A Broad Overview of Meeting Facilitation
There are many administration jobs that involve facilitation of meetings to a certain degree. Each organization with varying styles and different requirements for each meeting. The purpose of having a facilitator might be different as well. However, there are some baseline considerations that one should have when being tasked to facilitate meetings.
In general, meetings are held on a regular basis (e.g., weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, half-yearly or yearly). If the purpose is operational based, the meetings tend to be more frequent as compared to strategic based ones. We can group the tasks of meeting facilitation using a timeline approach, namely: before the meeting, during the meeting, and after the meeting as follows.
Before the meeting
1. Pre-booking and arrangement of the meeting rooms
It’s best to prepare early (usually before the end of a calendar or financial year). This is especially true for regular meetings. Resources such as meeting rooms are limited in every organization. You wouldn’t like to find yourself without a meeting room days before the meeting and had to go around asking someone to release a room for your use.
Depending on the room that you have booked, you may need to note if the room has a fixed or flexible furniture. As if it’s the latter, you might have to arrange for someone to help with the furniture arrangement to boardroom / U-shape, usually allows attendees to face and see each other during the discussion, before the meeting.
2. Preparation of agenda and meeting materials
Depending on the nature and purpose of the meeting, there might be a need to gather and source for the agenda for the upcoming meeting. It could be followed up items from the previous meeting, strategic discussion for upcoming projects or events, or operational / projects related matters to discuss. The agenda needs to be confirmed and approved by the chair(s) of the meeting. Arrangement would need to be made with the attendees to submit the meeting materials for circulation before the meeting, if possible. That allows time for the attendees to run through the materials before the meeting and have a more effective discussion and raise questions if they have any.
3. Sending out calendar invites / notification to reserve the attendees’ time
Most of us depend on our calendar for the important events to attend to during the workday. Once the meeting is confirmed, it’s time to send out a notice or calendar invite to the meeting attendees and presenters to secure and reserve their time for the meeting. Usually, a heads-up would have already been given to time on the estimated/planned dates for the meeting. There are also several AI-scheduling tools (Microsoft AI scheduler, Calendly, CalendarHero, Sidekick AI) that could help to source for a common time slots. However, these tools only work when the staff involved actively update their calendar regularly and appropriately (i.e., not indicating as “free” when time slot is blocked for meeting). As such, double confirming with the attendees or their secretaries might be required at times. By sending the calendar invite, you’ll be able to know attendance of the attendee beforehand and plan for any rescheduling earlier (if required).
4. Follow-up on the outstanding matters from the previous meeting
It’s important to ensure continuity and closure of the discussions of the meeting. Suppose there are any outstanding matters from the previous meeting that might need follow up or further investigation/research before a decision or closure can be reached, it’s usually the facilitator/secretariat to follow up with the staff involved in the matter for an update to be reported in the next meeting. Depending on the priority of the matter, there staff could also be asked to report their findings for a decision.
As tedious as it might sound, it’s important to ensure that the matters brought up have some form of closure. It’s important to ensure that attendees would not feel that the matters brought up were neglected and left hanging due to the lack of continuity from the previous discussion. Often than not, it could also cause problems in the future if proper closure was not given, and staff lack the directive on how to move forward. It might even make a roundabout way back to the agenda of the meeting in the future. As a facilitator, you probably wouldn’t want that to happen.
5. Templates for recording the notes of meeting and outstanding
Suppose you are facilitating meetings by a newly formed committee; it might be helpful to prepare the meeting templates beforehand. Inputs from the chair and members could be sought in case they have any domain specific requirements (e.g., project management might require a Gantt chart for all the projects that they are monitoring). Ensuring the there is some form of consistency and structure is important so that it’s intuitive for the members to refer to the right template or document based on the type of information that they are looking for.
