Seven deadly sins of facilitation

Published: 28 February 2019

Everyone makes mistakes when facilitating. Knowing some of the common errors can help you avoid them.

Make sure you’ve got at least one other person in the room to take notes so you can continue to engage your audience.

Facilitating a meeting can be a daunting task. But when you’re tasked with generating ideas or securing buy-in for a new initiative, hosting a big meeting with lots of participants is often the only way to go. So how can you make sure you get what you want from the meeting and ensure that everyone’s voice is heard? Avoiding these seven deadly sins can help.

  1. Underestimating your role

The meeting is in the diary, the agenda is written and people know what the meeting is for. That’s your job as a facilitator done right? Wrong. The first thing some facilitators get wrong when planning a meeting is underestimating their role. To make sure you get all the insights you need from attendees, start by creating a different version of the agenda for yourself, including notes on what you’re planning to say under each item and how you will encourage responses from specific individuals.

  1. Failing to practice

People often overlook the need to practice for a meeting. It might sound silly, but it’s an essential part of facilitation. You’ll need to have done a couple of run throughs to work out exactly how each section of your meeting will run, who will take what role in each section and to check that your speaking notes all make sense.

  1. Too many Post-its

If you’re planning to make the meeting highly interactive, think about the different ways you can get contributions from participants. A Post-it note exercise might be one good way of getting insights, but it can soon get repetitive if this is the only tool you use. Fuzzy felt, emojis and apps can all be used to break the reliance on the ubiquitous sticky yellow square. Think carefully about how you can use new tools to add variety to your meeting.

  1. Forgetting the rules of engagement

If you’ve prepared well for a meeting it can be easy to just stick to your script and forget about the people in front of you. Public speaking expert Viv Groskop often emphasises the importance of not turning your back on an audience when presenting. The same rule applies to facilitation during Post-it note exercises or writing up points on a board. Make sure you’ve got at least one other person in the room taking notes so you can continue to engage your audience.

  1. Being overprepared

In a similar vein, once you’ve run through and rehearsed your meeting, what do you do when the conversation takes a turn you didn’t expect? One of the biggest mistakes a facilitator can make is not adapting. If someone makes an interesting point, don’t be afraid to go off script and spend time discussing it. You’ll need to keep an eye on timings to make sure you have time to cover all the important items on your agenda, but don’t be afraid to let the discussion flow.

  1. Dial-in dilemmas

One of the big dilemmas for the modern meeting facilitator is people phoning in from around the country, or even abroad, to chip in. It’s important their ideas are given the same degree of attention as those of people in the room. But it can often be difficult to hear who said what or be sure you’ve got their point down clearly. And as for taking part in Post-it note exercises, you may as well forget it. Or not. New technology may be the answer. At Linstock we’re trialling Ideaflip, an online platform that allows people to put Post-it notes on a virtual board. Could this be the end of the awkward ‘I didn’t quite catch that’ moment?

  1. Follow-up failure

You’ve made it through your meeting, got some interesting insights and now realised you don’t know what to do with the information you’ve gathered. A common mistake of first-time facilitators is to forget to consider the end goal. If there’s no follow-up or actions from your meeting, you’ll have a lot of people wondering why you held it in the first place. Within 24 hours, minutes and actions need to be sent to participants, otherwise you risk losing their attention, misinterpreting your notes, or missing an important deadline.

Successful meeting facilitation takes hard work and planning. It’s all too easy to fall foul of common mistakes. But, done well, creative brainstorms and corporate messaging sessions can become a fun and productive use of everyone’s time, especially the facilitator.

Jen Evans


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