In excitement for our upcoming new course centered around facilitation skills (announcement coming very soon), I’m starting a new series (pet peeves, exercises, now this…) on little facilitation tricks that leaders can leverage.
A common challenge facilitators face is side conversations occurring in the room. Sometimes they are related to the topic at hand and sometimes they are just completely off topic. Regardless, this behavior is problematic for several reasons: distracting to participants engaged in the main conversation, not all voices are being heard by the entire room, and not all people are engaged in the meeting.
One of the first facilitation tricks I leverage to address a side conversation (assuming there is a working agreement that this is not ideal in our meetings) is very easy…
Simply walk (not with directed purpose but casually) near the side conversation. I often do this while still talking to the room as a whole without pausing. Walking near them will frequently stop the side conversation without any other effort necessary.
The reality is if you have engaging meetings, this behavior is going to happen occasionally without malicious intent. I find that directly calling people out the very first time they do it to be an over-the-top-response. Now if they continue talking in side conversations, other facilitation techniques would be necessary. But for a random isolated situation, you don’t need to address the talking. You don’t need to call out who is talking. You don’t need to ask them what their side conversation is about. Simply, walk near them and it will stop so you can pull the room together with another instruction/facilitation.
Note: This technique doesn’t work if you are only facilitating from a seated position. You suddenly standing and walking near them is not casual!
But be warned, when you do teach others this technique, they just might use it back on you. Yes, I was inappropriately chatting during a meeting, and the facilitator did this technique flawlessly to me. All I could do is laugh and applaud Blake for schooling me with my own training.
Has this facilitation trick worked for you?