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Meeting and Facilitation Skills, by Cathy Bolger, PhD

Surveys, from meeting attendees and CEOs alike, continue to show dissatisfaction with the quality of meetings. What can trainers and coaches do to guide organizations toward effective and efficient meetings?

When I train groups to lead effective meetings, I emphasize that activities before and after a meeting are as important as activities during a meeting. Let's take a look at recommended activities before, during, and after a meeting:

Before a Meeting

"Cathy delivered excellent management development training for us in the areas of meeting management, time management, and active listening. She is perceptive, expert, and a pleasure to work with."

Susie Custodia, Manager of Performance Improvement
GKN Aerospace Chem-tronics

First, ask yourself "Is there a faster, less expensive, or more efficient way to accomplish the goal?" If you decide to hold a meeting, be sure that you and attendees have a clear purpose, for example, to give information, receive information, solve a problem, or make a decision. With a clear purpose established, decide who needs to attend, where to have the meeting, when to have the meeting, and the time allowed. Be sure that all participants know why they are invited and any necessary preparation.

Next, prepare an agenda. List the topics to be covered, the name of the presenter, and time allotted. Send an announcement at least two days in advance if preparation is required. Include the purpose, names of the meeting leader and all participants, location, date, start and end times, agenda, and preparation needed.

Be sure the room is properly set up. If you need audiovisual equipment, you may need to request it ahead of time. Allow time for materials to be prepared and duplicated.

Open the meeting. Be sure to start the meeting on time. Include introductions if necessary, review the agenda, ground rules, and roles such as minute-taker or timekeeper.

During the Meeting

Top complaints about meetings include going off the agenda (side tracking), monopolizing, and nonparticipation; therefore, it is important that the meeting leader is a very capable facilitator who can keep the meeting moving forward according to the agenda, prevent monopolizing, and give everyone a chance to participate when appropriate. Facilitation skills include questioning, active listening, paraphrasing, charting, encouraging participation, refocusing, and summarizing.


There are two types of questions: open and closed. Use open-ended questions to encourage discussion, for instance, "What are your ideas on _________?" Use closed-ended questions when a one-word answer is expected, for instance, "Is the report completed?" There is a variety of strategies for handling questions asked by meeting participants. One is to answer it or direct it to an expert; another is to direct it to the group, or even to the person asking it.

Active Listening

A facilitator must have excellent listening skills, which includes the ability to paraphrase and periodically summarize and integrate what was said. Active listening involves looking at the person while focusing on what he or she says, and mentally summarizing what was said to restate it accurately. A highly advanced form of paraphrasing involves summarizing or integrating different points of view.


A facilitator must use visual aids effectively, for example, recording ideas on a flip chart, being careful to capture main points with large and legible writing. You might vary the color of text to categorize different ideas or start a new page for each topic. Charts may be taped to a wall for future reference.

Encouraging Participation

A facilitator must encourage participation from everyone as appropriate. Emphasize that all ideas are valued, solicit input from quieter members, discourage domination, and reward participation with positive feedback.


A facilitator must be skilled at refocusing, which involves a balance of flexibility and control, knowing when to intervene, gentle and firm redirection to the agenda, and possibly suggesting discussion at a later time.


This step is too often skipped. It is important to end on time and on a positive note. An effective facilitator summarizes major points, highlights accomplishments, restates action items, and mentions any follow-up meetings.

After the Meeting

Ask whether or not the meeting objectives were met, the meeting was run efficiently, and participants were satisfied with the results. Also, be sure that minutes are distributed and, when appropriate, follow up on action items.

By understanding that the success of a meeting is greatly dependent on what happens before and after, as well as during the meeting, leaders enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of their meetings. Trainers and coaches help you learn and improve these skills.

Cathy Bolger is a San Diego-based consultant specializing in Meeting and Presentation Skills. She can be reached at 619-294-2511.

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