it is the facilitator who is ultimately responsible for accomplishing the objectives. Therefore, you must retain control even if you allow others to lead certain meeting aspects. Make it clear from the start that you have the final say when to close one topic and move on to the next. Be assertive in the way you guide discussions and ensure that everyone remains on task to ensure that you are using time productively.

5. Be inclusive by helping others contribute

A large part of good facilitation is fostering an environment where people feel like they can share their ideas and want to do so. The way you interact with participants can go a long way towards promoting this type of behavior. Therefore, be sure always to present yourself in a positive and upbeat manner. That means never being critical of suggestions and always attempt to validate anything participants say. If you feel someone made a good point but may not have said it in the best possible way, help them out by restating it. Give everyone a chance to talk, even if it requires a bit of personal prompting, like, "John, what was your first reaction when you heard that the company was closing the downtown branch?"

6. Master more than just active listening

Don't fall into the trap of acting like just another presenter or instructor. Facilitation is a two-way street that necessitates speaking as well as listening. Yes, you need to know how to talk with authority and perfect the finer points of giving good directions, but you mustn't neglect practicing ways to hear what others are truly saying. Effective listening skills go way beyond active listening into the realm of empathic listening. Empathetic listening is the skill of understanding the surface meaning of the words a person says and knowing how to identify the emotional feelings attached to them. These clues can come in the form of body language, speaking tone or even what is not said. The more proficient you become as an empathic listener, the easier it will be to run productive meetings or workshops.

7. Recognize that you are not the subject-matter expert

Finding ways to acknowledge to yourself and others that you don't know it all is a complex skill to get a handle on because few people want to admit they are not the most competent person in the room. But there is almost a 100 per cent chance that someone in the meeting or class has experience and knowledge about the subjects. That is normal and perfectible acceptable. 

8. Learn to end a meeting/class correctly

Believe it or not, completing the objective of a meeting or class doesn't necessarily mean you were successful in your role as a facilitator. Often reaching a goal doesn't have any real-world impact if the attendees don't clearly understand what they need to do in the future. But you can avoid this lack of carryover by ending a session correctly. It is a good idea to end with a summary of salient points and an alignment check to ensure participants are all in agreement. Then move on to make sure that everyone knows what they need to do after the meeting or class. If the objective requires further action, insist that people make specific commitments of what they will do and by when. Finally, conclude the session by reflecting on the value of any accomplishments and specifically call out the positive contributions of individuals.

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Written by

Consultant at EHL Advisory Services

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