Guided discussions are a type of structured exercise that enable meeting leaders to ask the group a series of planned questions designed to get them to wrestle with topics and issues at a deeper level. As they answer the questions, the facilitator summarizes their content and may also play devil’s advocate to drive for deeper content or application, and guides the discussion to the next question.
Storytelling is an interesting, proven, and inexpensive way to prepare examples from your own experiences. Stories are often memorable, people like to hear them, and they tend to be a useful technique to capture an audience’s attention and illustrate key points.
We all know presenters, facilitators, and meeting leaders who seem to have an innate ability to tell stories. They are able to pull out an appropriate tale, with a poignant message, just right for the situation or group at hand. The art of good storytelling is a learned skill that comes with practice. You can start a story to get discussions going and leave the rest of the story for later. Or, you can begin the story and then ask the group, “What do you think happened next?”
When thinking through story development, remember a good story has a beginning and an end. Consider the best point in time to begin your story, and develop an engaging start to draw in participants. Think about the pinnacle moments in the story, and how you can leverage them for maximum impact. And of course, your story should have a natural and clear ending. Practice telling the story a few times prior to the meeting.
Perhaps the most important characteristic of an effective storyteller is the ability to remain authentic—meaning, staying true to your own stories and maintaining the integrity of stories you select to retell. This means sharing truthful and relevant facts and detail.
Avoid “Winging It”
Winging it with examples and stories doesn’t work. You can get off schedule in a big way. If you select a story to tell on the spot, you might be stealing your thunder for a later content point. You might get to the end and discover that the main point isn’t really relevant to the content at hand. Some meeting leaders even get to the end of a spur-of-the-moment story and realize that not only does it not make a point, but also that the punch line is offensive. Think through your telling of examples and stories.
Humor and laughter help improve, maintain, and enhance participant interest in a meeting. Camaraderie begins to develop when the leader and participants share a pun, story, or other common experience. Humor fosters a “team” atmosphere and promotes a positive experience.
Here are some tips for using humor, jokes, and funny stories during facilitation sessions:
The humorous item must be relevant to the session topics and discussion at hand. Telling a story or joke just for fun takes the meeting off track.
Avoid humor that might offend or alienate participants. Make sure your joke or story is clean. Perhaps this cautionary note seems obvious, but for some leaders, it isn’t. Using even mild curse words is offensive to some participants and makes you look unprofessional. Don’t think that if your audience swears, you can too. Part of your role as a meeting leader is to model professional behavior.
Laugh at yourself, particularly when a story or pun flops. This puts the participants at ease and indicates that you are comfortable with the group and self-confident about your skills in leading meetings.
Quotations from others that are strategically planned in the beginning, middle, or end of the meeting often have the effect of stimulating people’s thinking. Before you use a quote, though, be sure of its authenticity—especially if you found it online—and its relevance to the subject matter. When you use a quote, always give attribution to the appropriate source.
Metaphors, as well as analogies and anecdotes, are thought-provoking forms of speech that open people’s minds to think differently about a subject or issue. A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them.
One presenter at a career development seminar used the New York marathon as a metaphor for the effort involved in searching for a new job. As he painted a picture in the minds of his audience of the daunting task of running the marathon, he explained that conducting a job search was similar because those who are successful in completing the journey in the shortest time are always the ones who spend the most time preparing themselves.
An analogy is a resemblance in some particulars between things otherwise unlike. Analogies, like metaphors, often help paint a picture in people’s minds that help people to “see” concepts or ideas more clearly. One meeting leader, wanting to lay the foundation for introducing the agenda with regard to a new financial reporting system, used this analogy: “My understanding is that trying to reconcile the old monthly financial reports was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle only to find some of the pieces missing.” Nodding their heads in agreement, the participants became eager, wanting to learn more about this new, less frustrating system and the project.