Most of us have been in bad meetings that felt like such a waste of time. Don’t be that leader! In this episode, you will learn three simple tips to make your meetings more powerful, more meaningful, and more financially responsible.
What You’ll Learn
- How an unproductive meeting can waste your organization $500 0r more.
- Three simple facilitation tips to improve your meetings and stop wasting time and money.
- Why you should avoid icebreakers
- How to engage participants and create meaningful dialogue that leads to results.
- Artist Hollis Chatelain
- Book Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers. This book has some great meeting techniques.
- Book The Back of the Napkin (Expanded Edition): Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures – sometimes images can be more powerful than any verbal explanation. This book will teach you how, even if you can’t draw.
The Weekly Challenge
This week, try one of the three techniques mentioned in the episode. How does it change your meetings? Share in the comment section or send me an email and let me know how it goes.
Feel like reading instead of listening? Download the free PDF Transcript or read it below. Enjoy!
Transcript for Episode #025: Facilitation Tips for Leading Better Meetings
Amy Climer: Welcome to Episode #25 of The Deliberate Creative Podcast. I’m your host Amy Climer. In today’s episode we are going to talk about three tips to help you facilitate better meetings. So throughout the last 24 episodes many times I have mentioned facilitating teams, specifically in episode 24 when I explained how to use Climer Cards which is a facilitation tool. I said in the next episode, meaning this one, that I would give you all some facilitation advice. So here it is. I want to talk about three things that will help you lead better meetings. These are three things that I don’t think I necessarily knew when I first started leading meetings or when I first started facilitating groups and I’m talking 20 years ago. I first started doing this type of thing in college. When you are a college student and you are part of an organization or even if you just have a class assignment or a team assignment, you’re at some point leading a meeting and that was my initial experience with facilitating.
So here I am 20 years later, I have lead and facilitated hundreds of meeting so I’m going to share with you how to make those meetings a better experience for you as a team leader and the group that you are working with. I think one of the challenges of being a team leader is you have to balance so many different roles, you have to wear all these different hats throughout the day and one of those, of course, is facilitating. You want your team to be as effective, as creative, as successful as possible and this episode is going to focus on that. Of course this is not a comprehensive training, but just a few things to get you thinking and help get you maybe just dialed in a little bit more. We’re probably explore this topic again a bit more in the future but today here are three tips.
- Have a plan and be intentional.
- You want to vary the techniques throughout the meetings so that you touching on different learning styles and different personalities.
- Use a technique to get the team’s attention. Once you had them talking and they are engaged in a conversation you need a technique to get their attention back.
So let’s explore all three of these right now.
[3:04] Tip # 1. Have a Plan and Be Intentional
So let’s start with #1, which is have a plan and be intentional. One of my biggest pet peeves is going to a meeting where it is not organized and I’m not even sure what the purpose is and it just feels like a waste of time. Most people I know had an experience going to a meeting like that. So as a facilitator, as team leader your job is to not create that experience, but to create an experience where people realize this was time well spent. Everybody is busy, everybody has a variety of priorities. It’s respectful to create a meeting and a space that is valuable, important, and worthwhile.
Let me also just do a little math to explain another reason why this is so important and this is coming from a financial perspective. Let’s say that you work for an organization and you have a team of 10 people. Those 10 people, their salaries range from $50,000 to a $100,000 a year so we are going to average that out. So the average salary of your team is $75,000 a year. If you do the math, imagine someone is working eight hours a day, 50 weeks a year, that $75,000 a year comes out to $37.50 an hour. If you have ten people and you’re on a team meeting that means every hour your team is together is $375 of time that the organization is paying that team. So then, that basically means that your meeting is costing your organization $375. But let’s just for simplicity sake imagine that the meeting is in the same building that everybody works in and it takes a few minutes to get to that meeting. Let’s say a five minute walk each way, plus there’s this transition time both mentally and, of course, physically. So maybe total it takes about 20 minutes for people to get to the meeting and get back and start being productive again. So that’s another third a of an hour. That’s another $125 totalling $500 for each hour of meeting, in salary, it’s costing your company. So when I think about a meeting in that perspective I think, I want to really make sure that these meeting is good and that first of all that we need the meeting. I’m really going to be thoughtful and intentional on how we are going to use the time because this is costing my company $500 for me to gather my team off and have a meeting. If it is not a productive meeting you’re wasting $500. Of course, the whole purpose of a meeting is that there is something that needs to happen, whether you want everybody’s input, or you want everybody’s presence, you want to make a decision together, or need to brainstorm or come up with new ideas, or need to explore an issue. Whatever the purpose there are a number of excellent reasons to have a meeting and whatever that is you want to be intentional about it. You don’t want to be that leader that holds team meetings where everyone walks away and feels like they are waste of time. So once you decide, “Ok yeah, I think we actually do need a meeting and it isn’t just an email update that I can send out, but I needed everyone’s engagement. I need interaction. Great!” Then you just have to be thoughtful about how you are going to spend that hour of meeting.
