How to Successfully Facilitate a Meeting With Good Results

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated June 10, 2022 | Published December 7, 2021

Updated June 10, 2022

Published December 7, 2021

Business meetings can be excellent opportunities to bring your team together for collaborative tasks. You can use meetings to brainstorm ideas, plan the future, and share important updates. If you find yourself in charge of a meeting, there are a few simple ways to maintain the flow of the meeting and keep it productive. In this article, we discuss what it means to facilitate a meeting, explain why good facilitation is important, and review the steps to help facilitate your own meetings.

What does it mean to facilitate a meeting?

If it's your duty to facilitate a meeting, it means you're responsible for the administrative and logistical details involved. Often the person facilitating a meeting leads it, but that isn't always the case. A facilitator ensures the meeting has all the necessary elements to function as intended. The team leader usually heads the meeting, and senior managers, department heads, or relevant experts may facilitate it. In some cases, junior team members may also facilitate discussions and meetings with their colleagues.

Why is meeting facilitation important?

Properly facilitating a meeting is important because it establishes the direction the meeting is most likely to take. By devoting a strong effort at this stage, you can help make the meeting more productive and help ensure that it achieves its objectives. Proper planning also helps ensure that the meeting takes place within the stipulated time and all necessary topics get discussed. In some cases, a well-planned meeting might replace the need for additional meetings. Most businesses value this efficiency, and your colleagues are also likely to appreciate having their time respected.

How to be a meeting facilitator

Here are the steps you can take if you're responsible for facilitating a meeting:

1. Understand your role

Different organizations may have different expectations for facilitators. If you're new to this role, try talking with management or others who have facilitated meetings in the past about these expectations. Then, determine the purpose of the specific meeting or meetings you're facilitating. These details can guide the rest of the planning processes. By designing your meetings toward a purpose, you can plan better.

2. Identify participants

After identifying the purpose of a meeting, you can determine which employees might help you achieve those goals. Broadly, you can separate employees into two categories. The first group is employees whose primary purpose at the meeting is learning and growth. These people listen to others at the meeting, can ask questions when something is unclear, but only occasionally have additional contributions to make. The second group is employees whose primary purpose is to convey information, debate, and contribute more actively.

Some meetings may also involve outside members, such as clients. The role of these individuals at the meeting depends on your goals. Often, meetings with external members focus on an issue related to them. For example, the purpose of these meetings might involve presenting a pitch to a client or negotiating a deal with a third-party company. Make sure you designate someone with the role of recording the minutes of the meeting.

3. Schedule the meeting

Once you know the key participants of a meeting, it's time to schedule the meeting's date, time, and location. Many facilitators find it easiest to start with location, as your venue typically dictates the available dates and times. When choosing a venue, consider how many members might attend the meeting and their importance. For large meetings, account for how many individuals the meeting venue can seat comfortably. If senior members or important clients might attend, you may want a venue with better decor and more features than a regular team meeting might have.

When choosing your date and time, keep in mind the flexibility of participant schedules. The more important an individual is to the meeting, the more you may want to find the ideal date and time for them to attend. For example, facilitators often try to accommodate high-level management and clients first.

4. Invite the participants

With a meeting's participants chosen, you can now finalize your invitations and send them. The formality and importance of the meeting can help you determine the best approach to this process. An email to participants detailing the chosen time, date, and venue may be enough for some meetings. Some organizations prefer phone calls or custom-printed letters for more important meetings or when inviting high-level executives and clients.

What's important is your method is professional and respectful and that your tone is polite. When possible, send invitations soon after you have confirmed your meeting's date, time, and venue. This helps individuals plan for the meeting in advance and reduces the chances of last-minute changes. It also gives you more time to react if a key member has a previously unknown scheduling conflict, giving you a longer timeframe to reschedule the meeting.

Related: How to Write a Professional Email

5. Create an agenda

Formulate a plan for your meeting that outlines the flow, the topics to discuss, and the speakers or presenters. You also may wish to provide the end time of the meeting so that participants can understand the expected flow of discussions. Many facilitators find it helpful to set estimates for when the group might discuss certain topics and for what length of time. This also helps the team go through every issue on the agenda for a meaningful amount of time.

Next, send this agenda to participants. The earlier they receive the meeting's agenda, the easier they can prepare for the topics of discussion. This is most helpful to those who might present information or lead discussions, as they may wish to research certain topics and prepare visual aids. Making sure participants can prepare for the meeting helps keep the discussion active and meaningful. Give them sufficient time to think about the agenda, develop their thoughts on the various items, and construct points they may wish to address.

Related: How to Make a Meeting Agenda: Tips, Template, and Example

6. Consider snacks, beverages, and breaks

While short meetings may not warrant snacks, some meetings can last multiple hours. If you want participants to remain focused and comfortable, consider providing snacks and beverages. Many companies provide simple breakfast food, like donuts, at meetings, along with coffee and water. Meetings with bigger budgets may have professionally catered meals or even allow participants to make particular requests. In most cases, a company provides these for free as a token of thanks for participants taking the time to meet together. When providing food and beverages, remember to account for dietary needs and food allergies.

Long meetings may also benefit from scheduled breaks so that employees can stretch and use the restroom. Much like providing food and drinks, regular intervals help keep employees comfortable. Remember to account for potential medical conditions when planning these breaks. Some employees may take medication as per a particular schedule, so make sure you account for sufficient breaks.

7. Source the appropriate technology and gear

Prepare the appropriate devices, cords, and outlets ahead of time, bringing them to your venue. You can rent more expensive equipment, such as projectors, if making a purchase isn't within the budget. Ensure that you have access to the internet and any relevant passwords for device and network access. It's also advisable to perform a test of all these components to ensure everything works a day before the meeting. If a participant is giving a presentation, do mention in the invitation they can come early if their presentation takes time to set up.

8. Encourage collaboration and participation

As the meeting begins, it's often the role of the facilitator to guide the meeting's direction. Introduce the participants if they don't already know each other and briefly list the items on the agenda. Generally, a meeting goes smoothly if you allow and encourage participants to engage in productive conversations. If some participants have stronger personalities than others, you can focus on quieter members to discuss the points they feel are important. Equally important is to encourage active listening, so participants can clearly understand the discussion.

Related: How to Deal with Difficult Employees

9. Control the pace of the meeting

As the facilitator, you can be in a unique position to control a meeting's pace. If you feel a topic may benefit from more discussion, you can ask participants to focus more on that particular item. You can likewise move the group to another topic to help ensure the meeting finishes on time and all relevant issues get discussed. If it seems like a meeting might finish early, that's acceptable. A meeting ending early with all items fully covered only indicates that it's been successful.

10. Conclude the meeting

Try to close the meeting by the designated end time. If participants are still actively engaging, you can mention how fruitful the discussion is, but note the time. Then, explain to meeting participants what the next steps are. These steps may include:

  • Sending a follow-up email summarizing the meeting's events

  • Confirming action steps

  • Scheduling another meeting

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