How to Improve Your Meeting Facilitation Skills

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In my most recent article on the Top 10 Skills a New Business Analyst Should Shore Up On, #1 on the list was facilitating meetings.

Improve Meeting Facilitation SkillsIt’s pretty rare to be a business analyst and not facilitate meetings. The meetings you schedule, plan, and facilitate could be small (just you and a stakeholder or two for a half hour discussion) or large (10+ stakeholders for several hours or even a couple of days). Or they could fall anywhere in between. My experience has most typically involved facilitating 3-5 person meetings that last about an hour, maybe 1 ½-2 hours, some of which include conference call attendees or are completely virtual.

In this article, we’ll look at 3 possible roles new BAs fill in meetings, how to expand your meeting facilitation experience, and review 5 critical meeting facilitation techniques that will help you run working, productive meetings.

The Roles New BAs Fill in Meetings

While meeting facilitation is most often completed in the context of elicitation, new business analysts can fill multiple different roles in a meeting. Let’s take a quick look at a few of the most common options:

  • Attendee – In your first days as a business analyst, you might be asked to sit in on project meetings and requirements sessions to get a first-hand understanding of how the business operates.

  • Note-taker – Sometimes new BAs are assigned to support a more senior or lead business analyst on their first few projects. In other organizations, the project managers are responsible for facilitating requirements sessions. In either scenario, filling the role of note-taker gives you an active task to be responsible for and a pathway to demonstrating your competence in listening, understanding, and analyzing.

  • Facilitator – Not all organizations start new business analysts under the wing of a more senior professional. Others expect even the newest BAs to jump right into the fire and lead their first project. In this scenario, it’s more likely that you’ll be planning, leading, and managing the follow-up from your requirements sessions throughout the project.

No matter what role you start in, you’ll want to work towards the facilitator role. Experience planning and leading meetings will expand your business analyst skill set. Then, over time, you’ll want to work on making your meetings more productive and perhaps expanding the scope of your sessions.

How to Expand Your Meeting Facilitation Experience

Here’s how to move up the chain of meeting facilitation experience so that you are building your skills.

  • As an attendee, speak up and offer your opinion or ask a question if you sense there is an issue being overlooked. Offer to help the meeting facilitator by taking notes.

  • As a note-taker, ask clarifying questions so you get noticed as a valuable contributor. Then offer to facilitate a small follow-up session when an open issue arises.

  • As a facilitator, leverage meeting management techniques to improve your sessions. If appropriate, move towards facilitating sessions with more participants or than span longer time frames. (Be aware that larger and longer meetings are not productive in all environments. Often you can get a lot more done if you focus on meeting with 3-5 people for 30-60 minutes.)

While it’s important to take on expanded responsibilities, you also want to arm yourself with appropriate tools and techniques so your meetings are productive and result in real work getting done.

When meetings result in clarification, alignment, decisions, and actions, you are moving your project forward. You also build your reputation as someone who facilitates worthwhile meetings, which helps ensure people show up for your meetings and gets you assigned to more interesting, business-critical projects.

5 Critical Meeting Facilitation Techniques

But, we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves. Let’s look at 5 critical meeting facilitating techniques that will help you make an impact right away.

#1 – Create an Agenda

A meeting agenda is a key tool facilitators use to structure a discussion and prepare for the session. A good meeting agenda includes an objective for the meeting (preferably tied back to a project milestone), a list of discussion topics, and any reference information for attendees to review.

Creating a sample deliverable, such as a prototype, use case, draft specification, or business process model can be useful tools for kick-starting and guiding a discussion.

Sure, not everyone will review the agenda or the deliverables, but sending them anyway shows that you are prepared and ready to facilitate an effective working meeting.

For an elicitation session, you’ll also want to prepare a requirements questionnaire that lists out the questions you want to ask for each discussion topic. This will give you a go-to list of conversation starters and help you keep the meeting on track.

#2 – Plan Your Logistics

While difficult stakeholders can throw a wrench in even the best meeting agenda, I’ve found that a failure to prepare for all of the logistics is the most common culprit to a failed meeting.

Consider the following logistical questions:

  • Where will the meeting be held?

  • What technology do you need to have ready-at-hand? (Items such as a laptop, projector, and phones are common.)

  • Are there remote participants? If so, how will they participate? What information do they need in advance?

  • Are you familiar with all of the technologies you’ll be using? If not, plan for a dry-run before the meeting.

  • Are any print outs needed? If so, will you bring them or will attendees bring their own?

  • Do you need to book or claim any resources? (Consider the meeting room, conference call line, projector, or web-sharing software.)

And don’t forget to consider what back-up plans you can put into place just in case any resource fails or gets double-booked. At one company I consulted for, executives often squatted in the prime conference room with the highest quality projector, even when I booked through the organization’s resource management tool. I quickly learned where the second projector was located so we always had a plan B.

#3 – Open Up With Context and Confidence

When you are prepared, you’ll naturally feel more confident facilitating the meeting and do a better job encouraging interaction among all attendees. However, at this point it’s likely you’ve invested a lot more in thinking about the meeting than anyone else in the room. A common mistake is to jump right into the agenda because you don’t want to waste any time.

I find that taking the first 5 minutes of the meeting to establish context helps make the remaining time more productive. It also demonstrates you are confident in your meeting preparation, which can help skeptical attendees dial in.

You can establish context in 3 simple steps:

  1. Review the objective of the meeting and the agenda
  2. Ask for introductions and speak to everyone’s role in the session.

  3. Clarify exactly how the meeting objective ties back to the project objective.

With context established, everyone will be ready to be more engaged in going through the actual agenda items.

#4 – Close With Next Steps

Once you’ve worked through the entire meeting agenda or run through your time allocated (whichever comes first unless you’ve explicitly gotten permission from all stakeholders to extend the time), you’ll want to wrap up your session by reviewing next steps. It’s a good idea to take a few minutes to recap any areas of agreement and new issues that surfaced. Identify any action items attendees have committed to and then recap what you’ll do next.

#5 – Follow-Up with Notes and Action Items

Your role as facilitator does not end when you walk out the door or end the conference call. It’s important to recap what was discussed and share your meeting notes. You also want to follow-up on action items taken on by yourself and other attendees. Often action items lead to new discussions, so stay aware for the next meeting to plan and the next project milestone to work towards.

Improve Your Meeting Facilitation Skills

We’ve just looked at 3 possible roles you could fill in meetings as a new business analyst, how to move up the ladder in terms of expanding your meeting facilitation experiences, and the basics of structuring a working and productive meeting.

If you are interested in improving your meeting facilitation skills, complete a quick self-evaluation of where you are at. Look at the 5 tips and find one or two areas where you can make short-term improvements. Apply those tips to your next meeting.

Repeat to continue building up your business analyst skills.

About the Author: Laura Brandenburg, CBAP is the author of How to Start a Business Analyst Career, the host of Bridging the Gap, and offers a BA career planning course (it’s free) to help you start your business analyst career.


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COMMENTS

Nunu posted on Wednesday, October 16, 2013 11:48 PM
Nice article,. thanks. btw, may i share this article on my blog for my friend? but i'll make summary and translate into bahasa Indonesia
LauraBrandau posted on Thursday, October 17, 2013 10:01 PM
Nunu,

Thanks for your comment. I'd suggest contacting the MA editorial staff with your question.

Laura
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