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  • Writer's pictureDeane Lam

Tips - How to Prepare for and Effectively Facilitate Group Discussions: 9 Proven Tips

Just had a chance to facilitate a brainstorm session for a group of senior leaders to discuss the organisation structure and development. No matter the subject or the participants, a clear goal and a structured process are essential for a successful and effective session. I enjoyed this experience from planning the process to closing the session. Here are some useful tips to make the process fun and easy.

Set up the room


Create a comfortable and relaxed space by arranging chairs, tables, flipcharts, and materials in advance. Don't forget to set up a few nice social areas, even if the space is small.

Prepare a few choices of tea and different kinds of snacks, such as sweets and nuts, at the social areas.

Music, music, music! Bring your own speaker, play your favourite songs and music, whether it's relaxing tunes or upbeat rock.

Candles always help create a warm environment. Scent in the room is very important; my favorite choices are lavender, bergamot, and geranium, or any combination that feels right for the room and participants. If it's a rainy day, make sure to prepare more napkins.


Welcome participants

Greet the participants when they enter the room, introduce yourself and learn their names to make them feel welcome and respected. Show them around the room to help them feel comfortable and connected to you and the group.

If you have a larger group, consider inviting a partner to co-facilitate with you. Teamwork can enhance the facilitation process.

Incorporate simple drawings to create a friendly and engaging environment. Visual aids help participants connect with images and ideas, stimulating the right brain and facilitating brainstorming sessions.


Prepare a suitable activity to begin the session

Use an activity to kick off the session instead of immediately diving into the main issue. This creates a space for the group to talk, connect, share insights, and build rapport.

Depending on the venue, participants, and nature of the session, choose the right activity. For example, in a small cozy room with 8 senior leaders, you can use a set of picture cards. Place the colorful cards face up on a desk as one of the social areas. Ask each participant to choose a card they like when they enter the room before the session begins. There are many activities you can plan using picture cards. To start the session, ask each participant to look at their card and consider "What is my role in the company?"

Focus on the process, but flexible

As a facilitator, it's essential to focus on the process rather than just on the content during a brainstorm session. Share the agenda with the group at the beginning of the session so they understand the purpose, goal, process, and expected behaviors. Set ground rules by soliciting input from the group and refer back to them as needed during the session.

Prepare the steps of the session and follow them, but remain flexible to adjust as needed. When the group delves into important issues, encourage discussion, active listening, collaboration, and consensus-building. Be prepared to support them, even if it means extending the session or providing additional resources.


Trust the group


Be patient and trust in the process, as well as in the group's collective intelligence.

Remember, the participants are subject matter experts with valuable insights, skills, and experience. Give them the opportunity to collaborate and generate ideas together. Observe and learn from their interactions. If some participants need more time to contribute, allow them that space without pressure. Respect their preferred modes of participation, and always circle back to gather their feedback and additional ideas.


Use the space and time

Plan your activities thoughtfully, incorporating various discussion tools and encouraging interaction among different group members.

Facilitate discussions where participants can engage individually and in small groups, utilizing tools like flip charts and post-it notes for problem-solving.

Ensure the energy of the group remains high throughout the session by incorporating movement, such as allowing participants to move around the room, switch seating arrangements, and alternate between sitting and standing discussions.

In longer sessions, such as a 3-hour session, it's important to schedule short breaks lasting 5 to 10 minutes. These breaks allow participants to recharge and maintain focus, ensuring that the session remains dynamic and fosters engagement and productivity.

Thank your group

It is always important to let the group have some "take-away." Wrap up the session by asking or informing them about the "Next Step." Briefly summarize what they have done in the session, what they have achieved as planned, and what they will follow up on next. The group wants to know what will happen next after all the hard work they have put in.

Thank your group for their time, ideas, energy, laughter, teamwork, and even just being there; these are all important factors for a successful session.

Say goodbye to each participant by name! If there are extra snacks, invite them to take some and bring them back to their team.

Lastly, cue the music! This is always my favourite way to begin and end a session.

These tips are shared to inspire facilitators in running awesome group sessions. Using these methods can help create spaces where everyone can collaborate, get creative, and have productive chats, leading to great results for all involved!

  1. Set up the room: Arrange chairs, tables, flipcharts, and materials in advance. Create comfortable social areas with snacks and tea options. Bring your own speaker for music.

  2. Enhance the environment: Use candles and room sprays to create a warm and inviting atmosphere. Incorporate scents like lavender and bergamot for relaxation.

  3. Welcome participants: Greet everyone warmly, learn their names, and show them around the room. Consider co-facilitating with a partner for larger groups.

  4. Start with an activity: Kick off the session with an engaging activity to build rapport and stimulate discussion.

  5. Focus on the process: Share the agenda and ground rules, emphasizing collaboration and active listening. Be flexible to adjust as needed.

  6. Trust the group: Be patient and trust in the collective intelligence of the participants. Encourage contributions from all and respect different participation styles.

  7. Use the space and time effectively: Plan activities thoughtfully, incorporating various discussion tools and movement. Schedule short breaks for energy recharge in longer sessions.

  8. Thank your group: Summarize key points and next steps, thanking participants for their contributions. Say goodbye to each participant by name and offer snacks to take home.

  9. Cue the music: Begin and end the session with music to set a positive tone.

See more Tips and Tools here.

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