At some point in one’s career in tech, you’ll wind up leading a meeting and need people to take part in some facilitation activity. That might be a retrospective or an activity where you hold a vote. If you’ve ever felt awkward introducing the activity, here’s a step-by-step way to do it next time.
Prepare In Advance
Don’t avoid this step! You need to prepare in advance. Thankfully preparation doesn’t have to be complicated, but if you go into an activity and try to wing it, it’ll probably have a few issues that’ll impede whatever you intended.
To prepare, make notes about the rest of the steps that this article outlines. While it isn’t very sexy, think of this step as writing a script for what will happen.
Arrange the Room
This may seem counterintuitive, but the first step you want to do is arrange people and the materials. So before you tell people what you’re really about to do, have them move their seats, form pairs, grab materials, etc.
You do this first because if you wait until after you give the activity instruction, the audience will have too much in their head and get everything confused. By arranging folks first, they’ll be prepared and present for when you introduce the activity.
Introduce the Purpose
Now that people are in their configuration, you might begin by introducing what you’ll be doing by its intended purpose. For example, in a retrospective, when we list a bunch of stickies, we might say, “Ok, now we’re going to share all of our observations and data.”
The purpose doesn’t have to be anything significant or long-winded. Best if it isn’t. It is there to keep people oriented as they hear the next part, the detailed instructions.
Give the Instructions
After the group is arranged and aware of the purpose its time to share the detailed instructions. When you’re preparing, this is where you want your script to be the most thorough. These instructions will help everyone perform all of the steps within the activity.
Eventually, if you do this enough, you can make a crib version of it, but start off with a word-for-word script.
Your script needs to include what you want each person to do, how to do it specifically, and any relevant timings.
An example for 1-2-4-All would go something like this:
“Each of you is going to answer the question individually for 1 minute in silence. When you hear the timer, turn to your pair and discuss what you found for 2 minutes. When you hear the timer again, find another pair, and the four of you discuss what you’ve each found and try to find what really stands out for 4 minutes.”
No matter what happens, someone will get a little confused about the instructions and need them repeated. If you’re lucky, someone can help them, and you don’t have to.
If not, then you can redo the instructions again. It helps to go ahead and mentally prepare to say the instructions about three times. People have a lot going on in their heads and miss things.
Now, time to talk about why that script is important. When you have to repeat the instructions without a script, you risk saying something just different enough to confuse folks who initially figured it out. By the third time, you have a whole group of uncertain people.
When you use a script, you can get everyone to the same starting point.
As you prepare, you’ll want to make notes of what materials you need and the timings of each step. You might need, for example, index cards and sharpies for everyone. Have that prepared in advance, so you aren’t standing there trying to find and count them. You also can put the timings next to your steps. You might give yourself 2 minutes to arrange the room, 5 minutes to explain, 13 minutes for the activity itself, and another few minutes for a debrief.
By having this all written down in your preparation, you can stitch together multiple activities with ease.
For Next Time
Next time you think you need to help run an activity in a meeting, take the time to do your preparation. There’s an old rule-of-thumb that it takes twice as long to prepare as it does to facilitate. That has served me well, and there is no prize for taking shortcuts.
Your attendees will unquestionably benefit from your preparation and attention to detail. Preparing is an easy thing to do that will make every activity you facilitate stand out as what they want more of.