by Nadine Bell
Have you ever led a meeting where a participant introduced an idea that was off topic? At a recent meeting I facilitated, I asked a participant whose comment was off topic what prompted her to share it at this time. She said, “I was afraid I’d forget it if I didn't share it then.”
While there are many reasons meeting participants change the focus of the conversation, meeting leaders and facilitators have the responsibility to:
- Keep the discussion on topic.
- Provide participants a time and place to share these off topic ideas, questions and comments.
For many years I used a Parking Lot, a flip chart with the drawing of a car on which participants place Post-its® with the off-topic things that were important to them.
Five years ago I was assessing candidates at a Certified Professional Facilitator Assessment event. A candidate said that he invites participants to put their comments on Post-its and place the Post-its on a flip chart of a refrigerator. He explained that they place the ideas in the refrigerator to keep them fresh.
I asked myself, “Where do I want my groups’ ideas? Baking in the sun in the back 40 or staying fresh in the refrigerator?” The answer was an easy one, and I have used the refrigerator ever since.
When I am facilitating a short meeting, we look at the refrigerator before the meeting is over. If the ideas can be handled quickly, we do so. If not, we determine how they will be addressed before the next meeting or put them on the agenda for the next meeting. If the meeting is a half a day or longer, we review Post-its on the refrigerator at breaks, before lunch and at the end of the meeting to determine how and when they will be addressed.