For marketers, being an effective meeting facilitator is a crucial skill.  It demonstrates leadership, garners full input to a strategy, and helps ensure cross-functional execution of the ultimate plan. 

While facilitation may seem easy, you have probably been in many meetings where participants either disengage or go too deep “into the weeds.”  This ultimately leaves everyone with the feeling that the session was a waste of time. 

Since my colleagues and I have been facilitating successful strategy workshops for over 25 years, this three-part blog series will highlight our best advice to elevate your facilitation game and make your workshops truly unforgettable. 

The first article in the series covered ways to maximize attendance, practicality and pace.  In this, the second installment, we unveil three additional pieces of advice.

1. Make People Laugh – But with a Purpose

The power of humor in any working session cannot be overstated. Among many beneficial aspects, humor can make it easier for participants to collaborate and come up with creative ideas — two hallmarks of a successful cross-functional strategy workshop.

In any session, starting each agenda topic with a short, funny, and relevant video sets the tone for an engaging and dynamic experience. YouTube and other video sites make it easy to find a relatable, humorous video on almost any subject.  

The process of finding the right video starts with defining “what good looks like” in the output of a specific discussion. For example, strategy workshop discussions about important and emerging customer needs should move beyond the obvious and capture the wide range of different benefits sought by different customers. 

Finding a humorous video of someone obviously not listening to someone else will get the point of the upcoming discussion across.  However, sometimes the video can be a non-humorous example of excellence in a topical area.  From our previous example, a great, short video snippet of a company that was great at uncovering customer needs would work well.  

But we find that funny examples of “what bad looks like” in a topical area can be most effective.  This gets people in a relaxed and open mindset for what comes next.

2. Tell a Story to Prime the Pump 

While a funny video captures attention, it is important to swiftly follow it with a highly relevant case study of a company demonstrating excellence in the topical area. As mentioned above, finding such cases is easier than ever using various search engines and artificial intelligence (AI) tools.

This presentation of a case is important after the humorous video because, as much as serious businesspeople like to laugh, their minds quickly ask the question “what does this mean for our company?” A case study brings the topical area closer to home.

These case studies should most often come from outside of your industry to stoke discussions that aren’t the “same old, same old.”  It’s ideal If the case features the success of a widely respected company in the topical area you are covering. 

However, if the company in the case is in a very different from yours, you can supplement it with an additional, in-industry case that makes the ultimate connection with participants.  But this is less necessary than you might think.  If you ask the participants how the ex-industry case is relevant for your company, someone will see it clearly and make the connection for the rest of the team.  

Just remember our tip from Part 1 of this series:  if you have a humorous video and two case studies, try to fit them all inside of a 15-minute presentation window.  Going on longer than that before opening up  breakout discussions could lead to losing the participant engagement that you are carefully cultivating with these facilitation strategies.

3. Give Some Thought to the “After (Learning) Party”

A successful workshop’s impact extends long beyond the event, and so a great facilitator considers the aftermath – the “After (Learning) Party.” It’s critical that you provide participants with tools and resources that they can revisit and apply post-session.  Here’s why.

If your session is meant to teach something to participants, these resources allow participants to reinforce their learning, share insights with colleagues, and apply newfound knowledge to real-world scenarios.  But even if participants are just participating in your session to provide input to your plan, these post-session tools and materials help for a couple of reasons.

Because you are using facilitation best practices, your session will be memorable.  Therefore, people will be thinking about the content after the session and will want to provide additional or different input to you.  If participants can access these materials, it will help them remember the relevant parts of the workshop and raise the likelihood that they will voluntarily continue the dialogue post-session.  This is a good thing. 

Also, many will be impressed with the content and flow of your session and want to lead similar discussions with their own teams.  Post-session materials will help them do that.  It’s been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; it also will be an indicator of your growing reputation as a facilitative leader in your company. 

At the very least, take and share pictures at the session, including the participants working together during breakout discussions and relevant parts of their output.  It will further remind people of what they accomplished and the people that they met.  In the second part of this series on powerful facilitation approaches, we’ve explored three vital aspects of being an exceptional meeting leader. Making people laugh with purpose, telling compelling stories, and considering the “After (Learning) Party” are key elements in ensuring your workshops leave a lasting imprint. Stay tuned for the third and final installment, where we’ll unravel more secrets to elevate your facilitation skills and secure unwavering buy-in for every strategy.

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