This week’s article offers some suggestions for working with very large groups. This scenario sometimes occurs with in the case of public meetings or in organizations proposing sweeping changes where all the players need to be involved. Most of the tips from this article came from Barbara J. MacKay, Principal for North Star Facilitators. This list, though comprehensive, in not the last word in facilitating large groups.
We’re sometimes called upon to facilitate large groups containing anywhere from several hundred to even several thousand people. Many large-scale change efforts require getting the whole system into the room, and often this has proven to be an effective strategy. In the process, dozens of facilitation methodologies have been invented to meet the challenge of working effectively with large groups. Many powerful software tools have also been developed to support facilitators in these large efforts, often called groupware or electronic meeting systems (EMS).
Effectively managing and conducting events of this magnitude requires special preparation beyond what you might be accustomed to for your average sized group. Working with large groups will require you to be thoroughly organized and to have lots of help. Here are some tips for facilitating a mega-group.
Facilitating large groups doesn’t have to be overwhelming
Before the event
- Ask lots of questions about who, what, when, where, food, etc. Spend enough time with your client to be to clearly define their desired outcomes and to learn all you can about the participants.
- Check out your space thoroughly. Imagine every detail and think through the flow of the event. How will you move people from one place to another with minimum confusion and maximum speed. Make sure facility people are top notch and clearly understand your needs.
- Train internal volunteers or colleagues to facilitate small groups. Run through the whole event with them in a “dress rehearsal.”
- Develop your budget, accounting for costs for a group and event of this size, which can often be substantial.
- Have a right hand person who keeps an eye on detail before and during the event.
- Decide to be the main facilitator and avoid being a small group facilitator too.
- Have written instructions for every activity for each small group table.
- Have action plan templates with carbon copies so that participants can take a copy and leave a copy behind for the recorder.
- Find an onsite recorder who can document as you go. Get a really fast one and invite this person to at least one planning meeting so they can follow the process so you don’t have to coach them during the event.
- Test your near final agenda with a small group of stakeholders.
- Proofread everything that goes out to invitees.
- Create a detailed facilitator’s guide and a facilitators supply kit for each of your facilitators that details everyone’s role. This is your “screenplay” for the event and is critical when many people are involved.
During the Event
- Write out your intro for a strong opening, declaring the theme and proposed outcomes for the day.
- Set context constantly for each activity. Help people follow the agenda. Make it extremely simple to follow for participants even if the behind the scene details are complex.
- Know your agenda very well. Stay very positive, clear, and connected to your planning committee throughout the event.
- Be in charge while enjoying the event and the wisdom sharing.
- Stick to the plan. With a group this size, it’s difficult to improvise.
- Spend only 20%-30% of time in short plenary sessions. The rest should be spent in small groups.
After the Event
- Have a debriefing with the client group immediately after the event.
- Make sure you provide a timely and accurate document to your client outlining the details and outcomes of the event.
- Meet with planning committee to help them think about next steps.
Thank you Barbara J. MacKay for your contributions to this article. Barbara is the Principal for North Star Facilitators. Visit her website at http://www.northstarfacilitators.com.
How will you incorporate these items into your planning for the facilitation of large groups? Have we missed anything? Please share your questions, feedback, or experience on this topic in the comments section below.