How to capture information using formats, abbreviations, and headlines

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    When you are gathering input, ideas, and issues from your group at warp speed, it will inevitably be challenging and tedious. As a meeting facilitator, you must employ several techniques for recording information in a session to make it a manageable process. Here are a few methods taught in our course, The Effective Facilitator, that make the process easier – for you and your participants.

    The Secrets to Managing the Recording Process

    (From The Secrets of Facilitation, 2nd ed.)

    To make the recording process manageable, use the following techniques:

    • Offer participants a format for their responses.
    • Record only as many words as necessary to ensure that the participant’s comments are clear, concise and can stand alone.
    • Use common abbreviations where appropriate.
    • Use the headline technique to get participants to shorten long comments.

    Offer participants a format for their responses

    One method for managing the recording process is to give the participants a format for their responses. For example, you may ask for a “noun-verb-object” response from participants – e.g. “The Human Resources Department (noun) manages (verb) the onboarding process (object).”

    The format method helps participants understand the information you are requesting. It also helps you listen for the information you desire and helps you to know what to document.

    Record only as many words as necessary

    As the facilitator, your goal is to ensure that your record of the participants’ comments are words that they said, clear to the reader and concise. The words you record must also be able to stand alone without having to rely on preceding comments to make sense.

    To achieve these goals, it is not necessary that you record all of the speaker’s words. In fact, given the way most of us speak, recording all the words may reduce clarity! The key is that whatever words the facilitator writes are indeed words that the participants said.

    For example, one participant says, “Somewhere early in the process we in HR place an ad in the paper.You, as the facilitator, might record, “HR places ad in paper.” While 14 words were spoken, only five words were recorded, and each of these were words that your participant said.

    Use common abbreviations where appropriate

    Another technique for managing the recording process is to use abbreviations. When using abbreviations, be careful that the abbreviations are clearly understood by the participants and will still be understandable days later when the documentation is finalized.

    For example, abbreviations might be used for departments (“Depts”) and Human Resources (“HR”).

    Use the headline technique to have participants shorten long comments

    Have you ever been faced with a participant who has given you a long, wordy comment? And, there you stand with a pen in hand and have no idea what to write. The headline technique is used for these situations. As the facilitator, you might say, “If the comment you just made was an article in the newspaper, what would the headline of the article be? Would you headline that comment for me?”

    The headline technique can be quite effective in helping reduce an 83-word comment to seven words.

    The headline technique can serve as a fail-safe mechanism for facilitators. When all other techniques fail, you can use it to bail yourself out when you have little idea of what to write. Keep in mind, however, it should be a fail-safe technique – not a technique used after every participant’s comment. The other techniques described earlier should prevent you from having to use the headline technique very often.

    What are other techniques you use when capturing information in your meetings? There are much more to learn. Discover additional facilitation techniques plus get hands-on practice with these techniques in our training course, The Effective Facilitator.

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    Certified Master Facilitator Michael Wilkinson is the CEO and Managing Director of Leadership Strategies, Inc., The Facilitation Company and author of The Secrets of Facilitation 2nd Edition, The Secrets to Masterful Meetings, and The Executive Guide to Facilitating Strategy. Leadership Strategies is a global leader in meeting facilitation, providing companies with dynamic professional facilitators who lead executive teams and task forces in areas like strategic planning, issue resolution, process improvement and others. The company is also a leading provider of facilitation training in the United States, having trained over 19,000 individuals.