We’ve all been in a meeting where things just don’t go as planned.

Whether the conversation got too sidetracked and you ran out of time for meaningful discussion, it both started and ended late, or there wasn’t an agenda sent out ahead of time so no one came prepared.

All of these roadblocks could have been easily avoided if only there was a meeting facilitator to run the show.

What is a meeting facilitator?

The meeting facilitator is joining the meeting with the goal of helping the meeting participants have an efficient, thorough, and successful meeting. They don’t have to be an expert in what the meeting will be discussing, but they should be someone that can help participants stay involved, to lead discussions and conversations, and to identify and solve problems as they lead an effective meeting.  

The role of the meeting facilitator

The meeting facilitator’s role may look a little different depending on the organization’s industry or the type of meeting. But at the end of the day, a good facilitator will be responsible for some key things as the conversation ebbs and flows.

Some of these include:

Clarifying and defining goals: 

This ensures everyone attending the meeting knows the purpose of coming together and what will be discussed.

Steering focus and activity:

The facilitator needs to make sure conversations stay on-point and things don’t get too out of hand.

Facilitating discussion: 

If the discussion is at a stand-still, the facilitator can come up with the right questions to lead the conversation forward.

Involving everyone: 

Don’t let anyone be the star of the show! Make sure everyone is involved in at least one of the discussion points.

Leading decisions:

 If attendees are having trouble coming to decisions or getting on the same page, the facilitator can help lead them in the right direction.

Capturing action items: 

As the meeting comes to an end, the meeting facilitator can narrow down the action items for the next time a meeting occurs, and what should be accomplished by each participant before then. 

With Fellow, you can assign, visualize, and prioritize all your meeting to-dos in one place.

manage meeting tasks and action items

10 tips to facilitate meetings like a pro

If you’re new to being a meeting facilitator or are interested in brushing up on your facilitator skills, implement these ten tips the next time to seriously impress your peers.

1 Plan an agenda and ask attendees to prepare

First things first, it’s very unlikely that your meeting will be effective and successful unless you start it off with a thorough and detailed agenda. This agenda should let attendees know ahead of time the purpose of the meeting and relevant topics to discuss. This makes it possible for attendees to come prepared with their own questions, follow-up discussions, or anything they need to help achieve success. 

Additionally, it’s a good idea to structure or organize an agenda to showcase opportunities or ways that different people can lead parts of the discussion, so the meeting doesn’t get too redundant with the same person speaking for the full time block. 

To ensure that all participants have access to the agenda, consider using a collaborative meeting agenda tool like Fellow.

2 Start your meetings with a quick check-in

As the meeting gets kicked off, go around the (either in-person or virtual) room and ask for a quick check-in from everyone attending. When working remotely, it’s very important to make some time for personal connections at the beginning of the meeting by asking people about their weekend, hobbies, or personal interests. This will help meeting attendees get comfortable with each other and build rapport with the rest of the team.

3 Review previously assigned agenda items

If the meeting being facilitated is weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, every other month, or whatever the cadence may be, the facilitator should always recap the assigned agenda items from the previous meeting.

Doing so makes it possible to keep tabs on the progress of specific projects and assignments, make note of any bottlenecks within certain workflows, and get a general status update from others on your team. This is especially helpful if you’re working towards a set deadline. 

Pro tip: Allocate some time to review outstanding action items from the previous meeting.

4Assign meeting roles

In an effort to keep the meeting as organized and productive as possible, everyone should have clearly defined roles. 

Assign specific participants who are in charge of:

– Coming up with ice breaker questions

– Leading the presentation

– Taking notes and timekeeping

– Sending a meeting wrap up email

Assigning varying roles to different participants can also ensure everyone feels responsible for the overall success of the meeting. These roles should be defined ahead of the meeting, so no one is joining the meeting and immediately being served a surprise. Don’t forget to switch up who does what every so often, too!