I mentioned a minute ago about that mental transition time. Usually when we come to a meeting, we were doing something else beforehand. We may be checking emails or writing up our report, we are doing some other type of work. Then we come to the meeting and we need to mentally transition. So one thing I’d like to do when I start my meeting is to do something I called an inclusion activity. Sometimes people refer to these as IceBreakers but I hate Icebreakers. I have a long history of leading team building activities so probably in the last 20 years I have facilitated over one thousand hours on ropes courses, on challenge courses. I’ve lead thousands of people through team building activities, hundreds of group ranging from middle school students up to CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. You may have had this experience as a facilitator, or as a participant where the facilitators says “Ok, now we are going to do an Icebreaker!” There’s this collective groan in the room or people just like gave each other the eye like “Oh gosh!”. That’s what you want to avoid. Now when I think of Ice breakers I think of simple, short activities that get people to interact, but they are rarely related to the purpose at hand. That’s the real sticking point there. I call them inclusion activities because I just find them better to not even use the word ice breaker because it has such just a negative connotation. Inclusion activities are also simple activities, yet the main difference is that they have a purpose related to the meeting purpose. So let me give you an example. I have definitely been in situations where the facilitators, “Ok pair up with somebody and walk around the room and meet other people and tell them your favorite color.” You know what, I don’t care what everybody’s favorite color is. It’s a pointless activity because let’s say the purpose is to get to know other people. Knowing their favorite color is not going to help me get to know them. To be honest, I don’t even think I know my mom’s favorite color and I know my mom quite well. In fact, I’m going to see her soon and I’ll ask her about that. But anyway, the point is think about what’s really related to your purpose. Let’s say that you are going to have a meeting about a future marketing plan that your organization is implementing. You might start off the meeting with a go-round question where everybody gets an opportunity to share. You ask them to share something like “what’s the best marketing campaign you’ve seen?” or “what is your current favorite commercial and why do you like it?” Or you might ask, “When you think about our product or brand, what do you think of, what words come to mind?” The point is that you’re getting people thinking about the topic, you’re helping them mentally transition, helping them to be present in the room with the people there.
I want to go back on the question about your favorite color. I once was in a class where the teacher started off the class asking everyone’s favorite color and it was brilliant because the class was about color. I was taking this class number of years ago from an artist named Hollis Chatelain. She’s an amazing artist. I’ll put her website in the show notes. On the very first day she asked us to share our favorite color. Then, we did an activity using colored pencils with our least favorite colors. Afterwards we talked about and debriefed it. Her point was that all colors have value. It’s all about context and how we use them and this idea of having favorite colors or least favorite color can really get you into trouble as an artist or as a creative person. That was an excellent way to use the question “what is your favorite color.” She was very intentional about it. What I am suggesting is start off the meeting in a way to get everyone engaged and involved in the meeting, but do in a way that’s not hokey and dorky and seems annoying. Instead, do it in a way that gets people thinking about the topic and gets them present in the room. That’s a part of being intentional. That’s certainly not the only thing as far as starting off that’s part of inclusion activity, but that’s one piece.
