Developing Key Skills You Need for Meetings or Workshops
The following list is full of reminders you can keep at hand during any meeting or workshop. You can use the list either as a nudge to check that you are using these skills – ideally, during a break or a group activity. Or you can give it to a colleague and ask her to assess what you are doing and how well you are doing it during your session.
Make sure you hand the list to your colleague before you start and explain what you would like her to do. You colleague can do the assessment one of two ways: first, during the session as you go, or second, after it’s all over. It’s difficult to assess and participate at the same time. Just remember to ask her to give you reasons for why she thinks what they think.
Here are the skills you need to use:
Contracting: This means setting up what you will and won’t do with a group – and in turn what they can expect from you. Part of contracting includes developing and then sticking to your ground rules. It also means excluding or including new topics that might arise by getting the group to agree as a whole. For example, if you are asked to end by 15.00, you would contract by saying, ‘We can end by 15.00 if we take lunch break of only 20 minutes. What would you like to do?’
Signposting: These are key phrases that indicate to a group what you are about to do– for example, ‘We are going to debrief this activity and then take a break’ or ‘moving on to agenda point 3.’
Summarising: This is when you sum up an activity or the entire session. You do this to signal to the group that you are aware of what’s happening, to maintain momentum and to draw the process together. You summarise by signposting that’s what you are going to do!
Linking: You link when you connect one topic to another. In some meetings or workshops, this isn’t necessary, but when you are dealing with complex topics, you may need to link forward ‘We will cover that later’ or back ‘This follows on from what you John commented on this morning.’ It helps participants see how items or activities are connected to each other or to their personal expectations, which you gather at the start. You link both intentionally and in response to participants’ comments.
Writing up key information: Make sure you don’t turn your back on participants as you write on a flip chart, that you use a blue or black marker pen so everyone can see what you write and that you don’t write in capitals. They are harder to read and can appear childish or SHOUTY.
Giving clear instructions: Practise giving clear instructions and if they are complicated, repeat them twice. To make sure participants have understood what you want them to do, get someone in the group to repeat all the steps back to you.
Managing time: Never say, ‘We are running out of time.’ It causes consternation, reduces trust in you and your participants don’t know what they don’t know. If the group needs to make choices about what happens, contract with everyone to make those choices.
Dealing with rabbit holes: Notice when the group is going down a rabbit hole that might be a waste of time. Point out what’s happening and invite everyone to make a decision to continue down the rabbit hole or get back to the agenda. You can then put the topic in a parking lot.
Using parking lots: These are useful when a personal issue that doesn’t help the group arises or when something that matters but isn’t relevant to what you are all doing comes up. (Perhaps it matters to some of the people who are there only.) Agree with the group that you can put it in the parking lot and move on.
Managing energy: When you feel the group flagging, even if you haven’t got a break planned, just stop. You won’t get the best work out of anyone them so you need to change what you are doing. If you aren’t good at spotting energy levels in groups, get a participant to help you.