A facilitator sets the tone for your customer meeting - if they're experienced, your meeting will run smoothly and your customers will appreciate the "natural pace" they can maintain. If they're inexperienced, their awkwardness will over shadow the great experience you worked so hard to create.
Not everyone is a natural facilitator - it's an art and a skill. Have you ever attended a meeting where the facilitator seemed nervous or uneasy? Sure, we all have. It's distracting; you feel their pain ... and anxiously await the moment they "find their comfort zone" or "get back on track."
There are many advantages to engaging a professional facilitator - here are just a few:
A 3rd party facilitator
- Is "neutral" and can create an atmosphere for open and honest feedback
- Can draw out the quiet people and defuse the "complainers"
- Will maintain focus and keep conversations relevant and purposeful
- Can tactfully "coach" a board member who dominates conversations, saving the host the task of approaching one of their top customers
- Has the skill and expertise to deal with on-the-spot changes and reorganize sessions
- Possesses a variety of tools and techniques to uncover the insight you need from your customers
- You are there to listen; give your customers plenty of time to provide feedback
- Be inclusive - elicit feedback from everyone
- Limit presentations; instead focus on the brainpower and dialogue from your advisory board members - after all, that's why you invited them
- Accept feedback without being defensive; show patience
- Mix it up a bit - variety will keep members engaged; incorporate small group discussions, panel discussions, etc. into your agenda format