Facilitation

by Steve Roche

Preparation

Any event you will be facilitating will invariably require some preparation. For a simple meeting that is held regularly, the preparation will be minimal, though still important. For a larger, formal event, it could be considerable.

The checklists below will remind you of the things that may need your attention before an event. Some of these you need to do yourself, while others could be delegated.

Why and who?

Decide who the event owner is. This will be the person who is responsible for achieving the relevant business goal(s). Thinking about this question ensures that you consider what goals the event is supporting and why it is being held. (For most events you run, you will be the owner.)

Clarify the goals

Ensure that you understand why the event is being held and what the desired outcome is. Think about what you (or the owner) would want to see being different after the event.

A less obvious part of this process is to determine if the proposed event is really necessary or whether there is some other simpler way to achieve the desired outcome. For example, many meetings held in business are simply not necessary. What about this one?

When you are setting goals, make sure they matter to the people will attend the event, in which case they will stay engaged in the process. To help clarify the goals, ask the owner specifically

  • What will success look like to you?
  • What are your criteria for a successful event?

Consider the costs

Is the cost worth the intended outcome? If this question was asked more often, there could well be fewer events and meetings! The highest cost is usually participant time spent on preparation, travel and attending. It is easy to overlook the opportunity cost – what could the attendees achieve if they were not at the event? You could even work out an actual figure by using rough salaries, overheads figures and room rates. Is the outcome really worth that much to the organisation?

Key tip

Think of your event as a mini-project, with a requirement to deliver on an outcome within a time limit, within a budget and within quality parameters. How would this change your approach?

Clarify your role with the owner

What exactly is the owner expecting of you and what do you expect from the owner in return?

Choose the attendees

The ‘two-thirds rule’ says that each person invited must have information needed for two out of every three agenda items. This is a guideline you can adapt to suit, but it will help cut down talk and time.

Another way to avoid wasting people’s time is to have them attend only the parts of an event that involve them. Arranging this requires good agendas and good time keeping.

Talk with the attendees if you think this will help prepare you for what might surface on the day. Ideally, you don’t want any surprises or ambushes. Ensure that attendees are briefed on what they should be prepared to contribute, such as presenting a report or explaining a process. It is then up to them to bring any handouts or props they need.

Decide whether a recorder or scribe is needed

Think about the kind of output that will be required and how it will be created. A scribe is someone appointed to be responsible for ensuring all output from an event is suitably captured. Their main skill is the ability to write or type while also listening carefully and analysing information. This is not a straightforward task!

Consider who will need to be informed of any decisions, outcomes, actions or plans. The format and type of output should be decided in relation to achieving the goals of the meeting. It may be a formal set of minutes or it might be the collation of brainstorming ideas onto flip charts.

There is more on this subject in Output from a facilitated event.

Identify resource people

Are there any people you will need to attend the event – or even just part of it – to provide input? Perhaps you need someone to explain a report from a research team or give a presentation of the results of a previous workshop, or perhaps you need to ask a person from outside the company to present a proposal.

Where and when?

Having clarified the goals of the event and identified who should attend it, you then need to sort out where it will take place and when.

Set the time and date

You need to decide a start and a finish time. Ensure that the duration is sufficient to get through the agenda, with perhaps a little contingency time. If you are unsure, ask other attendees what they would guess as a reasonable time required.

Choose the location

Ask yourself what kind of environment will be most conducive to achieving the event outcome. The easiest option is usually to use an onsite meeting or conference room. But getting people away from their normal place of work may bring advantages such as

  • A higher level of commitment and involvement
  • Less chance of interruptions and people being called away
  • Increased opportunities for social activities and team-building.

The bigger the event and the more people involved, the more important these considerations become.

When you have identified the room, think about the optimum layout. How can you best arrange things so that everyone can

  • Feel comfortable, included and involved
  • See and hear the facilitator and each other
  • See all visual aids.

In some offices you may have little control over either room or layout. Think about how you can make the most of what is available to get the best results for your participants. For example if you are stuck with a small or stuffy room, plan to call regular short breaks to help keep people alert.

When the above points have been clarified, notify attendees and confirm attendance.

The logistics

If everything is to run smoothly, you need to make sure that you will have all the resources you require and a clearly understood agenda.

Identify physical resources

Do you need any props to assist the process? These might be display props, such as laptops and projectors, or a prototype that is being exhibited to the board.

Key tip

Many a meeting has failed due to recalcitrant laptops and projectors. Have your material on handouts and be prepared to show your presentation in another way.

List the things will you need to run the event, and gather them together in one place, so they are ready.

Test any equipment you intend to use, particularly any electrical items. Also check that your marker pens have not dried out.

Prepare an agenda

Together with the owner, create an outline agenda before the event. The agenda should be flexible, identifying the main items or tasks to be covered, but without going into detail or precise timings. You may want to have a more detailed version which you will keep to yourself.

Be prepared to review the agenda with the group and modify it, if necessary, until you have everyone’s agreement before beginning work. Check and re-negotiate agenda items as necessary throughout.

Tips for agendas
  • Keep them short.
  • Have stated objectives: know what you want to accomplish.
  • Put the difficult issues first (otherwise time runs out and they get avoided).
  • Make sure the order of agenda items is logical; check if any items require other items to be completed first.
  • Give a specific amount of time to each agenda item.
  • Avoid lumping too many items under Any Other Business (AOB).

Write an introduction

This may be needed to accompany the agenda that goes out to attendees before the event. It can be used to set the scene, introduce any guest speakers or ask attendees to familiarise themselves with material they will need to know on the day.

Write and send out joining instructions

If people will be unfamiliar with the venue, send them all the information they need to find it, and be on time.

Prepare a list of attendees

If the people attending have never met before, it is often useful to send out a list of attendees with a little information about each one.

Manage logistics

Confirm site arrangements. If the event is not in your own building, you have some extra things to think about:

  • What room layout do you want?
  • Refreshments – who is providing these and at what times?
  • Are any fire alarm tests due?
  • Do you need to be aware of any special rules of conduct at the venue (such as wearing safety helmets if the venue is a construction site)?
  • Are any special parking issues or permits required?
  • How do you control the room lighting and temperature?
  • Does the room need to be signposted so attendees can find it?

This is not a complete list: as every venue will be different, you will need to create your own list for your event.

Prepare yourself

Remember to do whatever works for you so that you are in a good and resourceful state when you open the meeting. This may be spending a few minutes of quiet on your own or chatting with attendees who have already arrived. For more information on how to manage your own state, look in the NLP topic on States and also refer to the Emotional Intelligence topic.

Workshops

There are additional things to think about when preparing for a facilitated workshop. There is more on this subject in Setting up a facilitated workshop.