[11:44] Tip # 2. Vary the Techniques and Activities
I’m also a big fan of setting meetings up so it is not always in every meeting just a group talking in a circle. That’s certainly is the best way to doing it at times, but other times it might helpful to try something different. Are there different techniques you can do to get the same information out of people. I’m a big fan of Post-It Notes. Maybe you give everybody a stack of post it notes and you asked them to write down all the adjectives they would use to describe the organization, let’s say if you were doing a marketing team. You get all these adjectives up on a wall. You give everyone a big marker so you can see these adjectives nice and big up on a wall. That type of thing can be a really cool way to get this out without people verbally talking. It also really taps into varying the technique based on different learning styles and different personalities. Some people are going to love to just shout things out and other people tend to be a little quieter so they want to be more reflective. They love this idea of being able to write. Another technique you might use if you are trying to get some information out of people and you want them thinking about something, have them turn and talk to the person next to them so it’s not always in a full group. Then maybe after people have talked a few minutes then you can ask everyone to share as a full group. My point is to vary the technique so that it is not always just the same thing of having a conversation in a circle at the table. Besides a variety of activities and inclusion activities, be intentional about every aspect of the meeting. Do you even need to have a meeting about a specific topic? If you have multiple topics in a meeting is that verbal interaction, that face to face interaction the best way to do it? Sometimes it is and that’s great go for it, but if it’s something people might digest better in writing perhaps just hand out a piece of paper with something written down or send them an email. Think about what’s the best way to engage in this topic by giving information. Do I want to solicit information, am I looking for a conversation? My point is just be intentional and put some time into planning a meeting ahead of time. Again, think about that $500 an hour that your organization might be spending on a meeting. Some of you may be thinking we are a volunteering organization so everybody who is showing up just to volunteer so we don’t really have that financial issue. That’s not a reason to have that meeting be intentional. Well I may say, “Perhaps you are not paying everybody but people vote with their feet. And if people feel they are not engaged, they’re going to leave, they’re going to vote with their feet. They’re going to stop volunteering. I’ve definitely have that experience before where I am so excited to get involved with the organization and I went to a couple of meetings and thought “I can’t do this, I cannot spend spend my time at meetings like this”. And I left and I didn’t continue volunteering because it wasn’t the right fit for me. So be planful, be intentional when you are facilitating. So I just talked about have a plan , vary techniques for the learning styles .
[15:20] Tip # 3. Attention Getting Techniques
The last I want to talk about is to use a technique to get the team’s attention when you want them to focus back on you. What I mean is that I just mentioned a few ways that you can get people interacting in different ways so if they are talking in pairs or perhaps in trios or whatever they are doing at some point you want their attention back up front. So teach them ahead of time how you are going to get their attention back up front. Now if you have a team of 5 or 6, 8, 10 people. I would say 10 people or less, then you could just tell them I’ll call you all back up in about 5 minutes. 5 minutes later you say “Hey you all, we’re going to regroup.” You say something like that, give them a moment to refocus then start up again. But let’s say that you are facilitating a meeting of 50 people maybe a few different teams that have all come together. If you just say, “Ok we’re getting started it again!” no one’s going to listen to you. It’s going to be a bit of a disaster and you might get started of a little panicky. I’ve seen this many times. I think the worst thing you could do is to not even tell people that it’s time to come back and you just start talking again. I’ve seen facilitators do that both in small groups and in large groups. I just always feel so bad for them because people are not necessarily trying to be rude, but it sure looks that way and really they just don’t even know that the facilitator is trying to get their attention again. What I like to do is teach them a technique that I use. That is just a simple hand raise technique and here’s what I would say to the group: “So throughout our meeting today there will be times where you will be talking to each other and when you do that it’s going to be really loud in here, which I always love. But eventually, I want to get your attention back up front. So in order to do that I’m going to raise my hand like this. (I just raise my hand with my elbow bend and I stand very still and I look straight out of the group) When you see my hand you should also raise your hand and then finish your sentence, but not your whole paragraph and then look up front towards me. Ok let’s just practice that real quick. Take a moment, talk amongst yourselves.” Of course when I say that they all start to chuckle. They will laugh a little bit and they turn to their neighbors and start talking. I give them about 10 to 15 seconds long enough where I can get a bit of a loud roar in the room and I do exactly what I said I was going to do. I raised my hand with my elbow bent, I stand still and I look out at them and then I just wait. I patiently wait until the whole group has quieted down. What’s going to happen is they are just going to quiet down and look at you. The first couple of time you do this, you are going to be amazed at how effective it is. The key is to wait until the room has quieted before you begin talking. I’ve used this in a group of 15 people and I’ve used this in a room of 300 people and it always works. Now it only works if you teach them that ahead of time. That’s a very important point. I’ve seen people do the hand raise thing because people have seen this in other groups, but they didn’t teach it to them and so then people aren’t really quite sure what the hand raise mean. Just take a few moments, teach that up front. People will totally get it. They’re like, “Oh yeah this is important”.
