Thirteen Tips

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The internet is replete with blogs that list tips for every possible need.  

Top 10 ways to clean (___everything you ever owned or wanted to own___).”
“Fifty ways to make your (__any relationship you can think of____) happy. ”
“Suggestions for being a better (___whatever____).”

I find much of this advice to be incredibly useful, while other offerings are pretty silly. I recently wanted to learn how to paint a couch (Don’t ask!) and found a variety of how-to-pointers. One blog caught my attention: — Tip 1: Make sure you want the couch, before painting. Tip 2:  Make sure others in the house want the couch. Tip 3:  Rule out that someone loves the sofa and might be touchy about changing the color, particularly if it is new.  This advice seemed ridiculously obvious, particularly since I am the only person in my household with any interest in furniture. After some searching, I found some lists that offered very practical suggestions about painting chairs and couches.

While I am hesitant to add to the deluge of well-meaning lists on the internet, I have learned a lot over the years from experts on facilitating meetings and my own experience that might be blog-worthy. I won’t share the standard tips – have an agenda, know your audience, start on time, etc.  Instead, here are a few suggestions you may not see on most web sites about facilitating meetings and professional development.

  1. Don’t plan too much for the time frames of your agenda.  Most processing takes longer than you think it will. People need time to get into the topic, listen to others, and think about responses.
  2. Do plan extra activities or processes that can extend an activity.  If using a slide deck, I put these at the end of the slides and can pull them up, if my pacing hasn’t worked as planned.  I don’t display these “back pocket” activities where participants may notice them to avoid any expectations that all these items will be covered.
  3. When bringing in a presenter from a remote site using technology, have a “Plan B”. If the technology fails or the person is suddenly unavailable, you are ready to shift into something else. For example, have a brief article or an executive summary authored by the presenter with a few discussion questions ready to go.  You can set up the audience to read and discuss, while you problem solve technology issues.
  4. Be prepared with a set of open-ended questions on the topic being presented.  Anticipate appropriate answers so you can offer a sample response to get the group started, if members are reluctant to respond. The Facilitator Tool Kit by the University of Wisconsin System, Board of Regents offers strategies for asking questions.
  5. Avoid mentioning break or lunch until immediately before the transition.  Once participants start thinking about their break, it is hard to bring them back to task.
  6. Never open a meeting with a long round-robin share-out by participants.  Some individuals like to talk, and those listening are typically not that interested.  I have been in many meetings, where the best time of the day is wasted. I may skip the ice-breakers altogether or plan one that relates to the content established in the meeting objectives and adds to participants’ learning. Check out this blog:  Why Use Icebreakers When There’s No Ice?, by Jack Shaw.  When I do use an icebreaker, I explain the purpose and demonstrate what I want the participants to do – emphasizing brevity. When it is important to have people speak early in the meeting, plan something quick, and to the point. You may have people introduce themselves in small groups, avoiding the repetitious round-robin. Try pacing the introductions intermittently through the day, if you have a big group.
  7. Recruit a few members of the planning team or participants to help with transitions. Give one person the assignment to announce that breaks are over from the front of the room, and ask a few other people to personally remind individuals in the hallway or back of the room to return to their seats. This protects your voice and takes you out of the role of “crowd control” so you can focus on content.
  8. Project a count-down timer during activities and breaks. Everyone will know how long they have to work or return from breaks.  Invest in a commercial timer.  I downloaded a “free” timer from an internet site and infected my lap top with a nasty virus.
  9. Test out written directions for activities. Read, simplify, re-read, simplify, repeat. Ask another person to test out your directions and paraphrase what the task is. Revise based on that input. If an activity has too many steps or directions are unclear, the group will invent their own activity or go off-task. What makes perfect sense to you the night before may be confusing to your constituents.
  10. Be aware of how often you use pronouns “I”, “me”, and “mine”. It won’t take long for the audience to notice. They will wonder, “Is she insecure?” or worse, “Why is she so pompous?”  Focus your mind on ensuring that participants are learning and accomplishing their goals.  If you are thinking about yourself self, you may sound selfish.  Ask a friend to watch how much you refer to self (hence the word selfish) and give you feedback. Nothing is more compelling than a person who authentically believes in the work and genuinely wants to serve those they are working with.
  11. Avoid scheduling meetings in hotel facilities during the state high school wrestling tournament.
  12. Practice acting calm, from the moment you walk in the door. If you are at ease, those around you will feel at ease. I have “facilitated” through a variety of challenges – power outages, a woman going into labor, marching band practice in the room next door, tornado warnings, mice running around participants’ feet (screaming ensued), bats (more screaming) to name a few. Make sure everybody is safe. Stand up straight. Breathe slowly. Smile.
  13. My last tip. Never put a pad of paper in front of the LCD projector lens to blacken the screen. I continued speaking, as I put out the fire, but I don’t think anybody was listening. 

Tuck these tips away for when you need them. Please comment on this blog and add to this list.

Are you wondering about my painting project? The current plan is to wait for our community spring clean-up day and put the couch out on the curb. I know someone in a pick-up truck will take it away. They can paint it.  Maybe, I will pin the best list of tips to the couch.

Example of Newly Painted Couch: Why I am NOT painting my couch.
Example of newly painted couch.
Why I am NOT painting my couch.









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