Tips and tricks for facilitating workshops and meetings

Make space for different types of working and thinking

By definition, if you are working with a group of people, you’re going to have a variety of perspectives in the room. This means you’re going to have different ways that people feel most comfortable contributing. As such, to make the most of everyone’s perspective you have to mix up how you run a session. The most obvious way of doing this, is to switch between exercises that ask for individual reflection and group discussion.

The Retrospective is a classic activity that combines individual reflection with group discussion

Collaboration = building on one another’s ideas

If you’ve got people in a room for an extended period of time, then you should be looking to create a joint solution to a problem. If you’re just updating one another with information, I personally think there are better ways to do this. I’m going to assume you agree…

Stick to a structure and constantly be looking to change it

Many people are not comfortable working in a situation where they don’t know what’s coming up next. They like to prepare their thoughts from one activity to the next and connect them together. This is in contrast to those of us that are willing to react to whatever’s being said in the moment — often termed ‘blagging it’. (I do this for a living many say)

Be present and listen to understand

Facilitating is a difficult job, even when you’ve done it a few times. The main reason for this is you have to be constantly ‘on’ — listening to each point that is made, evaluating it and reacting. This takes a lot of energy. It’s essential though if you’re going to make sure that everybody’s perspective is considered and you can weave them together towards a solution.

Turn off your phone and set your out of office on

No matter how mindful you are, if you’ve got a mobile constantly buzzing in your pocket, you’re going to get distracted. Likewise, if you’re worried about a client or senior manager emailing you and you not replying in time, you’re not going to be giving the session your full attention. Set the out of office, explain to people where you are and they’ll understand.

Visually represent the conversation

People who run workshops LOVE post-its. The first reason for this is it forces participants to distill their thoughts into short sentences — whilst breaking things down into their component parts. They’re also throw away enough so that people don’t worry about putting their wildest thoughts on them — even if they’re discarded immediately.

From a recent workshop with a University and Research charity…There’s a reason that agencies are filled with post-it wielding maniacs — they really do help represent even the most complex of journeys or products

Give people a chance to reflect

Once you’ve got your post its on a wall, allow time for everyone to explore them and set time aside to come back to revisit the conclusions which are drawn. This can often be the hardest part of a session as you’ll have been working hard and people will be keen for everything to finish up. It’s crucial for getting solutions that really pull in all the points of view.

Don’t be afraid of silence

If you’re visually representing conversations and facilitating group discussions, there will naturally be a pause in the session. It will feel as if all the ideas have been generated and it will feel awkward. Your instinct will be to move things on. Resist this urge if you can. There is always one more idea to be found in this no man’s land of British embarrassment.

Build relationships before the session and in the breaks

From the second people start arriving, you should be trying to build a relationship with them. It’ll feel odd as you’ll no doubt do introductions as part of the agenda, but introduce yourself and start understanding individuals’ perspectives straight away. This will only help with the session as you move forward. If you need to nip to the loo or get a drink of water, make sure you do it in plenty of time so that you are in the room 10 minutes before the session starts for these little chats.

Have a note taker

In most sessions I run, I’m capturing information and playing it back to the group visually. However, it’s invaluable to have someone else capturing the little pieces of context which might be discussed, but which are missed, no matter how good your post it game is.

Use name badges

I’m rubbish at remembering names. I often worry about the names of people I’ve known for literally years. In a workshop environment this can be seriously debilitating and sets me on edge. So I use name badges which everyone fills out at the start. It also helps the rest of the room remember who they are addressing — as more often than not, they won’t know each other terribly well either.

Have a car park sheet

Have a way to park a conversation which whilst valuable, may be taking the session off track. I usually do this as a big sheet of paper on the wall which I add post-its to if I have to cut someone off or halt a discussion. This allows you to set up separate sessions or work streams to tackle this in the future and goes some way to avoiding people feeling like they’re not being listened to.

Have breaks and keep to time

Whilst you have to go without, breaks are crucial for keeping people engage with the session. I find it’s very difficult for anyone to remain focussed on an activity for more than an hour. Make sure that you’ve got a watch or access to a clock so you can make sure you’re keeping to time and don’t roll into your time that’s set aside.

Bring sweets & bake

There’s nothing that gets people on side more than a bit of sugar. If it can be home made, then even better. There’s no better way to build a relationship or trust than with a plate of brownies they know you’ve taken the time to bake the night before.


William Joseph

We're a branding and digital agency. We help you excite new audiences, engage stakeholders, build loyalty and raise funds. www.williamjoseph.co.uk

James Gadsby Peet

Written by

Director of Digital at William Joseph — a creative agency. I’m always up for chatting about fun things and animated cat gifs www.williamjoseph.co.uk

William Joseph

We're a branding and digital agency. We help you excite new audiences, engage stakeholders, build loyalty and raise funds. www.williamjoseph.co.uk