Adapted from The Secrets of Facilitation, Second Edition

Have you ever had to open a meeting “on the fly”?  You know what I mean – those times when you weren’t expecting to run the meeting and your boss or the meeting leader turns to you and says, “Why don’t you run this one?” – as if they were really asking a question.

Of course you know the purpose of the meeting and the specific product that is suppose to come out.  And you may even know the agenda to use.  But what do you say in the beginning?  How do you get the session started?

Of course the start of a facilitated session is critical to the overall success of the session. The opening sets the tone, pace and expectation for the rest of the meeting.  As described in a previous newsletter article (Starting Meetings Masterfully), we recommend that your opening words should cover four key points: inform, excite, empower and involve (IEEI).

  • Inform the participants about the overall purpose of the meeting by explaining the session objectives and key products to be produced.
  • Excite them about the process by giving them a clear vision of the overall result to be achieved and the benefits to them.
  • Empower them by discussing the important role they play in the process, the reason they were selected or the authority that has been given to them.
  • Involve themas early as possible by identifying their personal objectives, the issues that must be covered, the challenges that must be overcome or some other topic that contributes to the overall goal of the session.

If you have to open on the fly, and aren’t sure what to say, you can use IEEI as a mnemonic. First inform them, then excite them, then empower them, then involve them. For example, if you were facilitating a team to improve the hiring process, you might use IEEI in the following way.

Sample Dialogue: Using IEEI

I would like to thank you all for agreeing to be a part of this session. I would like to start by informing you about why we are here.  As you all know, we’ve been having significant difficulty with our hiring process.  We have had issues with the timeliness of the process, as well as times when the wrong person was hired for a job and we ended up with rapid turnover because it was a bad match.  I am sure there have been other problems as well.  We have been called together to create a new process that will alleviate concerns like these.   When we are done we will have a description of the new process and an implementation plan for getting there.

Why is this exciting? If we are successful, and if we do our job well, it will hopefully mean a more timely process, a process that will result in more of the right people being hired for the right positions, and improved morale and working environment.  Not only will we individually benefit by bringing on people who are a better fit for our teams, but in addition, we will have the thanks and gratitude of the senior staff and our peers for the significant improvements we will be making.

I want to make sure you know that you have been empowered to get this job done. Each of you were hand-picked by the leadership team to be part of this process.  They believe you have the knowledge as well as the vision for creating a much better process.  And, they are looking forward to your recommendations.

Before we take a look at the planned agenda, I would like to get each of you involved by asking you to think about some of the things that you know we’ll need to discuss during this process.  Joe, why don’t we start with you and go around the room. Think about the things in the hiring process you know need addressing, or solutions that you may have seen in other organization, or topics you want to make sure we talk about.  If we are going to improve the hiring process, what are some of the key things you want us to talk about?  Joe, get me started…

The IEEI opening is a powerful tool for making sure your participants understand why they are there, what they are trying to achieve, and the benefits to them.  It helps get them focused on the session, and committed to the purpose.  And you can use it on the fly during those times when you are unexpectedly asked to run the meeting.

Interested in learning more facilitation techniques?  Check out our course, The Effective Facilitator.