Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How to encourage participation during meetings and workshops

Many people who attend meetings and workshops just want to listen to what is going on and not participate. They don’t want to be encouraged to participate in the meeting or workshop. They want to be informed or entertained. Often this shyness stems from fear of not measuring up. Here are some tips on what a facilitator can do to encourage participation:

  1. Create an environment of error-free participation. As a facilitator of a meeting or workshop, it is best to put the participants at ease in the beginning. One way to do this is to create an environment that encourages people to participate without increasing their worry about saying something wrong. As the facilitator you can do this by framing your questions and discussion points so there are no wrong answers. Instead of speaking in absolutes, ask for one of many in a list. For example, instead of asking the group to “…name the one marketing strategy that will work for this product,” ask the group to “…brainstorm all the marketing strategies that might be good for this product.” By broadening the question, you lower each participant’s fear of being wrong.
  2. Brainstorming technique. Another way to encourage participation is to request to hear all ideas no matter how silly they might think they are. By lowering the expectations and making it okay to offer a silly idea, people will have feel freer to speak up.
  3. As the facilitator, ensure that you are part of the discussion. If the meeting is supposed to be a lecture, then let the participants off the hook by not calling on them. If you as the facilitator truly want their ideas, make the meeting into a conversation where their ideas are as important and as respected as yours.
  4. When someone offers some information that might be embarrassing to them, find something good to say about it. And be authentic about this. Don’t say the traditional, “That’s a good point,” if it’s not. But find a way to expand the idea to make the participant feel that at least he/she provided a spark of an idea that led to more.
  5. Make speaking out fun. Ask the group a question and ask for the silliest comment about it. The exercise is for someone to offer a silly or invalid idea and it’s the responsibility of the group to form it into a good idea. In this manner you are providing reinforcement for silly ideas. This will loosen up the group and make them feel it is safe to talk in your workshop or meeting.
  6. If it’s possible to rearrange the room, do so. Make the arrangement of the room as informal as possible in order to facilitate communication.

To facilitate discussion, the facilitator needs to express an authentic desire to hear from everyone in the group. If certain people within the group, look particularly uncomfortable even after the above activities, then allow them to have a pass during the workshop or meeting and work them into the conversation the next time.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, nice article, just wanted to add that combining #1, #3, and #5 leads to a pretty great outcome - as the facilitator and someone who knows that an empty whiteboard is the scariest thing, you could start by posing a couple of ideas first yourself. One would be practical and obvious, one fairly unique, and then one that is out there, followed by something like "Well let's just put this one down, it might be crazy but who knows, maybe it could lead to something great!" This way you openly accept "wild" ideas and you also make it clear that none of them are set in stone; you're all open to refining and working upon an idea.