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Successful Facilitation Guide: Leading Productive Conversations

We’ve all been in meetings that didn’t feel like a valuable investment of time. Conversations go in circles, thoughts get lost, and folks walk away feeling as though nothing was accomplished. While a frustrating (and not uncommon!) occurrence, there are several ways to prepare both yourself and your team for success. Whether you’re aiming to brainstorm creative ideas, solve complex problems, or align your team around a shared vision, the way you navigate these conversations impacts their effectiveness. This guide will provide you with the tools to facilitate conversations successfully.

1. Know Your Why and Who: Objectives and Audience

A key component of successful facilitation is clarity. Before sending out invites, ask yourself: What is the reason for bringing people together? What do you want to achieve by the end of the session? Stating clear objectives sets the group up for focused discussion that will lead toward your desired outcomes.Next, consider your audience. Who needs to be involved to reach these goals? Does someone have deep institutional knowledge? Is there a subject-matter expert who needs to be involved? Think beyond the team members closest to you. Perspectives from those who will be most impacted by the outcomes of the conversation are crucial. Remember, good ideas can come from anywhere and anyone.

2. Design an Engaging Agenda

Facilitation doesn’t have to be boring! Engage participants with a well-designed agenda that incorporates a variety of different approaches to keep people on their toes. Instead of presenting a list of bullet points, consider activities that encourage people to think creatively. For example, if you want to discuss the future of your organization, ask your staff to draw! Visualizing your ideal future can bring to light some ideas that wouldn’t have been uncovered otherwise.

3. Prioritize Accessibility and Inclusion

Everyone’s voice matters. Design your facilitation to ensure everyone feels comfortable participating. It is important to consider different learning styles. Some participants may thrive in group discussions, while others prefer solo reflection and writing. Offer various activities to accommodate individual preferences.

Accessibility is equally important. Make sure you know who will be attending the facilitation. Are there participants with visual or hearing impairments? Anyone with a particular sensitivity to the topic being discussed? Reach out to participants beforehand to address any specific needs they might have. Research best practices for accessible facilitation to ensure everyone can fully contribute. Don’t forget to speak slowly, build in breaks, and whenever possible, send presentation materials to attendees in advance. 

4. Set Expectations & Lead the Conversation

Establishing clear expectations sets the tone for a productive conversation. Use community agreements to establish ground rules for respectful interaction during the session. One we enjoy at Trepwise is “make space, take space,” encouraging participation while acknowledging others’ right to be heard. As the facilitator, encourage all to share and ensure quieter voices are heard. 

Remember to be flexible! Even with the best designed agenda, it is common for unanticipated topics to arise. Identify which agenda items are essential and use your judgment to adjust the flow of conversation from there. Some of the best ideas come up when you leave space for valuable discussions to unfold.

5. Embrace Curiosity

Your role is to guide the group and uncover new insights. When new information surfaces, dig deeper. Ask questions that encourage deeper thinking and move the conversation forward. By following these steps and continuing to practice, you’ll be on your way to leading productive and engaging discussions with your team.

If you’re looking for further support facilitating big conversations with your team, reach out to us at