Throwing out the question

Anyone who has been a meeting facilitator knows that there’s more to the job than meets the eye.

At a basic level, there may be a fair bit of involvement in the logistics of the space – the room itself, or the mechanics of the audio-conferencing or webinar facilities – and there’s the need to get everyone “in their spot” and organized to get the show on the road.

Beyond that, there is the need for reinforcing the purpose of the meeting. This may sound obvious, but it may or may not be clear to everyone in the same way. Is it merely for information sharing or is a decision to be made?

Further still, there is the dance of managing of the agenda, allowing a bit of slack here, a bit of tightness there, all to get to a successful outcome within the time constraints.

But there’s something else.

A facilitator watches the eyes

A facilitator watches the eyes

A meeting operates on a couple of levels: what’s being said, and what’s not being said. Depending on the personalities involved, someone may be dominating the conversation. Someone else might be trying to insert a topic that takes the agenda sideways. These can be spotted right away.

However, I’ve found one of the most useful roles I can perform is when I know someone has a question – either because I’ve talked to them before the meeting, or because I can see their furrowed brow – but they’re not asking it. It could be that they’re wondering if they’re off-topic, or perhaps they’re unsure of their position, or they don’t want to disrupt the meeting flow. In this case – especially when it is indeed key to the agenda item – I ask the question on their behalf. Innocently. As if I thought of it myself.

I can immediately see the silent questioner’s forehead smooth out; I can see nods of interest by the others. The question may well have been the proverbial “elephant in the room” that nobody feels they can raise, or it may be something quite obscure but important that others hadn’t thought of.

A facilitator can insert themselves – judiciously – to ensure that not only is the meeting moving along smoothly, but, more importantly, that the richness of the discussion and decision-making is leading to a valuable outcome, which was the purpose of the meeting in the first place.

A facilitator has more power than they might think. They create the winning conditions within which the meeting operates. Don’t just be focused on the clock (though that’s important), be focused on the faces of the people not talking. There’s gold there.

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