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Awesome Meetings: How to moderate a meeting discussion?

Discussions are the core feature of any meeting. When moderated it can become a great tool to keep everyone involved and exchange ideas in an orderly fashion. However, left unmoderated can introduce chaos, conflict, and demotivate participants who may feel unheard, misunderstood or excluded. We want to show you some principles and techniques that will make the discussions a productive tool.

What is a discussion? For the sake of simplicity, let's assume any activity during a meeting involving two or more speakers speaking, is a discussion. You won't come across it in an update meeting, but the decision or brainstorming meetings will in majority consist of the discussions and idea exchange.

When discussion should be welcome? Just considering the creative and constructive character of the discussion as an activity, it is visibly a good activity in any creative and decision-based context. Each participant brings their unique experience and perspective, which can be in turn brought into light through discussion. When you want to expand your mind horizons, test different ideas, include things you wouldn't think on your own, set up a meeting discussion. It's also a way to involve every single participant and allow them to voice their own opinions, making them feel recognized and directly involved in the process and final solution. It's a very important point for anybody managing teams and their motivation levels: it's much easier to go extra mile when one feels necessary, recognized, and involved!

When discussion should be avoided? There are situations that don't benefit from different opinions or solutions. The most obvious place where discussions are not going to be easily embraced are the update meetings: while some questions can be answered, there's already nothing that could be done to change the outcome. In such situation discussion is pointless and will be unproductive. One big reason to avoid the discussion is the inability to moderate it: even a small discussion can turn into a chaotic noise when unmoderated.

How to set up a discussion? A rule of thumb worth remembering is: unless explicitly stated, no moderation is assumed — when facilitating a meeting, you should start it by establishing clear and understandable rules. "Today we will be discussing our new Spring Campaign ideas, please try to limit your speaking time to 5 minutes to allow everyone to voice their ideas. We will discuss them ideas after all ideas are presented" is a friendly and constructive discussion opener. Knowing ahead the agenda will allow participants to be prepared, so it should include the discussion rules, too. Depending on the participants, you may want to prepare a clearly visible timer: some speakers like to talk and giving them feedback on the time will ensure they get to the point without the risk of overextending their allocated time.

How to moderate the discussion process? The facilitator should be organizing speakers, giving them voice and observing the discussion process. Things to watch out are:

  • participants taking longer than allowed: simply use a timer and inform them that their time is ending or already ended, so they should wrap up,
  • participants cutting in: if you already established the discussion rules, remind the rogue participant that their opinion and argument will be heard after the presentation part,
  • discussion entering a cycle, i.e. one argument leads to another, leading to another (rinse-and-repeat), which comes back to the first one: you will have to step in and address that situation, collect all arguments and dissect them one by one to find a way to resolve the conflict,
  • no solution, consensus, or compromise can be reached: you will need to act as an impartial counselor (not a judge!), rephrase each solution in a different way to change the perspective and transform the understanding of the matter, simplify it.

While the former two common issues are easy to resolve and require a gentle and kind nudge or friendly reminder, the latter two are a sign of conflict and strategies for addressing and resolving them will be discussed some other time!

How to keep participants engaged and involved? You probably can guess, but the big benefit of a meeting facilitator is their ability to read the room. Facilitator is not only somebody to take notes and organize the meeting. By reading faces and underlying emotions of the participants they should be able to notice people who are disengaged: using cell phones, negative body language, stern or concerned face expressions, and hook them back into the discussion. It's the facilitator's role to give voice in the moderated discussion, and sometimes they will have to change order of the speakers or even ask their own questions! Good facilitator will address unconstructive criticism, and resolve the bad mood it caused.

Discussion moderation is not an easy task and requires a lot of emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, and most of all… patience. Remember that every conflict can be resolved by constructive and pragmatic communication and a lot of kindness!

Cubitoo offers personalized coaching for startups and small companies focusing on running effective meetings and other communication-related aspects of running a successful company. Get in touch today