- Use an ice breaker or other meeting opener that works well with groups. This allows you a few minutes to calm your nerves and establish a strong start with the group.
- If possible, start the meeting with creative introductions (including a funny fact like each person's first paid job). This shifts the focus from you to the attendees and also creates a bit of levity.
- Scope out the room at least a day prior. If possible, test out all the AV equipment to be sure everything is working properly.
- Gather information on the attendees prior to the session. The more information you have the less nervous you will be.
- Meet with key players prior to the session. These pre-meetings can provide great insight that might impact your agenda or facilitation plan. It also offers an opportunity for you to get to know you audience. It's always less threatening to lead a session if you know the attendees.
- Make sure you have a written Purpose, Agenda, and Limit posted in the room before the meeting starts so you can easily refer to it once the meeting starts. Having these items posted and easily accessible ensures that you don't get flustered and forget to cover them or miss key points.
- Prepare! Prepare! Prepare! Review your agenda and facilitation plan with a key ally who can give you honest feedback a few days prior to the session.
- There's nothing like experience to help soothe your fears. Take a facilitation training class to build your skills.
- If possible, try to have food at the session. Food improves everyone's mood!
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Dana Brownlee is President of Professionalism Matters, Inc. a boutique professional development corporate training firm. Her firm operates www.professionalismmatters.com and www.meetinggenie.com, an online resource for meeting facilitation tips, training, and instructional DVDs. Her latest publications are "Are You Running a Meeting or Drowning in Chaos?" and "5 Secrets to Virtually Cut Your Meeting Time in Half!" She can be reached at email@example.com.