Public meetings can sometimes be seen by opposition groups as an opportunity to undermine a project by calling its validity into question. It is important that a skilled facilitator lead meetings with all of the tools and techniques to handle difficult meetings at his or her disposal. The first task for a facilitator is to gain agreements on the meeting “set-ups.” The set-ups represent a series of small agreements with participants that include the agenda, the purpose and desired outcomes for the meeting, and the ground rules. The set-up agreements are the foundation of meeting facilitation. The facilitator may need to refer to the set-up agreements when the meeting gets off track due either to an off topic line of discussion or a disruptive individual. In either case, the set-ups give the facilitator the tools and the authority to call a “time out” and bring the meeting back on track by referring to the set-up agreements, especially the ground rules.
The ground rules are established and agreed upon at the beginning of the meeting and are invoked during the meeting to handle unexpected interruptions. An effective approach is for the facilitator to present a set of ground rules and ask if anyone has a ground rule to add. Once the list is completed, the facilitator should ask for permission to enforce the ground rules in order to assure that as many people as possible have a chance to participate.
Following are examples of ground rules:
- Listen actively
- No one person dominates
- Stay on topic
- No personal attacks
- Stay on time/schedule
- Cell phones off or on vibrate
- Don’t make assumptions/assume good will