Have you ever participated in a public meeting without a facilitator? If yes, you probably felt it on some level. Maybe you wondered what even the purpose of the meeting was. Maybe you felt frustrated and thought it was a waste of time. Perhaps you felt like no one was listening to your input anyway. Meetings without facilitation often leave people feeling dismissed, helpless, or frustrated.
By contrast, if you ever had an opportunity to work with or be part of a meeting led by a skilled facilitator, then you likely left the meeting feeling listened to and having a clear idea about it. Whether or not you were aware that the person was facilitating or understood what they were doing, the experience might have felt a bit like magic: somehow you got where you needed to get in a manner that felt meaningful and productive.
A facilitator is not just an add-on to public meetings. A neutral facilitator is crucial for a meeting to align with its purpose, which is to gather valuable information (inputs, feedback, etc) from a specific group of people. Since it is very easy to get off track, an experienced and skillful person leading the meeting is much more likely to hold the agenda — from the beginning until the end.
You may say that facilitation can be done by anyone. Sure, but you must realise what is at stake. Participants of the public meeting are putting their trust into the process. They hope to be heard, respected, and valued, and to be able to see the purpose of the input they are giving. If they leave the meeting feeling the opposite, they won’t trust the process and might not come to a public meeting ever again.
It takes a high degree of self-awareness, self-management, and group awareness to be able to navigate through the process of a public meeting smoothly. However, facilitation is possibly one of the most undervalued competencies in the public sphere. Done well, you don’t really know it’s happening. Done poorly, people often blame the organizer, the sponsor, or each other. Because of its relative invisibility, facilitation, as a competency, is often not seen as something worth investing in. There is a general feeling that facilitation is something everyone knows how to do. Nevertheless, while everyone might think they know how to run a meeting – create an agenda, send out the invites, order refreshments, prepare materials, hold the meeting, manage the time, and take notes – in reality, there is so much more to setting the stage for participation to unfold and for impact to be achieved.
An experienced facilitator will:
- Set the group’s direction toward an agreed-upon outcome;
- Make sure the participation process is inclusive;
- Stay neutral about the topic being discussed;
- Ask questions to the group;
- Manage conflict and build bridges between competing ideas;
- Share the outcomes of the meeting without judging them.
So, whether it’s an intimate public meeting with 8 people, or a large event, bringing in a skilled facilitator will ensure that goals will be achieved and participants will leave the meeting feeling that their contribution mattered.
You don’t see yourself as a skilled facilitator but you need one? We can help! Feel free to reach out to us via firstname.lastname@example.org