Facilitate a Meeting

A meeting facilitator is person responsible for leading a meeting. In essence, the facilitator's purpose is to ensure that the meeting runs smoothly from organization, to start, to finish. A well facilitated meeting should ensure that all the goals of the meeting are met by its conclusion. Thus, a good facilitator will ensure that all attendees understand the purpose of the meeting, make sure all attendees needs are met, make sure the meeting flows smoothly, and ensure full participation.[1]


Part 1 of 3: Laying the Groundwork for a Successful Meeting

  1. Preparation is key so start with an agenda. While a facilitator should blend into meetings and make their job look easy, it is crucial that they prepare extensively for meetings. Start with writing an Agenda. A good agenda will include key points about the meeting as well as provide adequate detail so that attendees know where to be and what to expect.[2]
    • Note the start and end times of sessions, as well as realistic time limits for each session, to ensure that the meeting will run on time.
    • Select topics that impact upon everyone attending the meeting. Try to get input from those attending the meeting about the topics that warrant discussion.
    • Try posing the topics as questions that need answering to stimulate dialogue in the meeting.
    • Note what the purpose of discussion is. Is it for information, to solve a problem, or to make a decision?
    • Specify how attendees should prepare for the meeting.
  2. Plan the invitation list. This requires a delicate balance. If there are too few or too many people in attendance you run the risk of an unproductive meeting. You will want to invite only people who will help you reach the goal of the meeting.[3] Ask yourself the following.
    • Who are the key decision makers on the issue?
    • Who is most knowledgable about the information being discussed?
    • Who has a vested interest in the topics?
    • Who will have to implement any decisions that are made?
    • Some experts suggest 8 people be invited to meetings where a decision needs to be made. By contrast, they suggest 18 people when the purpose of the meeting is to brainstorm.
  3. Send out the invitations via email. Sending an email is the easiest way to invite your attendees. Your email should provide a brief introduction to the meeting. It should also include the date, time, and possibly an RSVP deadline. The agenda should be attached to the email.
    • Requiring an RSVP is optional, but it will allow you to prepare a proper amount of materials for all participants.
  4. Start to think about what a good facilitator does. By reflecting on what a facilitator does during a meeting, you will be in a good position to know what is expected of you when it is your turn to perform the job. A good facilitator will have a number of traits that helps him or her manage time, people and different opinions. It is best to develop these traits early.[4]
    • Value people and their ideas. A good facilitator will insert his or her own complements after an attendee has presented an idea. Say something like "thank you Samantha, those are very useful points that help us think about the issue in a different way." By doing this, you will not only ensure that each person and idea is heard, but that others will be confident about speaking up.
    • Be able to think on your toes. You will have to respond to a number of different situations during meetings. You need to think and respond quickly to these different situations. For example, if someone provides meaningful advice be quick to praise them and immediately look for another attendee who is seeking to build on that line of thought. If someone raises a bad point that is off topic however, do your best to highlight the good in the comment and search for another attendee who will build on what you thought was good.
    • Be well spoken. It is important that everyone in the room understand you. You will want to speak in a reasonable volume so that everyone can hear; do not mutter or mumble! Use jargon only if everyone at the meeting is familiar with the terminology.

Part 2 of 3: Setting the Stage for the meeting

  1. Plan the location and arrange furniture. You'll need to consider if the meeting is going to be face to face, a virtual meeting through screens, or a combination of the two. Depending on the meeting format, you will need to make sure that all the furniture and hardware are in place, including chairs, tables, and projector screens. There are several possible ways to set up furniture for a meeting.[5]
    • A round table set up will help for discussion orientated meetings.
    • A setting with chairs in rows is good for establishing a speaker as the main focus. This set up works well when the main purpose is imparting information rather than discussion.
    • A theater setup features a table at the front of the room and allows for a panel of speakers to sit up front. Attendees will sit in rows in front of the panel speakers in a lecture format.
    • A classroom setup has tables in front of the rows of chairs to allow attendees to take notes while the speaker remains the focus of the meeting.
    • Utilize the U-shaped set-up for meetings where you want the participants to see each other and interact when needed.
    • Set up chairs in a circle with you in the center for meetings intended as open and participatory.
  2. Provide supplies for those attending the meeting. A fully-prepared facilitator will provide attendees with pens, notepads, workbooks, handouts and other tools needed for the meeting. Also consider if you will need to provide any log-in information ahead of time for virtual meetings. There should be a board set up to enable people and presenters to take notes for everyone to view, perhaps a flip chart or white board. This keeps the meeting flowing more smoothly, allowing participants to have their questions answered at specified times during the meeting.
    • Depending on the length of the meeting, think about providing your participants with beverages (coffee), snacks, water and/or candy.
  3. Send an email reminder about the meeting as it approaches. People are busy, and without reminders, it is possible that they will forget about an upcoming meeting. Try to send out reminders to those who will be attending two days before the meeting is scheduled to take place.
    • If you asked invitees to RSVP, you can send a reminder that they need to RSVP before the deadline.
    • In your reminder email be sure to ask if anyone has changed plans.

