Mark Smutny – a facilitator with decades of experience with nonprofits and businesses – provides a wide range of advice for those who want to run inclusive, engaging and productive meetings. He covers the mindset and skills facilitators need. Those skills include planning a successful meeting, opening and structuring meetings that maximize everyone’s participation, and managing difficult or contentious gatherings. Smutny emphasizes the value of accessible events with diverse participants. He offers both specific suggestions and big-picture ideas.
A successful meeting requires preparation: craft a well-structured agenda, and secure the supplies and equipment you’ll need.
To position yourself as an effective facilitator, begin with a meeting’s planning process. If a group or committee is setting up a meeting you will facilitate, ask questions and listen to their concerns, issues and advice. If you set the agenda, consult a representative cross-section of attendees. Identify the meeting’s agenda, salient issues and desired outcomes. Learn as much as possible about its logistical requirements.
Most agendas include a welcome, a period of introductions and settling in, clarification of ground rules, a review of the agenda, an interval of discussion, a summarization of decisions and next actions, and an opportunity for feedback. Don’t cram too much into your agenda. Leave time for summarizing the outcomes and evaluating the meeting. To pose issues for discussion, frame agenda items as open-ended questions rather than simple topic labels. A good question provides context and will help you generate a meaningful outcome or an actionable decision.
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Experienced facilitator Mark Smutny founded Civic Reinventions, Inc. He served as a Presbyterian minister and works with the Kaleidoscope Institute, helping leaders learn to communicate across racial, cultural and ethnic divides.