10 Essential Facilitation Skills for Meeting Leaders

A lot of meeting leaders think they know how to “run” a
meeting. They may set an agenda, do most of the talking and make the decisions.
While this may feel easy and efficient, it’s often a waste of people’s time and
does not tap into the creative potential of the team.

There are a lot of reasons meeting leaders don’t involve others
more in meetings, including a fear of letting go, a lack of belief that others
can make a meaningful contribution, or a lack of meeting facilitation skills.

“Facilitation” skills can be learned. To facilitate means
“to make easier or less difficult; help forward”.

For a leader to facilitate a meeting (instead of running
it), they need to be first be willing to let go of their power and be open to
outcomes. Meeting facilitation involves getting everyone involved in identifying
and solving problems. Teams will almost always develop better, more creative solutions than any one person could and will be more likely to support the implementation of the solutions.

Then, they need to learn and practice some new skills: meeting
facilitation skills. Here are 10 essential skills required to facilitate a
meeting, all of which can be learned and improved with practice:

Agenda planning.
A collaborative meeting starts with agenda
planning. Selecting topics that invite participation, i.e., a problem to be
solved, is far more engaging that “informational” topics. However, ample times
needs to be allocated to allow for group involvement. Good agenda planning
(with desired outcomes) should also help determine who should be invited to the

Choosing the right environment and climate.
Logistics matter! When
people are uncomfortable, can’t see each other, can’t hear, or are hungry,
meeting results will suffer. Learn how to use logistics to encourage great
participation and remove barriers.

Asking questions.
Great questions stimulate great discussion. See
with Questions
by Michael J. Marquardt.

Active listening.
When a meeting leader paraphrases, checks for
understanding, and asks follow-up questions, it encourages more participation
and keeps the discussion flowing.

Most people think they already know how to brainstorm. However, they usually
don’t, and never really leverage the power of a well-run brainstorming session.

Consensus building skills.
Consensus does not mean that everybody must
agree with a decision. It means that everyone has had a say, heard each other,
and has arrived at a decision that they are willing to support. Reaching
consensus takes more time, but will usually produce better ideas and more

Conflict resolution.
Whenever there is a roomful of people involved
in solving a problem, conflict is inevitable. In fact, conflict is good, way
better than avoiding problems. However, a meeting leader needs to learn how to
harness the power of conflict in a positive way.

8. Non-verbal
communication skills.
While researchers argue over the exact
percentages, most would agree that greater than 50% of communication is
non-verbal, not words. A meeting leader needs to be able to read the group’s
tone and body language in order to assess their level of engagement, candor,
and commitment.

Skillful group facilitation involves knowing when to turn
to a flipchart or whiteboard to capture what people are saying. Doing so makes
people feel like their ideas are being heard and are valued and serves as a
valuable record to be used for action planning and follow-up.

Meeting facilitation doesn’t end when the meeting ends. A well-written
meeting summary and action items can help assure decisions that you worked so
hard to reach actually get implemented.

Sometimes it makes sense for a meeting leader – especially if
the leader is also the person in charge – to “outsource” the meeting
facilitation to an outside meeting facilitator that already has all these skills.
That way, the leader can just focus on participating and not have to wear two
hats (participant and facilitator) or worry about dominating the meeting. Contact
if this sounds like something you’d like to discuss.