A critical element for a successful Client Advisory Council or Partner Advisory Board is expert facilitation. After months of planning, design, recruitment and preparation for the face-to-face advisory board meeting, poor meeting facilitation can put a damper on the meeting – or have it completely miss the mark.  We have witnessed and heard about facilitation ineffectiveness from our customers, which is why many turn to Ignite for facilitation and attend our Facilitation Training.

What is the role of a facilitator?

A facilitator guides and manages discussions at advisory boards and creates the best environment for peer exchange, while ensuring open dialogue and participation, session objectives are met, and the meeting is on track in terms of timing and flow.

The facilitator encourages participation from all advisory board attendees and ties together ideas and insights, achieving flow and participant buy-in and consensus on the process and outcomes.

4 Customer Advisory Board Facilitation Tips

1. A facilitator must remain unbiased and neutral.

The worst facilitator for you advisory board meeting is a subject matter expert who is a thought leader within your company.  Sometimes we observe advisory board meetings as part of a CAB audit  and at a recent audit, a Fortune 500 technology company had their Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) facilitate the meeting, which seemed like a good idea. Unfortunately, the CISO – acting as facilitator – had a response or opinion to the majority of discussion points brought up by advisory board members, rather than allowing a conversation among the CAB members.

An effective facilitator maintains objectivity and neutrality on topics, allowing for discussion and opinions to emerge – without judging or assessing any comments.  If the facilitator has too much knowledge or expertise on a topic, it’s helpful to choose another internal facilitator that is unbiased — or even better, bring an external facilitator.

2. Begin facilitation design and prep well in advance of the face-to-face meeting.

Session design begins with understanding objectives and desired outcomes per session, along with the timing and sequence of session activities. Develop the top 3-5 questions to discuss per session.  Plan out how to begin and end the session.  Do you want to include gamification into the session? Will there be breakout groups to discuss different angles of a topic?

Make sure the advisory board executive sponsor, subject matter experts and all internal key stakeholders are aligned with the session objectives and flow in advance of the face-to-face meeting.

Provide an overview of the facilitation guidelines and process to internal key stakeholders prior to the face-to-face meeting to set proper expectations.  We recommend the 80/20 rule – let the advisory board members talk 80% of the time, no selling or pitching, and let the facilitator guide the conversation.

3. Set the facilitation ground rules and guide the conversation.

At the beginning of the meeting, verbally set ground rules to all advisory board attendees.  Make sure to specify items like: everyone participates, there are no right or wrong answers, respect for one another, no laptops or cell phones and no side conversations.

Guiding the conversation involves being 100% present and engaged to actively listen, paraphrase and summarize key points, and encourages all participants to contribute. Constantly ask yourself: Are the session objectives being met? Is everyone participating? Am I being objective? Is anyone bored or frustrated?

4. The facilitator skillfully interjects and intrudes.

One of the many potentially disruptive forces in an advisory board meeting are CAB members who are dominant and speak too much – or internal stakeholders that respond to every comment or speak too much.

Internal facilitators have the arduous challenge of intervening on a long-winded executive who is “the boss” and may not like being interrupted. An effective facilitator skillfully and politely intrudes, shifts attention to someone else, seeks a different perspective and brings the conversation back on track.

To reiterate again, don’t forget to plan for facilitation of your Customer Advisory Board meeting!

Make sure to include facilitation planning and design as part of your overall process for managing your advisory board meetings. Review each session of your face-to-face meeting or virtual call and think through the facilitation process and outcomes, as well as assigning the right facilitor. For further Customer Advisory Board Facilitator Training, join us at our next Facilitator Training.

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