Meeting facilitation can be a complex art and science when the issues themselves are comparably complex. As we teach in our meeting facilitation training, learning to do meeting facilitation well requires paying attention to nuances, one of which is getting the right people in the room. The room, of course, can be either physical or a metaphor, but getting them there means crafting the right invitation.
The Power of Invitation
Do you remember the feeling of being invited to attend a special event? Maybe a birthday celebration, a holiday party, or even a memorial service? Focus in on an event that you did not want to miss or that you felt honored to attend. What was it about that invitation that motivated you to participate? My guess is that it started with an enticing invitation that left you wanting to attend.
Consider the word “invite” as a verb. One definition is “to make a polite, formal, or friendly request to someone to go somewhere or to do something.” How can you make your announcement in a way that will feel like an invitation?
Wouldn’t it be great if every invitation left people with the feeling “well, I sure wouldn’t want to miss that!” If people read your meeting announcement and think “Ho, hum, I have better things to do”, they will not feel compelled to attend. Why wouldn’t someone opt out if participation isn’t as interesting as staying home comfortably curled up reading a good book or watching a movie?
Perhaps counterintuitively, a successful invitation also gives the people who are not really that interested permission to miss it. We might hope to involve the whole community, for example, but a recreation planning process spanning a three-decade long timeframe may not be an opportunity that everyone cares about. If you have made an explicit invitation and assured it was delivered properly, the elderly gentleman next door may decide “I’d rather play pinochle.” What a pleasant possibility if you could assume that those who attend are those who wanted to be there and that those who didn’t attend chose not to be there. Design your invitation to help people easily decide.
Meeting Facilitation Training Tip
So if you’re trying to decide how to facilitate a meeting, or if you’re just planning to host a series of events, describe the sequence in a way that lets people choose when to become engaged. Think about how you might invite them to attend all of the events in order, so they don’t miss opportunities along the way.
Consider the difference between these two options:
- Please attend the upcoming series of workshops that will engage the community in long term plans for recreation in our community.
- Do you care about our parks and the recreational opportunities they provide? Please join us for a series of workshops designed to identify and then rank options for recreational opportunities that will be available for current and future residents. Attend Tuesday, February 3rd if you have an idea that you think should be considered. You will work with others who are interested in the future of our community to generate a list of ideas for deeper consideration and then evaluation at a future session. If you want your idea to be considered, you will want to attend on February 3rd!
The invitation does not end just as the event begins. Repeating the event’s purpose during the opening remarks will serve to focus the discussions that follow. And if people start straying off track, it will then be easier to refocus everyone on the intended purpose of the event.
Improving your invitations to public participation events will help you facilitate successful events. It’s an important but relatively easy way to make those events more successful.
Wendy Greene Lowe