So much is written about the art facilitation and running productive meetings but let’s spare a thought for that other vital ingredient; the participants. Like all animals, we come with our own set of unique behaviours, temperaments, and foibles! Gaining a deeper insight into these ahead of your session can really set you and them up for success.

As a professional facilitator, I take time to meticulously plan a flow that helps the group reach its required outcomes. Ensuring collaboration, engagement and creating an environment where productive conversations can happen is vital. The question I always ask myself is:

“Does this feel like an experience that would enjoy being a participant at”?

As a member of the human species, I’ve participated in enough meetings, workshops, pieces of training to know what does and doesn’t work for me. But simply asking this is not enough, what about my audience? To step into the world of the people who matter; your attendees. Here are three questions I start by asking at the planning stage:

What’s going on for people at the moment?

You can’t always manage how people will ‘turn up’ but getting an insight into the world of your audience ahead of your session will give you some clues to help create the initial tone & settle people in.

I recently worked with a group that worked in an extremely busy and dynamic environment. They arrived looking frazzled with one eye on the clock thinking about all the work that was waiting for them when they had ‘finished’ with the 4-hour workshop.

While the facilitator can’t change the current reality, they can & must factor in what’s going on in the world of the audience.

For example, with this team, I took the time upfront to metaphorically untether them from the company. Describing everything outside of our meeting room as the ‘mother ship’ that would from time to time send signals to pull them back. I set a tone that created a protected environment in which they could disconnect and learn. I also asked their boss, ahead of the workshop to send a signal (email) to the organization to let them know the team was unavailable and set up some alternative emergency measures.

Having an understanding of how the team might show up to your session allows you to step into their shoes, see where they pinch and demonstrate empathy.

What do you want your participants to Think, Feel & do as a result of this meeting/workshop/session?

Very often the answer to this question begins with the DO. Usually, leaders are super clear about the actions required but less so when it comes to the feel & think.

The reality is that, as humans, we are more likely to DO something if our feelings and thoughts also lead us in that direction. The more you create the right feelings and thoughts the greater the effectiveness of the DO becomes.

Pushing for the answers to these questions allows the facilitator to plan to create the right content, flow, and environment.

Equally, exploring the gap between the current reality and desired outcomes allow you as the facilitator to understand and plan to breach the chasm!

What are the watch-outs with the group?

Particularly when working with a new group I like to get a feeling for the team or group dynamic. Our habits and learned behaviours can be either a blessing or a curse and so getting to know as much as possible about your group is essential.

For example, some teams may have worked together for many years and have a natural, easy way of communicating with one another. While other groups might be new to each other and are more hesitant about sharing thoughts and views.

I’ve worked with teams who talk over one another constantly and those who are disciplined with turn-taking.

Sometimes there may be a natural spokesperson or someone who has a tendency to dominate the conversation or a quieter member who has great experience but doesn’t get the air time.

While all this is great ‘foresight’ it should never cloud your judgment but rather help you plan & prepare for ‘possible’ eventualities.

Being a group facilitator; be it leading a team meeting, running a workshop or moderating a discussion requires a multitude of diverse skills. Knowing which skills to leverage with each situation is the secret to success. The more you get to know about your audience ahead of time means your toolbox is well equipped and your participants feel in safe, professional hands.