Flexibility and creativity is crucial in meeting facilitation

Agendas are helpful, but what do you do when the meeting goes off script?

Have you ever been involved in a meeting that went off the agenda and never got back on track? Have you ever been in charge or been presenting or facilitating when that occurs? Ever had that person or group in attendance that has the sole goal to highjack the topic? Here is perhaps the most important thing to remember when encountering these difficult situations….be flexible and creative.

Michigan State University Extension has hundreds of field-based staff members that conduct trainings, presentations, community outreach and facilitations on a regular basis. Sometimes, the topics may be somewhat controversial in nature, which is why MSU Extension is brought in. MSU Extension provides unbiased, research-based information to the communities of Michigan.

However, even when you present a topic as unbiased and fact-based, the flow of the meeting can be taken off track by questions, comments or protests…..so what do you do?

Everyone has a different level of comfort when dealing with unexpected and unplanned situations, so there is not a singular solution to this issue. However, practice does help. The more one encounters situations like this, the better they will become in finding creative and productive ways to overcome them.

Here are a few tips that may be helpful:

  • Actively Listen—Engage with the speaker by not speaking and listening to the points they are making. Do not cut them off, and make sure to give them 100 percent of your attention
  • Do not argue the topic—Even if you are “right”
  • Show appreciation for their input
  • Clarify their position, if necessary
  • Tell them what you plan to do with the info….then do it!
  • Add a little humor, if appropriate—you need to understand your audience and be strategic. Humor, when used effectively, can break the tension and help re-engage the group. However, if over-used, or if humor would only further incite the situation, then avoid its use, because it could actually have a negative effect on your credibility.
  • Take charge and re-focus on the topic at hand—Respect the time commitment of your audience. If they are there for one subject, and they get something else, you will lose their commitment. If your meeting or presentation gets too far off track, it is YOUR responsibility to respectfully re-focus on the topic at hand.

Not every meeting, presentation or facilitation will go as planned, and you should be aware and ready, just in case. If it does occur, remember to relax, take a deep breath, and be flexible and creative in how you proceed.

Michigan State University Extension offers professional development and training in Facilitative Leadership. For more information, contact your local county MSU Extension Office or explore the MSU Extension website and select the Find an Expert option to find Experts within our organization that can be of assistance based on topic. 

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