5 Practice active listening

The best meeting facilitators always practice active listening. This is a concept centered around fully concentrating on what is being said. This can include features like:

– Asking the right questions

– Remaining neutral and nonjudgmental

– Staying patient and not rushing to fill the silence

– Exhibiting nonverbal feedback, like making eye contact, nodding your head, and smiling

– Asking for clarification if what is being discussed needs more information

– Summarizing the key points made at the end of the discussion

When the meeting facilitator is fully engaged and immersed in the conversations taking place, it’s easier to understand the problems at hand and come up with better solutions. 

6 Manage the meeting energy 

It’s also up to the meeting facilitator to manage the overall energy of the meeting. This can be done in several different ways:

– Reading the room to pick up cues on if people become stressed, bored, or agitated

– Picking up body language cues from both the participant who is presenting or leading the meeting and from those helping to continue the conversation

– Taking a short, 5-minute break when the energy is low or people become restless

– Getting participants up and moving by writing ideas on a whiteboard

– Knowing if the participants are comfortable

– If serving food during a longer meeting, knowing if there is enough to eat and drink

– Knowing if the room is bright enough and if background noise has been eliminated as much as possible (especially in a virtual setting)

This can become easier for the meeting facilitator as they get to know their coworkers, especially when it comes to body language. As an example, a meeting facilitator who is familiar with me and my personal cues could eventually notice that I play with my hair when I get bored, or that I fidget with jewelry, like a necklace, if I’m nervous while speaking.

Essentially, if you don’t manage the meeting energy, things can derail — and fast.

7 Encourage and balance participation

Oftentimes, there’s that one person in the meeting who likes to be the meeting celebrity. We’ve all seen it — someone with a big personality, strong opinions, and who is likely to monopolize the conversation or discussion. Whether it’s their intention or not, not only can they dominate the meeting, but they can sometimes disrupt it or lead it off the rails with their own agenda.

It’s up to the meeting facilitator to know how to handle this person without making them feel silenced. After all, there should be participation, but the facilitator should be encouraging balanced participation, too.

Just like there’s a meeting celebrity, they can sometimes be someone too reserved, shy, or flat-out nervous to speak up and share their ideas. While it’s not necessarily smart to put this person on the spot in front of everyone, you can ask them open-ended questions, like “what do you think” or “any thoughts”? It’s also a good idea to encourage this person to speak up next time in a direct message through email or over Slack once the meeting has concluded.

8 Conflict resolution

In a perfect world, all of us are friends with our coworkers, we never raise any disagreements or doubts regarding an idea, and there’s never any bad blood between departments.

Unfortunately, a perfect world is not where our meetings are held. Because of this, it’s important for the meeting facilitator to know how to resolve conflict, should any arise. When different personalities and people come together to discuss an idea or decide an outcome, there are bound to be some disagreements. 

As a facilitator, harness the power that conflict can present in a positive way and learn how to deal with varying personalities. Remember that you never want to silence anyone’s voice, especially if it’s bringing up a contrasting area of thought that would have been otherwise missed.

9 Provide closure

Ready to wrap things up? Before the meeting comes to a close, the facilitator should double-check that all of the decisions, next steps, and tasks are documented in detail, and assigned to specific participants, so everyone knows what they’re responsible for. 

Within the last few minutes, re-state the main outcomes of the meeting, ask for any final questions, and be sure to thank everyone for their time, too. 

10 Share the meeting notes 

Remember the person whose role it was to take notes? Make sure those meeting notes get shared out after everything is said and done. Not only does this become helpful to have a record or paper trail of decisions, but it can also be sent out to those who couldn’t attend so they can be fully aware of what was discussed.

Until next time!

Remember that running a meeting can get awkward, discussions can get heated, and technical glitches may happen. If it’s your first time being a meeting facilitator, you’ll get better over time, and if you’re an expert, there’s always room to improve. Once you find your flow, you’ll see just how important the role is in ensuring each meeting is a success.