I often lead a workshop called Make it Experiential: Workshop Design and Facilitation Tools for Amazing Trainings. The most common question I get asked in that workshop is how do you allow the group to interact and let things be experiential, yet still maintain control. It’s not so much on how to maintain control so much as how do I corral the group back together so that we can continue on and not let it get crazy at hand. This hand raise technique is a great way to do that. There’s a lot of other ways to do the same thing. You don’t have to do the hand raise. You could do some sort of noise maker. I’ve seen people do chimes. I’ve used chimes before or maybe you have fun, little, squeaky toy or something like that. There’s a number of things. The key though is to teach the group from the beginning what you’re going to do, then do it. I like to have a technique that is visual, at least, and it is also nice if its a verbal or auditory as well. So actually sometimes if it is really a big group of people like 300 people I raise my hand and I also saying to the mic, ”Hey, we are going to regroup now”. So now they got a visual and a verbal. It can be nice to do both. If you just do the sound, like if you just do the chime, make sure you do them long enough that everybody actually hears them and loud enough. If it is a big group put the mic next to the chime or something like that. Just a quick little tip to help your facilitation go smoothly when you have a bigger group and you want them to engage and you want them to be quiet again at some point.
So we talked about three things today. The first was to be intentional and create a plan, the second was vary the techniques that you use throughout the meetings, and third is to use an attention getting technique. There’s one of the things I want to add there to point # 1 about being intentional and creating a plan. I would say 90% of the time that I’m facilitating I actually have a written a plan. Now I may when the meeting start and and we get going I may decide to just scrap that plan. If say our first thing ends up taking a long time and I realized it’s really needed and it’s valuable, I might scrap the rest of the stuff, but I have a written plan. That helps me get clear about what’s important and what I’m going to do. I find that I’m more flexible when I have a plan in place. Just a little add-on I wanted to say about creating a plan. I guess one more thing is I did not do that when I first start facilitating. I would just show to a meeting ready to lead it and not have given much thought on what I was doing and I look back and must say my meetings are much better and I apologized for everyone who had to sit on a meeting I led 15 or 20 years ago. I probably wasn’t very good but we learn, so it’s all good.
[22:26] Weekly Challenge
This week your Weekly Challenge is to try one of these techniques. If you have a meeting that you are leading, spend some time think it through, be intentional, write down the plan for the meeting, have an agenda> if you do that already you feel like yeah I got that try the intention getting technique, see if that will work for you. Perhaps try varying things. What I will do is put up a few books in the show notes that have a number of techniques that you can use in meetings. Now when I talk about meetings I’m not talking about trainings per se, I’m talking about your weekly or monthly staff meeting, or maybe you have an event going on, and you have a regular meeting to plan an event, that’s what I’m talking about. Even in those types of meetings you don’t have to just sit around in a circle and talk. There are a number of ways to engage. I’ll put a couple of book recommendations in the show notes and you can go check those out and get a lot of ideas. While you’re at the show notes send a comment to me, let me know what happened with your Weekly Challenge, shoot me an email. I love hearing from you all. Thank you so much to everyone who emails me. It definitely keeps me excited and motivated about The Deliberate Creative Podcast. On that note if you do have any topics requests or questions about creativity or teams go to my website and send me an email though climerconsulting.com. Just click on the contact page you can send me an email it comes directly to me, it doesn’t go to an assistant it goes right to me. I’d love to hear from you. Let me know what’s going on. What questions do you have? And if you haven’t written a review yet on iTunes I always love gettting them you can go to climerconsuting.com/iTunes. That’ll take you right there. You can write a review. Give me an honest rating. What do you think of the show. I welcome the comments and feedback and as you know if you are regular listener I do also periodically read a review so I’ll give you a shout out if you write a review. Thank you so much. I hope this was helpful. Go out and make those meetings even better. Have a wonderful week and I’ll see you next time. Bye.
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