6. Refreshment (optional)
Sometimes you might even be asked to prepare some refreshments for the attendees (especially during long meetings that could stretch from 3 hours to 4 hours, or even more. Though I believe it’s generally inefficient to have such long meetings, it just can’t be help for certain meetings and/or organization. Reasons could range from the “hard to come by” attendance of certain domain expertise (as such trying to get the most out of it) to complex and time sensitive discussion topics that require immediate resolution but lack consensus among the involved parties. What we could do is try to make it as comfortable as possible by providing refreshments (e.g., tea/coffee, snacks) for staff. Some of us do think and work better with sugar and caffeine.
7. IT and other misc. support (optional)
It might be useful to have IT support on standby in case of technical difficulties (e.g., WiFi for guests, AV system failure, video-conferencing setup, recording). As such, giving IT team a heads-up on the meeting time and potential support required may be useful to ensure that prompt assistance is rendered when required. Other misc. support such as free parking arrangement for VIPS should also be arranged and communicated beforehand.
The more you are prepared, the less you will have to worry about the actual meeting.
During the meeting
1. Arrive earlier to set the room up for the meeting
By setting the room earlier, you’ll have some time to seek help if there are any problems with the IT system, furniture arrangement, or room facilities. It could also help to reduce potential delays to the meeting.
2. Prepare local copy of the meeting materials
It’s common to utilize network or cloud storage to store meeting documents. However, given the potential network failures, it never hurt to duplicate a copy of the meeting materials on the local computing device. It ensures that the meeting could still go on in case of internet failure. However, if it’s a shared computing device, the facilitator should remember to delete documents after the meeting to prevent unnecessary information disclosure to unintended parties.
3. Recording of the meeting
The common ways to record a meeting are audio recording (i.e., recording), video recording (i.e., video-conferencing software such as Zoom, Teams), manual recording, and more recently assistive AI NLP translation tools. It depends on the availability of such resources in the organizations and the openness and appropriateness of using such tools for recording.
4. Cue the presenters and attendees for the relevant agenda item
It’s important to cue the presenters and attendees when the meeting is ready for their presentation to avoid potential clashes and leakage of information to unintended parties. Although it’s best to arrange for a waiting area for the presenter, there may not be such luxury of space and resources available in all organization. Hence, it’s good to provide the presenters with their allocated timeslot and inform them to a ready at a certain time while you will message or call them when it’s their turn to enter the room.
5. Keep track of the duration for each agenda item
There could be times when the discussion may end early or later. Hence, it’s important for the facilitator to keep track of the time and maintain consistent communications to the involved parties if there is any change or delay in the timing of their item.
6. Administrative assistance for the presenters (optional)
You may receive requests from the presenter to help during or after the meeting. As facilitator, it’s best to assist in order ensure smooth running of the meetings. However, there could be times when people may take advantage of the precedence that you have set previously. It’s just about striking a balance of being helpful and, at the same time, be aware of the potential abuses that staff might take advantage of.
After the meeting
1. Draft out the notes of meeting
One of the first thing to do after the meeting is to just find time, sit down and start writing the minutes as soon as possible because the meeting is still fresh in your head. You remember the discussion clearer as such able to document them more accurately.
2. Send the draft for vetting and approval
Usually, the first draft would need to be sent out for vetting, especially if the topics are very specific to a certain domain. There is a need to check for accuracy and the domain specific terms used in the minutes. The chair(s) of the meeting would then approve the minutes after the vetting.
3. Circulation and documentation of the final meeting minutes
Once the minutes are approved, it would be circulated to the attendees. Some might still give their comments to change the documentation at this point so it could be helpful to set a deadline for any further comments to change the documentation. Once it’s firmed up, it can be archived and saved for future references / evidence of the decision made by the organization. Different document repository (e.g., SharePoint, Accellion, Box, Dropbox and more) may be deployed for such purpose.
There could be more requirements and considerations depending on the type of meetings that you are facilitating. The nuances of each could only be learnt through experiencing, understanding and making mistakes as we go about facilitating our first few meetings. Hope this list helps.