Those dreadful lulls!  You know what I mean: the time in a facilitated session between when a participant finishes giving a comment and you finishing writing it. That time can sometimes feel like an eternity as the entire group waits for you to finish writing so that someone else can make the next comment.

And, of course, we try to avoid the lull at all costs.

  • We write as fast as we can…frequently illegibly.
  • We abbreviate words…sometimes even we can’t figure out later what the abbreviation meant.
  • We use sticky notes, index cards, sticky walls, and other vehicles that get them writing instead of us.

But despite the best efforts of the facilitator to avoid lulls while writing, it seems that they all too frequently happen. How do you avoid the lull period while writing? Let’s use the following dialogue from The Secrets of Facilitation to demonstrate the techniques you can use.

Sample Dialogue: Avoiding Lulls

Participant: What I think we should do is utilize on-line directories to increase the size of the applicant pool.

Facilitator: So, you said we should “Utilize on-line directories . . .” to do what then? (still writing)

Participant: To increase the size of the applicant pool.

Facilitator: OK . . . to increase the size of the applicant pool. Why is that important? (still writing)

Participant: Well, the bigger the pool, the better chances we have of finding a qualified candidate.

Facilitator: Got it. What other improvements might we consider?


Five techniques for reducing lulls and getting the participants to fill them

  • Stay close to the writing boards when you are brainstorming or recording a list of information. This will put you in position to begin writing early.
  • Begin writing at the first “recordable” word. It is important to begin writing as soon as possible to minimize the lull time. If you wait until a participant finishes a comment to start writing, you will automatically extend the lull. At the same time, however, participants often give a preamble phrase as a start to answering your question. Therefore, it is important to listen for the first “recordable” word. In the example, you want to know ways to improve the hiring process. Given the participant’s first statement, you would begin writing as soon as you heard the word “utilize.”
  • Repeat what the participant said as you write. Once a participant has finished speaking, repeat the words as you write them. Your words will fill in the lull time and help retain the interest of the group.
  • Ask participants to repeat their words. After repeating parts of what the participant has said, ask the participant to repeat the parts remaining for you to record while you continue to write. “So you said, ‘Utilize on-line directories to . . .’ do what then?” You may already know the rest of what was said, but by responding to your prompt, the participant fills in the lull time.
  • Ask a direct probe if you still need additional time. A probe such as, “Why is that important?” allows you to finish writing while the participant responds to your question.

With practice, you may find that you can effortlessly use these techniques for effectively avoiding lulls while writing.

To learn more about facilitation skills, consider our course, The Effective Facilitator.  The four-day course provides a structured approach for leading teams and facilitating meetings and covers over 100 techniques for getting amazing results from groups.