WANT TO LEAD A GOOD MEETING? Begin with Facilitative Presence

by Mitch Ditkoff

Since 1987, I have been facilitating a wide variety of high octave business meetings for just about every industry on planet earth. These meetings have been variably referred to as leadership development programs, creative thinking trainings, innovation workshops, team building off sites, brainstorming sessions, strategic planning pow wows, senior team retreats, annual conferences, and business simulations.

Along the way, as you might imagine, I’ve developed quite a repertoire of approaches, methods, processes, tools, techniques, and skills to help me get the job done. All of them have worked if delivered in the right way at the right time.

But when push comes to shove (as it often does), the single most effective meeting facilitation ability I’ve discovered is the most mysterious one of all: presence. Yes, presence, — the ability to be totally in the moment, no matter what the collective mood, mindset, or drama is of the people in the room.

Presence, I have come to realize, is the doorway to all things meaningful — the bridge between what is and what can be.

Easier said than done, however, especially when you, as the “meeting leader”, find yourself in a room full of strong-willed, highly opinionated people who, more often than not…

1. Are not there of their own free will.
2. Represent competing agendas.
3. Don’t always like or trust each other.
4. Are wondering why they aren’t leading the meeting.
5. Have a hard time letting go of control.
6. Don’t want to rock the boat.
7. Have a long history of funky meeting behaviors.
8. Are concerned that the meeting will actually accomplish its goal, leading to the uncomfortable moment when they will be expected to volunteer for a project they have no time to deal with.
9. Keep sneaking peaks at their cell phones.
10.Have major issues with senior leadership (even if they are senior leadership).

Facilitative presence — the ability to let go of what just happened, what hasn’t happened, and what might happen in service to what is happening is the difference-maker.

Presence opens up space and time. Presence opens up possibility. Presence enables a kind of organizational Red Sea to part so that everyone in the room, no matter what their social style, title, or astrological sign can take a fresh look at what needs to be addressed right then and there.

Presence is one of the major pre-conditions for change. It requires that the meeting facilitator has an uncluttered mind, trust in their own instincts, and a relentless fascination for group process.

If you like, think of presence as a kind of Venn diagram, the intersection where improv, planning, and curiosity meet.

The good news? There are many ways a meeting facilitator can get to the space of presence. The simplest way is similar to what some people, these days, are refering to as “mindfulness”. Others call it by different names: “witnessing”, “centering”, “non-attachment”, or “the fruits of meditation.”

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you call it. What matters is that you experience it so you can be a conduit/channel for a disparate group of people going beyond their individual differences to get to higher ground.

image credit: Deb Nystrom

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Mitch DitkoffMitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions, an innovation consulting and training company, headquartered in Woodstock NY. He is also a big believer in the inspired words of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a handful of concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed, that’s all that ever has.” Follow him @mitchditkoff

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