Customer Advisory Board Meeting Tip: Help Members Participate Effectively through Professional Facilitation

During a recent meeting with a prospective client, conversation turned to the need for a professional facilitator for an upcoming advisory board meeting.  He was considering having a member of his leadership team play that role and wanted to know what we thought. In some ways, having an internal facilitator is a good idea. He/she may be a subject matter expert and may already have some level of relationship with advisory board members. But it’s risky. There is much more to gain from bringing in a professional facilitator from outside the company.

Sure, anyone can run a meeting. But running a meeting well and in such a way that uncovers key insights is a whole other issue! Remember, advisory board members are your top clients. Every meeting with them should be executed flawlessly.  Every interaction should be well-structured to deliver rich insight and focused dialogue. Every moment should be well spent. This is not a time or place for an amateur!

wordleWe would all like to think that advisory board members will come to meetings well prepared, eager to participate, and ready to function like a team. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Your members are busy executives who still have major responsibilities back home. And as much as we provide them with information on how to participate most effectively (see Tips for Advisory Board Members below), they may still come into the meeting ill prepared. They may be hesitant to voice their opinions or need to step out for a conference call. They may arrive late and leave early. They may stray from the topic, be disruptive, negative or overly emotional. When dysfunctions like these happen, as they surely will, you will want an unbiased, skilled facilitator who can prevent and/or diffuse what could be an uncomfortable situation. After all, professional facilitators have the necessary skills and are prepared to manage dysfunction.   

So if you’re considering having a team member facilitate your upcoming advisory board meeting, think again. Is it really worth the risk?

Tips for Advisory Board Members
  • Read ALL materials prior to the event.  Write questions in the margins.  Highlight key ideas, areas you don’t agree with, and points that concern you.  Review and scan to stay fresh.
  • Make an effort to meet everyone prior to the meeting session, especially if there is an opening reception.  Meeting your peers prior to the meeting helps the meeting itself move along more quickly.
  • Be brief and concise with your comments so conversation keeps moving and everyone can have an opportunity to contribute.
  • Ask questions that bring out depth behind the comments.
  • When possible, try to remain for and participate in optional social activities.  Getting to know fellow members helps for in-session success.
  • Constructive criticism is welcome.  Even greater value is gained when a solution is offered for host consideration.
  • The host organization asked you to be on the Advisory Board because you impressed someone with your talent and insight.  Leveraging your customer status will diminish your credibility and frustrates your fellow Advisory Board Members.
  • Stay engaged throughout the meeting.  You would be surprised what information you can learn, relationships you can forge, and influence you can extend during refreshment breaks.
  • On occasion, some have found their emotions taking over.  In those instances, take a mental break.  You can always reach out to the facilitator at a break.  He/she may be able to help guide the conversation more appropriately to avoid an uncomfortable situation.

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