Meetup Facilitator Tips

I learn a lot about myself by hosting a Meetup discussion group. Often quite an uncomfortable lot. And I’m grateful for that learning opportunity. Each host or facilitator has his or her own learning curve. From what I’ve heard, some hosts just do the same thing over and over, oblivious to any feedback they may be getting, directly or indirectly, verbally or through non-verbal cues. That’s cool too. I just prefer to remain alert enough to spot invitations for personal growth and skill development.

What I, personally, have learned as a Meetup group facilitator are personal habits and strategies I could lean on as well as useful facilitator techniques that have stemmed from that self-awareness. If you are a Meetup host, each specific learning or tip may not be relevant to you, but the observation that led to increased self-awareness might be. You know, if self-development is your jam.

Setting Helpful Guidelines

I put guidelines in my Meetup description so participants know what to expect and how to create a safe environment so everyone can engage. But I’ve found as a host I need to be vigilant enough to spot when those guidelines or my goals for the group are going off the rails. For example, if I see people rushing in to offer solutions to someone after he/she has shared, that’s a crucial intervention moment. Likewise, expressing disagreement in a judgmental way needs immediate guidance for more effective communication. I’m still trying to hone my ability to spot and gently intervene in moments when participants might be accidentally crossing a particular line. It’s not easy, but a worthwhile skill to develop as a host to create the safest possible space for all participants.

Following My Own Guidelines

As a host, it can be difficult to see when we don’t follow our own guidelines that we give to others. For example, a host may adamantly refuse to let attendees try to fix or analyze one another but then the host ends up doing that very behavior. Most attendees, I find, won’t call me out on my cruddy habits so I need to be self-aware enough to spot them. As of right now, I’d say my biggest challenges are one-upping with stories, interrupting or talking over people. I hate putting that in writing because I find it incredibly embarrassing to admit. But there it is. And I’m working on it. There are undoubtedly many other unhelpful habits that I’m not yet aware of. This is probably the most uncomfortable part of being a host but also, ultimately, the most rewarding next to the genuine bonds built among members.

A Participant is Especially Quiet

I discovered that a) I sometimes get caught up in the discussion or activity and fail to notice someone isn’t participating or b) I notice when someone is quiet but I’m uncertain if/when it’s appropriate to ask if they have anything to share.

In case of (a), I’ve found it helpful to intentionally take moments throughout the event to scan the group. It’s a stepping back from my personal engagement and letting my witness consciousness take over to simply observe. Even if I don’t take action, I want to be aware if there are people who aren’t engaged.

In a mature group, it’s not uncommon for another attendee to step in and ask the quiet person if there is anything he/she would like to share. (Note, this can actually require facilitator intervention if it’s not done appropriately - an attendee should never be pressured to engage.) I have found it is typically best to ask, at least once, if the quiet attendees have some observations or experiences they would like to share. They can decline, of course, but I feel I’ve done a better job as host if I take this action.

Some hosts ensure everyone has a chance to speak by having a moment when they present a question and then go around the table to invite each attendee to respond (if they want). I really like this and plan to use this technique more often.

Dealing with Difficult Personalities

I find that all personalities that show up have something of value they bring to the group. However, it doesn’t mean they have the skills needed to ensure a good group experience and it can take effort to bring out the best of that personality while minimizing potential damage of other facets.

If you know a particular participant has a certain habit that drives others nuts, come up with a guideline at the start of your Meetup while doing intros and housekeeping. For example, “Please remember to self-monitor that you are keeping your stories on point and brief so that everyone has a chance to participate” may be all that’s needed to help a story-teller type to dial it back.

The story-teller situation is fairly common - when an attendee takes up half the meeting time telling long personal stories and no matter how often you and/or others try to redirect them back to the topic or get them to let others engage, they continue using your Meetup event like it’s their personal stage for a one-man show. In this case, you may have to reach out to the person privately to help them be aware of their behavior and how it’s impacting others. Some people are wonderfully committed to self-development and will appreciate the constructive feedback and actively work to improve (some will even tell the group openly that they are working on it!). Others will leave. You can’t win ‘em all.

Acknowledging Discomfort or Energy Shifts

This is really tricky and I’m still learning how to catch and bring it up when I see a shift in the group energy. It could be that someone unintentionally made a derogatory comment or some judgement of one or more people in the group. Maybe someone dismissed, invalidated or used a condescending tone. Whatever the case, as a facilitator, the better you are at seeing facial and body coloring and expressions change or when certain people go from being engaged to suddenly withdrawn and checked-out, something has happened. Even if I don’t know what, exactly, transpired, I’m trying to build the skills of noticing and then ultimately I will have the skills of stating to the group what I’ve noticed so that we can, if desired, clear the air.

There are plenty more tips for being a great discussion host, but we don’t need to boil the whole ocean. And many suggestions are just good common sense about how to make attendees comfortable and more likely to participate. The tips above are really tied to personal observations about communication challenges - vulnerable situations, scary ways of putting ourselves out there both as facilitators and as participants. I’ll be thinking about and probably writing a lot more on this topic as I gain more experience.

I so appreciate and respect the courage of everyone who shows up either as participant or facilitator. It’s a pretty special opportunity, in my opinion, that helps make the world a better place. Thank you!