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How to be a kickass meeting facilitator

By Zvonimir Rac

Have you ever felt yourself start to get jittery when you’re minutes away from leading a meeting? Or just felt like you wanted to get the meeting done and over with? Or started thinking worst-case scenarios, like…

“What if they think I’m wasting their time?”

Or…

“What if blow this opportunity??”

Feeling anxiety before leading a meeting isn’t anything new – even seasoned professionals feel it from time to time. But the more you do it, the easier it will be to manage those butterflies.

Confidence is key when you’re the meeting facilitator, and that comes with practice.

Whether you’re looking for tips on how you can improve your leadership in a meeting or are preparing to lead a meeting for the first time, following these pointers will help you feel more confident in your facilitation skills.

 

Check yourself

In order to be an effective meeting facilitator, you first have to be an effective leader. Now that doesn’t mean you have to have a senior executive title in order to be a leader; a true leader doesn’t focus on their title, they focus on the people.

How you conduct yourself outside of a meeting is how you’ll be treated in the meeting.

If you want to prove yourself a leader you can’t just work on your success rate, you must also be self-aware of your personality traits and how they affect those around you. If you facilitate a meeting through fear and bark orders at everyone, or if you frequently participate in the water cooler gossip, your chances of proving yourself a trusted leader will dwindle.

It’s said that “your job gives you authority, but your actions earn you respect…”

If you want your team to take you seriously during meetings, you have to think about what values you bring to the table. In turn, if all goes well, your team will reciprocate that.

 

Let the agenda guide you

The meeting agenda exists for a reason – it’s there to help guide your meeting with a mapped-out order of events so you can fulfill your meeting objectives. So take the time to prepare a well thought out agenda to guide your meeting.

Your team will rely on you to be the meeting facilitator, so leaving everyone in the chaos of a disorganized meeting will be a troublesome situation. Your chances of conducting effective meetings takes you 80% of the way there if you plan out your meeting with an agenda.

When it comes to the moment of truth and you’re unsure where to get started, or if you find that your meeting wavers off the tracks – always go back to your meeting agenda.

 

Know your team

Everyone on your team isn’t cut from the same cloth; you can’t treat them all the same way. Each individual contributes to the team in their own unique way.

During a meeting, some people have the tendency to go on frequent tangents, others need some coercion to contribute to the discussion. The last thing you want to do is leave individuals feeling like they don’t belong in the conversation.

Knowing how to engage with each person is key, and in order to do that, you have to value every relationship. When you make an effort to get to know each individual on your team and how they work, problem solve, and socialize, you’ll better understand how to lead the meeting in a way that involves everyone.

 

Find a balance

Find a balance between speaking and listening. You will need to know when to let a valuable conversation keep flowing and when to steer a conversation back on track if it goes off topic.

You don’t have to talk the whole time; leading a meeting is like being part of a conversation…you have to know when it’s your turn to speak, and when it’s your turn to listen.

When people address their concerns or opinions during a meeting, don’t shut them down. Listen to them; people share their thoughts for a reason. If someone hijacks the conversation, there is a delicate approach to show that you care about their concerns, but you also care about the meeting objective.

Some meeting facilitators go as far as introducing Robert’s Rules of Order when they’re leading a meeting. However, meetings can still be successful without the need for a rigid structure.

To bring a derailed conversation back on track, try this phrasing: “I understand this is a conversation worth exploring, and I really want to continue this conversation, but we also have some other things I’d like us to finish during this meeting. Let’s touch base about this after the meeting and to continue this conversation.”

 

Tone and body language

Listening isn’t just about hearing the words people say, it’s about listening to tone and reading body language.

If someone is agitated and can’t sit still, it could suggest that a person is feeling anxious about something. If a person is leaning back in their chair, are they focused on the meeting? If they’re distracted, what are they distracted by?

There are an alarming number of articles and listicles that suggest clichés like:

  • Crossed arms are a sign of resistance or discomfort
  • A weak hand shake signals a lack of confidence
  • A lack of crinkles around the eyes suggests a potentially fake smile (arguably the most ridiculous one)

Granted, it’s important for everyone to be aware of how society sees specific types of body language, but there is no definitive textbook definition for each bodily gesture.

The same can be said about tone. If a person can convey something enthusiastically but sound tonally disinterested, it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t care. It could suggest anything.

The reality is you won’t know a person’s intentions until you open a line of communication with them. If you sense something off in someone’s tone or body language, approach them in an inclusive, judgement-free zone.

 

Never assume; communicate

If you notice a shift in tone or body language that could lead to a more serious situation, break the meeting for 5 minutes to give people enough time to get up, move around, get some water, or whatever they would need to quickly reset before jumping back into the meeting. Maybe crack a joke or two in the meantime ;).

Part of being the meeting facilitator is accepting responsibility for tricky situations that may occur in meetings. If things do go south, accept the blame on yourself so nobody on your else on your team feels responsible. You can handle it!

 

Follow up

Following up is the most crucial thing you can do after a meeting. It proves your leadership isn’t just about executing the meeting properly, but it’s also about ensuring your team has the correct resources they need to be successful in their work.

Here are the three things you should do after a meeting:

  • Follow up with people to see if they need more clarification on a topic discussion. A meeting should include all relevant information to the discussion at hand, but sometimes, miscellaneous information and additional context will be left out. Even if you allow time for a quick question/answer period to fill context gaps at the end of your meeting, following up with your team allows people to ask questions if they didn’t get a chance to do so in the meeting.
  • Follow up on action items to mitigate any difficulties your team may be encountering when they're tackling a project. Questions oftentimes arise during the process of completing an action item. Action item follow-up identifies any post-meeting roadblocks that may occur, which ultimately opens a line of communication for the project and helps reduce any possible bottlenecks and duplicated efforts.
  • Following up after a meeting also means requesting feedback from your team. A good leader should constantly be developing their skills, which means they should periodically ask how they’re performing with their employees.

The employer-employee relationship should be a mutually beneficial two-way conversation.

Leaving an open line of communication allows you to open a feedback loop on all sides of your team. This creates and solidifies a culture where transparency and honesty are at the forefront of the company.

Any questions and action items that arise during the meeting should be recorded in the meeting’s minutes. Circulating the minutes could be as easy as incorporating tools to do it for you, so your job as the meeting facilitator focuses on the success of your team.

 

Give it a go

The only way to be a better at leading a meeting is by doing it over and over again. With repetition, comes learning…and the more you know, the more confident you will be.

Remember that it’s okay to feel nervous before a big meeting or presentation; everyone feels that from time to time.

So…go out there, do your best work, and keep these pointers in mind to help elevate you as a meeting facilitator, so you can start conducting effective (read: kickass) meetings.

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