Some of the responsibilities of a facilitator during the meeting include the following:
Holding space: In facilitator lingo, “holding space” is about creating a safe space for meaningful conversations. To create such a space, notice the energy, flow and feeling of the meeting and respond to it. Adapt the agenda, if needed. For example, if people seem disengaged, try a different method for engaging them. If people seem sleepy, have a meeting break or an energizing game. If people get sidetracked or argumentative in a large group discussion, break into smaller groups.
Managing different personalities and engagement preferences: Inevitably, meeting participants will have different personalities and preferences. Some people may enjoy speaking and sharing ideas in a large group. Others might prefer smaller groups or one-on-one discussions. Some people like to talk, which can make it challenging for quieter people who want to contribute. It is the facilitator’s responsibility to make sure everyone is included and can share ideas in whatever way works best for them. When the wisdom of the whole group comes together, a more powerful plan will emerge. Consider the following methods when facilitating meetings:
- Provide multiple ways to contribute: This can include writing down thoughts or responses on flip charts, sticky notes or handouts; games; groups of two or three; larger breakout groups; and moving between tables with different topics. See Facilitation Methods for more ideas.
- Break into smaller groups: If you are working with a large group, consider incorporating small group discussions/activities into your agenda. This will give everyone a chance to share their thoughts and ideas. Groups of two to four people encourage even the quietest participants to share their thoughts.
Asking powerful questions: Facilitators pose powerful questions that get the conversation flowing. For example, instead of asking “What should we say for our vision statement?” ask “In an ideal world, what would the future of our language look like?” or “If our plan is successful, what will language use in our community look like?” Powerful questions are open-ended and usually begin with “What,” “How” or sometimes “Why.”
Keeping the conversation on track: Facilitators moderate the conversation. They make sure the time spent together achieves its intended purpose. There may be times when you need to respectfully refocus a discussion or transition the group to a new activity. The following is an effective refocusing or transitioning method:
- Thank the person/group for their contributions.
- Acknowledge the importance/relevance of their contributions.
- Indicate that due to time the group must transition to another topic/activity.
- Offer an option to return to the topic/discussion at a later time (if appropriate). This could mean further discussion later in the meeting, adding it to a future meeting agenda or talking one-on-one during a break.
In planning discussions, people often go into details about specific issues before they need to. This can take away time for the broader thinking required when initially developing a plan. Here is an example of what a facilitator can tell a participant in that situation:
“Thank you for sharing that idea. That will be really important for us to consider as we develop an implementation plan for recruiting language instructors. I’m going to write your idea down here so that we can revisit it when we get to the conversation about potential challenges and opportunities. For now, I want to make sure we finish our conversation about the goals for language revitalization in our community and ensure we can hear from everyone.”