How to facilitate a meeting: A guide to running efficient in-person meetings

Written by 
Bryan Kitch
 and 
  —  
December 15, 2022
An photo of a team meeting around a desk in an office

Meetings have a bad reputation as being a waste of everyone’s time. But the problem isn’t the meetings — it’s how they’re organized and managed. 

Running and facilitating meetings are two different approaches. If you run a meeting, you probably talk most of the time and take a top-down approach to allocating tasks. For other attendees, it can feel like a box-ticking exercise that’s not the best use of their time. Facilitators take a much more collaborative approach, getting everyone involved in the conversations to improve the group’s decision-making.

These tips will help you switch from “running” mode to “facilitation” mode and improve the effectiveness of your in-person meetings.

Establish the meeting’s purpose

Agree on the purpose and required outcomes from the meeting before you send out calendar invites. This will help you (and the rest of the attendees) stay focused and make the best use of your team’s time.

As the meeting facilitator, you’ll likely have a good idea of the meeting’s purpose, but there may be other people in the company that you need to consult. Work with other key stakeholders to agree on why you’re holding the meeting and what you need to achieve in the time.

Book an appropriate room or venue

Your meeting space affects how comfortable attendees are and how easily they can contribute to the conversation. For example, if a small group is spread around a huge table, it may be difficult to hear each other and feel connected to everyone in the room. Or if your meeting room doesn’t have the technology you need (like a screen), it becomes difficult to share slides or interactive elements with everyone.

When booking a meeting room, consider:

  • Do you need an internal meeting room or an external venue?
  • How many people will be attending?
  • Do any attendees have specific access needs, such as mobility aids or assistive technology?
  • What technology do you need to run the meeting properly, for example, internet access, a centralized screen, or power for everyone to bring their laptops?

Additionally, don’t be tempted to run a large meeting in the middle of your open-plan office space to avoid the hassle of booking a meeting room. This will distract other employees who aren’t in the meeting and make attendees self-conscious about disrupting their colleagues. As a result, your meeting will suffer from low engagement, making it difficult to get the value you need. 

Invite the right attendees

The people in your meeting affect how successful it will be. Too many attendees make it difficult to hear everyone’s ideas and achieve consensus for decision-making. Too few, and you don’t have all the context and experience you need to make informed decisions. Additionally, you need the right people — attendees with the appropriate knowledge, experience, and authority to make decisions and move things forward effectively.

Start by identifying the people who need to attend the meeting and send out calendar invitations. Limit the people you invite as much as possible — bigger meetings cost more to the company and are harder to run efficiently. And if you invite people “just in case,” they’ll feel like they have to attend. 

When you send the meeting invite, include as much information as possible to help attendees understand why they need to be there. Explain the meeting’s objective and desired outcomes so attendees are informed ahead of time.

Share the meeting agenda ahead of time

A detailed agenda helps attendees prepare for the meeting in advance. They know what you’re discussing and can start to come up with their own ideas and perspectives, so they are ready to contribute to the conversation. That helps your meeting run more smoothly as you’re not wasting time giving everyone the context of why you’re meeting and what you’re talking about.

Then, during the meeting, an agenda helps keep the conversation focused. You lose less time to off-topic discussions because everyone knows what you need to cover in the meeting. The bottom line is this: clear objectives, an agenda and identified roles never go out of style.”

Work with stakeholders and key attendees to agree on the meeting agenda based on its stated purpose and necessary outcomes. As the meeting facilitator, you can develop the agenda based on those conversations or create it collaboratively by getting all attendees to add their talking points by a set date.

Once the agenda is finalized, share it with all attendees so they can prepare. Then add it to the meeting invite so people can easily find it.

Empower everyone to contribute

Effective meetings are ones where everyone contributes to the conversation and is involved in the decision-making process. 

One of the biggest meeting challenges is when one person dominates the conversation. This behavior makes it hard for others to find the space to contribute. But if some people aren’t contributing to your meeting, you’re missing out on their particular insights, and they’re wasting their time being there.

One of the key facilitation skills is the ability to get all meeting participants engaged. Pay attention to who isn’t speaking in the meeting and find opportunities to get their voice heard. You could directly ask for their opinions or ask more open-ended questions.

And if you have one attendee who dominates the conversation, give them a different role to make space for others to speak. For example, you could designate them as meeting timekeepers or the main note-taker.

Use collaborative tools to keep engagement high

Tools that encourage collaboration make your meetings more efficient by getting everyone to share their ideas, not just the loudest voices. 

An online collaboration tool like Mural creates a digital whiteboard space for everyone to add their ideas. It ensures everyone’s ideas get recorded so you can have more focused discussions that cover suggestions from everyone in the room. Having ideas laid out visually can also help to stimulate debate as they become a starting point for conversation.

