3 Simple Steps to Facilitate Like a Pro

By Barry Pruitt

dateFri, Jan 29, 2016 @ 12:30 PM

 With a great message and poor delivery you have the equivalent of … a poor message! I’ve worked the stage in twelve countries with thousands of people, across many cultures, and I’ve studied many universal lessons for facilitating meetings and presentations. These lessons are supposed to work from Cambodia to Columbia, Sydney to Seattle, or Boston to Beirut. Most of them I learned the hard way – many were too complicated, with a remaining few that were useless in application. The lesson that finally stuck, and rewarded me as a presenter, was simplicity.

As a facilitator you should consider, “What do I want the team to think, feel, say, or do as a result of this day?” Rhythm clients collect the answers to the questions they pose during planning sessions in software, making it easy to revise and then access at a later date.


Everyone  should standardize their approach to the agenda and the naming conventions for meeting files. Once you know the answer to what the audience should think, feel, say, or do at the end of a session, follow the below 3-steps and you, too, will be rewarded for your facilitation success:

First: Prepare your close. 

This is a key secret for paid professionals. Prepare what you will say, and how you will do it, at the end of your meeting. Consider the 1500 word paper you wrote in school. You started and just kept adding words until you hit the 1500 mark. Who cared if your conclusion made sense? If only you’d been told to write your conclusion first, and then all your thoughts, paragraphs, sentences and words would lead to their logical conclusion. I advise that you memorize only two parts of your presentation, and this is one. Teams generally remember how you send them off, and this is a chance to have great impact.

Examples for your close might include predicting the future. After establishing your points, having your meeting, and doing the work, you might predict the success you expect in an inspiring way.

Another approach is the final exam. Ask questions for clarity on points covered and priorities set. And if that doesn’t interest you, you might use an emotional close. This could be a story or fact that pulls heart strings to make it memorable and more likely to move participants to action.

Second: Prepare your opening.

The opening should lead to your close - like two bookends on the same shelf. My general recommendation is to be positive – even in the middle of negative business situations. Here are the basic objectives of an opening:

  • Sell the team on listening
  • Introduce subject and agenda
  • Establish your seriousness regarding this event (investment, time, etc.)
  • Create a safe environment for honest discussion

Because the opening sets the stage for the “meat” of your meeting or presentation, this is the second of the two parts of a presentation you should memorize. Knowing the opening cold gives you a process to overcome jitters and to engage your audience or team immediately. Below are some proven ways that you may not have tried for your opening:

Startling statement

  • "One of our employees will send a wrong order today – raising our costs and lowering our customer satisfaction."

  • "We rule 72% of x market … so growth is limited unless we find a new playground."


  • "In this envelope, I have a check for one of you today..." (perhaps a bonus check for the best idea or most participation as voted by peers). Do not distribute until the meeting ends.

  • "When you fold your arms which is on top – the left or right?" (You could use this to talk about the need for change and how it requires thought - and that it might feel uncomfortable, etc.)


  • Competitor product exhibits can gain attention.
  • Video clips of customers using your products catch the eye.
  • Audio of your customers receiving complaints or compliments from THEIR customers regarding your parts, service, etc., can have an impact. 

Third: Build the “meat” of your agenda.

Cut your meeting meat into bite size pieces. Let’s assume you want to make 5 points to drive your message. Now let’s assume that your presentation must be shortened (for any reason). Rather than talking faster and going through your PowerPoint so quickly that it resembles a video, slow down, decide how many of the 5 points need to be dropped, and share only the most important. Your audience will forget that you had to cut the time, will be comfortable with your pace, and will be more likely to hear and act on the message.

With these three steps complete, you should now Rehearse-Relax-Refresh.


When you rehearse, you can minimize over 70% of nervousness. Consider rehearsal from different points in your meeting; for example, practice only your close. This will give you added confidence in “chunks” throughout the meeting. Studies indicate that 90+% of success in facilitating is determined before you start. Determine your personal objective for the meeting (sometimes it’s the same as the meeting objective, but not always).


Quickly run through the parts the night before. The best time is just before you go to bed. When the meeting framework is the last thing on your mind, you’ll often be surprised at how well the mind can manage the meeting the next day. Organize your materials and anything you must bring with you the night before. And, finally, allow time for traffic delays, etc. Being late creates stress.


Practice again your opening and closing for any important sections. As noted earlier, this is the one time that a facilitator or speaker does well to memorize what they will say. For example, we recommend that CEOs always have a prepared statement to open the session whether you facilitate or not. This might include why you feel it is important to invest money/time/energy in this day, what you expect from participants, or perhaps a bit of inspiration to get the meeting started. Whatever you say, know it well enough that you do not need your notes. Do all you can to avoid being caught in major revisions the night before the meeting as this generally increases stress.

I’ve successfully followed these three steps: 1. Write the close first, 2. Write the opening second, and 3. Write the meat of the presentation, with audiences of 7-7,000 in attendance. It even works when you need interpreters and your audience speaks English as a second language (or not at all). Keep it simple, follow a process, and you’ll be a success on the meeting room stage! 

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Barry Pruitt


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images