Part 3 of 3: Knowing Your Role Facilitating the Meeting

  1. Arrive to the meeting early. As the facilitator you should be there to greet everyone who arrives at the meeting. Either shake their hand as they walk into the room or greet them as they log in to the tele-conference. This will create a warm environment at the meeting while also showing that you are serious and ready to discuss.
  2. Start the meeting on time and make the objectives clear. While everyone in the meeting will have received the agenda, by re-introducing the objectives all attendees will begin on the same page. It will also help to set the tone for the meeting and put people on the right track immediately.[4]
    • You can also make housekeeping announcements at the start of the meeting, including information about break times, fire exits and restroom locations.
    • You may also think about establishing rules for interaction depending upon who is attending the meeting. Rules could include show one another mutual respect, staying on topic, attacking the problem rather than the person, bringing closure to discussion, and not interrupting others.[6]
  3. Guide the meeting by having all attendees speak. Everyone has a different method to guiding a meeting and keeping speakers on topic. One vital method is to make sure that conversation and discussion is not dominated by one or two people. Ensure that you are on the lookout for anyone who may want to make a point and allow them to speak by asking them their thoughts.[4]
    • Say a colleague names Samantha looks interested but has yet to contribute. You may try saying: "Samantha, how does the issue at hand affect your department and you specifically?"
  4. Stick to the topic. The facilitator’s job is to keep all attendees or speakers on topic. Allowing off-target tangents with throw your schedule off and may mean that the meeting will not reach its intended outcome. If you sense discussion moving off topic, redirect the conversation by asking question that directly relate to the topic.[4]
  5. If dialogue has begun to drift, you could say: "But how does this affect the issue we are discussing today?" Or, "these are all very interesting points. We should discuss these at a later date but for now let's focus on the issue at hand."
    • You may also want to flag the ideas being discussed for a later meeting so as not to offend the attendees.
  6. Have a plan for difficult situations and diffuse them. If you sense to participants are on the verge of getting into a heated debate, bring in another person to speak to the issue. Essentially, you will want to diffuse a debate by bringing in more dialogue. In the event of a conflict, you can also listen to both sides and identify common ground to bring the opposing parties together.
    • In the event of a difficult situation, you could say: "it is clear that you are both coming from different sides. However, you obviously agree on the importance of this issue so let's try to focus our energy on finding a mutually beneficial result."
  7. Answer and redirect questions. As the facilitator you can take questions from attendees so long as you are in a position to respond accurately. If not, you should refer the question to someone at the meeting who is in a better position to respond accurately.[7]
    • In the event you do not know the answer to a question, you may say: "that's an excellent question, I think Samantha is better informed on this topic however. Samantha, what are your thoughts?"
  8. Summarize and simplify findings. Take notes during the meeting and ensure that you are writing down all key ideas and opinions. At the conclusion of a discussion on a certain topic, it is helpful if the facilitator provides a review of what was said and the conclusions that were reached.
    • Do your best to summarize the key points made by each person in attendance. Also, highlight whatever resolutions were made to the issues addressed.
  9. Ask how the meeting went when it concludes. Feedback is essential for you to improve as a meeting facilitator. You may think about asking the following: Was the agenda distributed at a good time? How well prepared were the attendees? Did the time allocated to each topic work? Was there enough time for discussion? How was the room set up?[2]
    • Feedback can also be collected by an email survey sent to participants shortly after the meeting.
    • Be sure to review the result and make any necessary changes for the next meeting.


  • Remember that to facilitate a meeting you do not need to be overly concerned with content. Instead, be concerned with the process of the meeting.
  • Stick to appointed break times.
  • Be accessible to the participants by staying after the meeting for anyone who doesn’t want to address the group.

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Sources and Citations