Some meetings and training sessions seem to drag because you can’t get a good discussion going. Other times, people start talking and can’t seem to stop, or arguments and conflicts devour precious time. In order to facilitate effectively, you need to know both how to get a group started, and then how to manage the discussion.
Based on my experience as a seminar leader, these are my Top Ten Ways to manage interactivity:
- Start with easy-to-answer questions. These questions should be closed ended and not sensitive in nature, so that your audience feels comfortable responding. As you continue to build trust, you can move into more sensitive issues, and ask more open-ended questions.
- Call on the group at large, not an individual. Pose your question to everyone, then as you look around, select the person or persons you want to call on. Usually they are the ones who are making eye contact with you. This approach helps everyone stay engaged, and you are less likely to put someone on the spot.
- Use the silence. Once you have asked a question, don’t jump in with your own answer. Count to ten, if you need to, before saying anything. Let the group have time to think and respond.
- Ask participants to write down their ideas. Have paper or note cards handy. This is especially helpful with a quiet group, when time is short or when emotions are high.
- Foster small-group discussions. With a quiet group, ask them to first have a discussion with the person sitting next to them or at tables, and then ask them to report on highlights of their discussions. Do this early in your meeting to set the expectation for engagement without having to state it outright.
- Ask for a volunteer to write comments or answers on a flipchart. This will keep you from having to turn away from the group to write, allowing you to keep the group engaged, or to keep an eye on a talkative group.
- Incorporate physical movement. Have individuals move into small groups, walk up to the front of the room to post their ideas, or stand beside a flipchart to deliver their findings to the large group. Use games and puzzles that get them physically engaged.
- Manage side conversations. Make steady eye contact with those who tend to chat, stand closer to them, or use silence until the room becomes quiet. By using these “silent” techniques, you can usually maintain control without having to say anything.
- Don’t shy away from conflict. Disagreement can be a sign of independent thinking, and can lead to better solutions in the long run. When conflict arises, try to disagree with the statement rather than with the person. If the emotional temperature gets too hot, you might suggest a short break before continuing.
- Use courteous language. Words such as “please” and “thank you” and inclusive terms like “Let’s look at our next agenda item” or “Shall we check for consensus now?” foster a climate of respect and cooperation.
The next time you host a meeting or training session, try to increase engagement using these techniques or others you feel would be appropriate for the audience. Most likely everyone will benefit from a more engaging conversation.