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Teach Your Associates How to Facilitate Meetings

One of the most important and sometimes overlooked skills associates need to perfect is the ability to lead/facilitate a variety of group meetings and discussions. Presentations to practice and industry group colleagues, pitches to prospects and business meetings with clients are just a few of the more common situations that demand effective leadership/facilitation skills. Leading group discussions is an excellent way for associates to build confidence and leadership skills they will use throughout their careers.

MeetingOne of the best opportunities for an associate to practice facilitation skills in a firm of any size is during practice group meetings. Ask your associates to prepare and lead a discussion around a recent case or regulatory ruling or to explore ways to pursue industry or client prospects.

Leading a group of colleagues in a group discussion can be intimidating, but it is also valuable. Encourage your associates to consider following these six suggestions for a more positive experience:

  1. Structure the content to generate genuine interest. Begin by reflecting on the expectations of your audience. Design the structure of the discussion in a way that engages and intrigues your colleagues. Garrison Keeler, who recently retired after many years hosting “A Prairie Home Companion,” was a master storyteller. Keeler understood that the best way to engage a group was to share the facts of his stories in surprising patterns. Consider ways to arrange the facts of your case or ruling or profile to pique the intellectual curiosity of your colleagues.
  1. Confirm the ground rules. Introduce your topic and clarify the purpose of the discussion. Is it to understand the impact of a recent case or ruling? Perhaps the group needs to agree on a strategy to pursue new work with a specific client or growing industry. As the leader, you are responsible for explaining the discussion roadmap. You are also responsible for keeping the group within the “time contract.” Ask a colleague to serve as timekeeper and set aside sufficient time for the group to agree on next steps.
  1. Stand and control. Unless protocol suggests otherwise, a good facilitator should lead from a standing position. Standing is a sign of respect to your colleagues and enhances the importance of the discussion topic. When the discussion stimulates multiple hands, line them up—“Bill, then Mary, then Janice”—and stick to the order. This quickly trains the group to the protocol of speaking order, keeps you in control and reduces sidebar conversations. If the room logistics permit, consider moving about the room as the discussion unfolds. This focuses attention on those engaged in the discussion and helps you identify those whose posture and facial expression suggest a desire to speak.
  1. Make it interactive. The most pervasive “competition” to any group discussion is the smart phone. As you prepare your topic, consider incorporating short, small group or one-on-one exercises into the discussion. Engaging the group in meaningful exercises is one of the best ways to combat smart phone addiction.
  1. Prepare your own Q&A. The best way to insure a productive Q&A session is to come prepared with questions of your own. Mark Usellis, a friend and former colleague, often reminded me that every discussion should lead naturally from the “what” to the “so what.” Your questions not only encourage diverse opinions but lead to action steps the group can agree on.
  1. Summarize and follow up. Close the discussion by summarizing the key points and confirming next steps, asking for volunteers to undertake selected assignments. If volunteers are not forthcoming, and depending on the dynamics of the group, avoid any assignments that might embarrass. Professionals hate nothing more than being embarrassed in front of colleagues. Following up one-on-one after the meeting will be more effective and appreciated.

Ask any associates (or other lawyers needing facilitation experience) to follow these simple yet effective suggestions and watch their self-confidence as well as their status among colleagues improve.

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