Effective facilitators engage participants in meaningful work right from the beginning of the session. All too often, however, facilitators spend the critical beginning time on ground rules, introductions, and letting people know the location of the bathrooms. Of course, these activities are important, but these are not the vital things that engage participants and get them committed to achieving the purpose.

After informing, exciting, and empowering (as described in a previous tip), get the participants involved right away in the work. After reviewing the session objective, rather than simply asking participants to state their personal objectives, consider asking a more engaging question such as “What are the key issues we need to make sure are covered today?” or “Imagine that the session is over and you are thrilled because we covered the very topics you came here to talk about.  Think about those key topics, the things that we absolutely need to discuss to achieve our purpose. What are those topics?” Asking this type of involvement question at the beginning of the session serves several purposes:

  • It involves the participants immediately.
  • It lets participants know that their needs and desires are being considered.
  • It provides an opportunity to adjust the agenda if flexibility is possible.

To collect personal objectives, we often use an engagement activity which we call, “Dump and Clump.” In general, participants work in sub-teams to “dump” their ideas on sticky notes; and then, as an entire group, the participants “clump” the post-its into categories. Let me describe further.

Dump and Clump Activity

  • When it is time for participants to identify personal objectives at the beginning of the meeting, break the participants into teams of three to seven people each.
  • Assign team leaders.
  • Give the teams limited time (for example, two minutes) to identify the personal objectives, or key topics, of the team.
  • Have the team leader record each issue on a separate sticky note using a marker for easy visibility by all.
  • Facilitate the entire group in categorizing the sheets into topic areas.

Using teams for this activity has the additional benefit of increasing the energy in the room right from the very beginning. Identifying topic categories is typically helpful later when you compare the personal objectives to the agenda to see which topics will be discussed during the meeting and which won’t, or in deciding what changes should be made to the agenda to ensure all topics are covered.

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.