How to Facilitate Meetings Effectively and Motivate Participants to Contribute – Part 2 of Meeting Facilitation Best Practices







How to Facilitate Meetings Effectively and Motivate Participants to Contribute – Part 2 of Meeting Facilitation Best Practices

Published: 2023/01/26

7 min read

In my latest blog, I covered key strategies and tools for preparing and facilitating meetings. In this article, I want to share some tips for facilitators to maximize their full power during meetings and discuss how you can encourage participants to contribute to meetings in a productive way. 

Before we go into details, let’s start by defining what I mean when I say a meeting. In my understanding, it’s not a quick catch-up for two or three people to get updated, but rather a session to discuss a topic between more than four people (including a facilitator) – these can be retrospectives, planning and refinement sessions and other problem-solving type of meetings (even taking an entire day). 

A facilitator, by definition, is a person who guides participants through the meeting process and uses a range of techniques to conduct the meeting effectively. Even if you’re not going to be a facilitator, don’t worry – anyone tasked with leading meetings can benefit from learning facilitation skills. Let’s see how you can get the most out of meeting facilitation. 

4 questions meeting facilitators need to ask themselves during a meeting

I think leading a meeting isn’t easy, but there are ways to make it easier. For example, you can use an approach I usually practice. It focuses on watching and listening closely to participants, quickly reacting, if appropriate, suggesting solutions and asking thought-provoking questions. To do this, I constantly monitor these four aspects: 

1. The goal – Do all attendees understand what we want to achieve?

Even if I share meetings goals in an agenda beforehand, I don’t take it for granted that everyone understands them or that the goals won’t become unclear throughout a discussion. I stay alert to observe signs of misinterpretation or gaps in communication during the whole meeting. To prevent them from happening, before someone joins a meeting, I double check whether the participant knows what the goal of this meeting is. You can always text them earlier to make sure they know how to prepare for the call, etc. A simple message can work wonders because participants are more likely to disengage at some point of the discussion when they don’t fully understand its goal.  

2. Clarity & communication – Does this communication help achieve the goal of the meeting? Are thoughts presented clearly and easily understood?

Miscommunication between people can quickly ruin their engagement and turn a meeting into a grand failure. I watch out for any misunderstandings (i.e., two people seem to come to a conclusion but their tone suggests they disagree), encourage avoiding jargon understandable only to select participants and support clear exchange of thoughts, for example, by using meeting facilitation tools. 

It’s important to remember that in each group you’ll probably encounter people who tend to dominate a discussion and those who are more passive listeners, and you have to find a way to show them how to collaborate with everyone, regardless of different communication styles. It’s a really difficult task, but if you pay attention to the types of personalities of the participants (and their styles of sharing thoughts), you can quickly adjust the meeting and notice the difference immediately. How? See the next bullet point. 

3. The form of the meeting – Does the form of the meeting suit the needs of attendees and help achieve the goal?

In my opinion, it’s the meeting facilitator’s responsibility to inform others how a meeting will achieve its goals. The form should be adjusted to the participants and the goal. You wouldn’t give a presentation when the goal of your meeting is to brainstorm and collect different opinions, would you? Instead, you would rather set up a session to gather ideas. That’s pretty obvious. Things get complicated when you have to deal with a much more complex issue, when you’re looking for the root of a problem or for ideas, and need people to generate solutions. 

Remember to take into account the different personalities in your group and make sure you plan activities that don’t make participants uncomfortable e.g., by forcing introverts to speak up spontaneously or allowing a few people to dominate a discussion. If you know that someone might dominate a conversation, perhaps it’s better to ask people to work in smaller groups, so that everyone has enough time to think and gather their thoughts, instead of letting one person dictate the rhythm of the meeting. Research different meeting formats if you’d like to learn more about it. 

How to Create Efficient Agendas for Your Scrum Meetings

4. Engagement – Are all attendees really engaged during the meeting?

Once engagement drops, the meeting is as good as over. People will stop contributing to the discussion and turn to tasks or thoughts unrelated to the meeting. Before that happens, look for early signs of frustration (i.e., impatient tone of voice), passiveness (i.e., no contribution to the meeting) or confusion (i.e., people asking questions about things that were already explained) and address them on the spot. 

You can always remind participants that without everyone’s engagement the group can’t reach the goal of the meeting, but that might be not enough motivation for some. To address potential disengagement, I monitor the situation and if I spot any issues, I instantly react (i.e., change the meeting format, ask for input, call for a short break or, if there’s no other way – cancel the meeting). Of course, I also point out publicly that I feel the engagement is low.  

Bear in mind that some people can become silent and passive during a call because of another reason – you should prevent that from happening by encouraging everyone to speak from the very beginning. From my experience, it’s best when every person in a meeting has a chance to speak within the first 10 minutes. You can achieve it through ice breakers or just typical small talk. 

Asking yourself these questions and monitoring these areas during a meeting might be difficult at first, but as you practice it more and more often, it’ll soon become second nature.

Read also: Effective remote pair programming – a practical guide

What else can you do during the meeting to make participants more effective?

Though facilitators play a key role in enabling productive meetings, it doesn’t mean that participants can’t contribute to creating a successful discussion. While participating in a meeting or a call doesn’t sound too complex, participants usually have to face their own challenges, though they might not be consciously aware of them. You, as a facilitator, can help to overcome them. How? 

  • Make sure attendees go through the information provided by you and come up with strong ideas to share in the meeting. 
  • You can also teach people not to be a ‘Hi & Bye’ participant – someone who just shows up and only speaks to say goodbye at the end of the call. 
  • It’s good to encourage people to be active as their engagement can inspire other participants to do their part, which can lead to positive results. 
  • Another thing that can help you is to do whatever is possible to avoid distractions during a meeting. It’s difficult to make meaningful contributions or address other people’s ideas when participants keep directing their attention somewhere else. Ask them to close any files unrelated to the meeting, place their phones out of reach and even turn their chat status to Do Not Disturb. 

However, even with the best efforts from participants, some people can become frustrated and start acting in a disruptive way. When people do this, their disengagement increases. This usually happens when they don’t understand the goal of a meeting or they feel that the way the meeting is conducted isn’t achieving the goal in a relevant way (as explained above). Facilitators have to be prepared for that possibility. One way to prepare for this scenario better is to reflect on the times when you acted like a disruptive participant. What happened? Why did you act this way? If you can pinpoint what irritated you about past meetings and take it into account for the next meeting you’ll be facilitating, you can prepare a better meeting. 

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Apart from personal reflection, another good practice is to ask yourself: What can I do so that no one feels that they’re being disruptive? If one of the participants starts acting out, your first instinct needs to be to take a close, hard look at your own meeting preparation and facilitation. The truth is nobody strives to disrupt meetings – they want to solve problems. You just need to help them do it. 

Facilitating productive meetings is a skill you can learn

I hope the advice in this blog will help you plan and lead more successful meetings that get you and your team faster results. If you haven’t followed the practices listed here before, don’t get discouraged when you don’t see an immediate change. It takes time to master meeting facilitation, but it’s possible with some steady effort. 

Meanwhile, if you’re looking to accelerate your software delivery and need skilled product engineering experts with broad industry experience, contact us.

About the authorHubert Ochmański

Software Delivery Manager and Scrum Master

A Software Delivery Manager and Scrum Master with 10+ years’ experience in Agile and Waterfall project management, Hubert combines conventional and modern approaches. Co-creator and co-implementer of Agile transformation in multicultural, international projects, he works with cross-functional development teams, product owners and customer management specialists to build efficient software delivery processes. Outside of work, Hubert has spent over 1,500 hours training others in project management.

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