Keep your knees bent while facilitating

Jan 03, 2017 | EDR Blog

By Wendy Green Lowe for 

I grew up in a household of skiers.  The lessons I earned about staying upright while skiing hold true for effective facilitation as well.

We started skiing by the age of five years.  It was either go skiing, or stay home with a baby sitter.  You can guess what I chose.  We skied in glorious weather, and when white-out snowfall conditions made it impossible to see.  Fresh powder, soft-pack, hard-pack, or sheer ice – any day skiing was better than any day not skiing.  Live to ski, ski to die: that was the family motto.

Whenever we complained about anything, my dad’s advice was the same, “Keep your knees bent!”  He was convinced that nothing, including an invisible patch of ice, flat light, monster moguls, or blizzard conditions, couldn’t be handled if only I kept my knees bent.  When your knees are bent, your center of gravity is low and your weight is over your feet.  It’s easier to stay on your feet and harder to knock you over.

I have found that metaphorical advice holds for facilitation as well.  Prepare for the worst so you are ready for whatever, and you will increase your chances of being rewarded with positive outcomes. Here are six steps that can help you prepare for a public meeting.

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  1. Understand the purpose of any public meeting. It is your job to figure out if there is a good reason for inviting the public to a meeting and developing an understandable explanation of that reason.
  1. Design a process that will allow accomplishment of that purpose.  Not all meetings have to be conducted the same way.  Once you know what the purpose of the meeting is, design a meeting that will be informative and engaging, even fun.  Why not?
  1. Frame questions that will invite people to contribute their best thinking.  We don’t need their help on easy topics – but we do need the public to think creatively when dealing with tough topics.  Invite them into the challenging places and invite creativity, fresh ideas, and larger concepts that take fullest advantage of the diversity of wisdom present.
  1. Plan the time carefully and consider what you will do if things don’t go as planned.  Think in five-minute increments and know going in what might go faster than planned and what might not.  In the room, use the time available to accomplish the most important objectives.
  1. Start the meeting with a positive attitude.  The facilitator sets the tone.  Welcome people and thank them for coming.  Call them to action on the topics to be discussed.  If you have a positive attitude, it will be infectious.
  1. Have faith in yourself and the public.  Groups can and do accomplish a lot when focused on a shared purpose.  A well-planned meeting with capable facilitation will produce the best results.  That is your contribution.  Most people really do want to contribute – indeed – that’s why they attended.  Take fullest advantage of that generosity!

And keep your knees bent.  What does it really mean to me now, as a facilitator?  Position yourself (physically, mentally, and emotionally) to be as flexible as possible.  You are there to serve the needs of the people attending.  The more thought you put into planning and preparing, the easier it will be.

Are you a stakeholder, not the facilitator?  Keep your knees bent too!

Wendy Green Lowe lives in Loveland, Colorado.  Her favorite ski area is in Crested Butte where her father lives.  She specializes in facilitating diverse groups of people providing input to public agencies on controversial topics.  You can find her online at