Meeting Facilitation Training: Meeting Icebreakers

Name: Shirley Fine Lee   
Job Title: Meeting Facilitator 
Where: Lewisville, Texas 
Employer: Self-Employed, www.shirleyfinelee.com
Years of Experience: 12+
Education: North Central Texas College Associate of Science, Dallas Baptist University BA in Management Information Systems 

Meeting Facilitation Training: Meeting Icebreakers

For readers interested in working as a meeting facilitator, or who want to know more about effective meeting icebreakers and where to go for meeting facilitation training, this Salary Story covers all the points. Veteran meeting facilitator Shirley Fine Lee told us about how she got started as a meeting facilitator, including the types of meeting facilitation training she received, as well as the outlook for careers in meeting management.

Shirley also gave us info on team-building, meeting icebreakers, meeting invocations and tips for meeting facilitator careers. Plus, we found out what to expect from meeting facilitator salaries. If you want some great tips for meeting facilitator methods and training, this interview is a must-click!

Meeting Facilitator Job Description:

To summarize my facilitation services, I help groups, who want productive meetings, achieve their desired results. There are many different types of facilitators with varying titles. Internal facilitators within companies may have other titles, and contractors may even have a different name that they call themselves to denote a specialty area.

I’d say the primary responsibility of a meeting facilitator is to impartially guide the meeting process in a way that enables all meeting members to participate in accomplishing the purpose of the meeting while following an agenda to keep the meeting flowing on schedule.

This is what I do for a meeting: coordinate with meeting planners, facilities preparation and take-down, develop an agenda, arrange record-keeping, insure adherence to agenda time frames, re-focus group if it gets off-track, suggest methods for decision making, do not participate in or influence decision making, and suggest techniques for problem solving or idea generation.

I also suggest activities for team-building or meeting icebreakers, remain independent from the group, encourage everyone’s participation, encourage interaction and discussion, make sure no one dominates or doesn’t participate, and manage conflict and inappropriate behaviors. As you can see, there can be all kinds of responsibilities for a meeting facilitator and they arre often different for every meeting or job.

What kind of meeting icebreakers do you use? Do you use meeting invocations?

There are a lot of different meeting icebreakers that I use depending on the type of meeting, the profession of the attendees, and what the meeting planner wants the theme of the event or purpose of the meeting to be. Most meeting icebreakers are meant for people who don’t know each other well.

If the group does not know each other well, I will do a getting-to-know-you exercise where each person shares their name and some personal thing about themselves such as the history of their name, a hobby, a deep desire, or an unusual event in their life.

I have activities for goal-setting, idea generation, building trust, communicating clearly, problem solving, decision-making, managing conflict and planning. I have collected a few good free activities from multiple locations which others may use on my website, www.shirleyfinelee.com.

As for meeting invocations, I have not personally opened meetings with one. However, if the purpose of the meeting is for an important change initiative, improving processes, or primarily for team-building, I will typically ask a high-level manager to come in to kick-off the meeting.

In fifteen minutes or less, the manager will explain the purpose of the meeting, why it is important to him and the business, and what he expects of the attendees. During or after this time the manager may choose to tell a joke, lead a prayer, or give a short speech on a topic related to the meeting. I did facilitate a meeting for a church board of deacons; the minister said a prayer at the beginning and end of that meeting.

Can you describe your meeting facilitation training?

I got into meeting facilitation through a corporation I used to work for during their team-building thrust. I worked in teams and became a trainer as well. Part of the team training was meeting management, problem solving, and idea-generation, which are keys to team success.

As I realized the importance of meetings as a communication tool, I got more into learning all the components of great meetings and different tools and techniques to use for participation, as well as getting more training on how to be a good facilitator.

Before I knew it, I had moved from being just a member of the training organization to leading and facilitating meetings for various project teams and leadership groups. I liked helping people and could see that I was making a real difference in the business.

People recognized and encouraged my abilities, which led me to want to learn more and help even more people. Over the past twenty-one years, I’ve been able to help lots of people through various training functions and meeting facilitation.

Some of the early training I received included: Facilitative Leadership, Team Leadership, Facilitator Training, and Edward DeBono’s 6 Thinking Hats Facilitator Training. I had also gone through instructor certification in several team-building training modules. The team modules not only helped me teach the teams I worked with, it also gave me many techniques and tools to use in facilitating different types of meetings.

Do you have any tips for meeting facilitator career-seekers?

I started meeting facilitation as an extension of my training career and continue working as a trainer/facilitator. Of course, everyone does not have to take that route. There is no set personality type that best learns the skills needed to be a facilitator; you just need an open mind, a desire to learn, and a willingness to adapt to various situations.

If someone thinks this is a career they would like to consider then they can volunteer to facilitate or record at meetings where they work now to see if it is a good fit. Of course, they should do some reading on meeting management or take a training course before volunteering in order to know what is expected of them.

Another way for new facilitators to gain experience and build a list of recommendations is by offering their time and skills free to non-profit groups. If they volunteer in their current company or for non-profits and leave the meetings feeling that they have really helped the group and are pleased with the work that was accomplished, then maybe this is a new career option for them. However, if they leave the meetings stressed or frustrated, then they either need more training to boost their confidence or this vocation may not be a good fit.

Besides meeting facilitators, other jobs in the meeting management field include planners and recorders. Sometimes these are position inside corporations, and sometimes they are contracted people. If a particular meetings management career option is what someone wants, they should check out some of the associations for the different jobs to see what the job actually entails and to begin networking and training.

What is the job outlook for a designated meeting facilitator?

Meetings are the most used means of group communication in the business world. Managers recognize the importance of meetings as a major communication tool. Management studies have shown that we hold millions of meetings in the U.S. alone. More recent studies show that the number and duration of meetings has been increasing, but they are not always as effective as they should be.

Just as in other business areas, managers are looking for ways to make their meetings more productive so they can get more done in less time. According to a Fall 2006 article in The Facilitator, using a skilled facilitator can increase the productivity of a project by 25%.

Since meetings are a small part of projects, imagine how much the meetings are improved with a trained facilitator who will insist on a written agenda, recordkeeping, and action tracking. So if you are good at meeting management, it looks like there will be work out there for both the in-house employee and the contractor.

Even if a career in the field of meeting management isn’t desired by an individual, having the skills can be utilized in most other careers. Companies need good meeting planners, facilitators, and recorders. Having those skills may lead to other roads along a desired career path. My book R.A!R.A! A Meeting Wizard’s Approach has forms and examples that would be helpful to people starting to facilitate meetings or wanting more productive meetings.

What factors can affect the salaries of meeting facilitators?

Meeting facilitator salaries and fees often depend on location, whether you are working in a company, for a consulting organization, or self-employed, as well as the type of training and background you have. Just like in other careers, the more experienced and recognized a facilitator becomes, the higher rates they are able to negotiate for.

Most contracted facilitators, whether an independent or part of a consulting firm, will typically have a set fee depending on length and/or type of meeting they are to facilitate.

If the facilitator has actual work experience and specializes in certain types of clients, this can also help them achieve a higher rate since they are more respected for this expertise. Training is also an important factor in rates as there are potential customers who are looking for specific facilitation methods to be used or for team-building.

A caution for those wishing to be independent facilitators: starting out you can’t expect to keep very busy or make much because you have to hone your skills and build a reputation.

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