Collaborative tools like Mural also make it easier to take and circulate meeting notes afterward. It gives you a visual record of what you covered in the meeting and can be shared quickly and easily. So during the meeting, participants can spend less time taking their own notes and more time engaged in the conversation.

Use frameworks to get the ideas flowing

The least productive meetings are ones where you expect to have many ideas to discuss, but when you ask for suggestions, you get no response. The longer the silence goes on, the harder it is to find that first idea, and the more time you lose as a group.

But just like a blank page can feel intimidating when you start writing, it can feel daunting to be the first person to come up with an idea in a brainstorming meeting or problem-solving session. Using frameworks can help people get started, so you lose less time to hesitant participants.

Draw a framework on a whiteboard in your meeting room to give people a starting point to position their ideas. 

Even better, Mural has hundreds of free templates for different types of meetings to get you started. For example, project kick-offs, team standups, idea brainstorming, or sprint planning templates.

Ask questions to facilitate conversations

Meeting facilitation aims to encourage discussion, collaboration, and shared decision-making, rather than one person dictating decisions and allocating tasks. So rather than treating your meeting as a chance to run through a pre-set list of tasks or to check off items from the agenda, use it to kick-start conversations.

One simple facilitation technique is to ask questions to stimulate conversation. Have a prepared and practiced list of questions you can use to encourage people to share information, ideas, and suggestions. For example:

  • Can you expand on that?
  • What do you think?
  • Why do you recommend that?
  • What would that look like in practice?
  • How would that work?

Keep conversations on track to avoid wasting time

Off-topic discussions are the biggest challenge for people in meetings. They waste time, so you have less time and energy to cover your agenda points and give enough time to everyone’s ideas. They distract everyone from your main objectives, making your team less productive and the meeting less efficient.

Tackle distractions and off-topic conversations by placing a time limit on each agenda item or section of the meeting. You could also create a “parking lot” where you record good ideas from these discussions so you can return to them in the next meeting rather than talk about them now.

Discourage disruption and negative interactions

Disruptive behaviors make your whole meeting less efficient as you get less useful input from attendees. Negative behavior, even from just one or two attendees, makes others feel uncomfortable being candid and openly sharing their ideas or experiences. This could include:

  • Talking over or interrupting people
  • Dominating conversations
  • Dismissing or ridiculing suggestions
  • Confrontational or aggressive behavior.

Discourage negative interactions by laying out the ground rules of your meeting. Remind everyone of best practices and constructive conversation. In case of disruptive behavior, warn people and call out what you’ve noticed. 

Remember, creating an atmosphere of psychological safety is crucial to your team’s ability to effectively brainstorm and collaborate — make sure to remind everyone that listening and responding without interrupting (and without judgment) is important for both engagement and generating the best ideas. 

Take collaborative notes to keep track of decisions

If people have individual notes from your meeting, it’s hard to know that everyone’s recorded everything the same way. You may have conflicting due dates or unclear ownership for action items.

Take meeting notes more efficiently by having a dedicated note-taker from the start. Create a collaborative and centralized document for your notes to provide a single source of truth for documenting key decisions and next steps. If you’ve used Mural or a similar virtual whiteboard tool during the meeting, add that link to the notes to provide extra context — don’t worry about duplicating what’s already in the Mural.

Maximize efficiency by agreeing on next steps in the meeting

How you close out your meetings is just as important as preparing for them. The meeting wasn’t the end of the project, so you still have things to do to accomplish your desired outcomes. Maximize the efficiency of your meeting by ensuring everyone’s clear on the next steps and who’s doing what. This will make it more likely the follow-up tasks will get done within the necessary timeframe.

Use the meeting’s last five or 10 minutes to agree on and document the next steps. Agree on who will take on specific tasks you’ve discussed and assign due dates for each. 

Make it easy to look back on ideas from your meetings online

After the meeting, your team goes back to their desks — either in the office or remotely. But just because the meeting is over, doesn’t mean the work is done.

Using Mural in your meeting gives you an easy way to keep people engaged and encourage them to contribute their ideas. Our Facilitation Superpowers™ feature makes it easy for facilitators to keep things moving by time-boxing sessions and reach a consensus on conversations by running voting sessions.

And after a meeting, you can save the Mural to your content library to keep a record of your team’s ideas that you can revisit later. This makes meeting follow-up more efficient and helps you get started quickly in the next meeting, as you can pick up where you left off.

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About the author

About the authors

Bryan Kitch

Bryan Kitch

Content Marketing Manager
Bryan is a Content Marketing Manager @ MURAL. When he's not writing or working on content strategy, you can usually find him outdoors.