How to Manage Content Presentations for Consensual Understanding


To develop consensual understanding about the impact of speakers’ content or otherwise newly developed information.


Using speakers as an example, we frequently conduct a question and answer session when the speaker has completed or new information has been provided.  Next we give the speaker a round of applause and take a break or dismiss.  Apparently, the assumption is that we all heard the same thing or that our interpretation will automatically lead to consensual changes and coherent behavior.  Such is not always the case, in fact, sometimes meeting participants take off in opposite directions based on their interpretation of new content.

Consensual Content Management


The following applies optimally before a speakers presentation has begun.  Namely, what the listeners should be on the look out for (take-aways), why we should care (implications), and what we may want to do different that will make us more efficient or effective (recommendations).  Since we are focused on what the participants can do different, it is a good idea to conduct a review session with the same approach, breaking down the “many-to-many” into simpler logic and more manageable takeaways:

  1. Solicit the take-aways such as facts, evidence, or examples newly learned by the meeting participants.  This list provides the WHAT factors.
  2. For each WHAT factor from above (ie, one at a time), develop consensual understanding about the implications and why we care.  Strive to obtain objective measurements that properly scale the gravity of each implication.  This list provides the SO WHAT factors.
  3. For each factor (ie, one at a time), facilitate consensual understanding about what changes in our lives, what we should do different—develop recommendations based on the implications rather the facts.  This list of new behaviors is why we took the time and money to listen to the speaker—it comprises a list of NOW WHATs.

Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember friends, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

How to Communicate Meeting and Workshop Results

Guardian of Change (Communications Plan)


The Guardian of Change is better known as a Communications Plan.

Communications Plan

Empirical research shows that it is best to guard and protect communications than to simply shout out.  Different audiences need different parts of the message, and may react differently to descriptive terms used and the media used to communicate results.

The overall purpose is to get a group to agree on how it will communicate the results of its meeting and workshop efforts to others.  Students with study groups average a GPA that is 0.50 points higher than students without groups.  Why?  Socialization.


At minimum, team members need an “elevator speech” that can deliver an effective synopsis of the meeting results.  At the other extreme, if the meeting is strategic, there could be numerous audience types such as the investment community, suppliers, trade personnel, etc.  If so, identify the key audience members before discussing the message, medium of communication, and frequency of communication for each.

When it is important that it sounds like the participants attended the same meeting together, consider agreeing on the rhetoric used to describe the meeting.  Typically, the two major audiences are:

  1. What do we tell our bosses or superiors ?
  2. What do we tell people dependent  on our results (ie, stakeholders) ?


After identifying the target audiences, ask for each, “What are we going to tell _____?”  List the messages as bullet points that begin to homogenize (ie, create consistency) the meeting participants’ descriptions in the hallway about what was accomplished.

If necessary, discuss HOW TO communicate with the target audience such as face-to-face, email, etc.  For complicated communications plans, further discuss frequency or how often to set-up regular communications.  It may be necessary to schedule the communications so that the superiors are informed before other stakeholders.  Failing to plan suggests planning to fail. Meeting participants will use separate methods and discrete rhetoric that may generate different understanding among stakeholders who are expected to share similar understanding.

Proactively consider a 3*30 Report, a written summary of results that should take no longer than 30 minutes to write and no longer than three minutes to read and reply.  The 3*30 Report may be ideal for executives and other team members who are interested but not fully invested.

Remember friends, nobody is smarter than everybody. For detailed support, see your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MGRush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI).

How to Structure the Introduction to Meetings and Workshops

Three Components

Just as the life-cycle of a meeting or workshop has three steps (ie, Get Ready, Do It, and Review), we find that within each meeting, three components need to be carefully managed to ensure success.  All agendas should include a beginning, a middle, and an end.  Many meetings fail because they neglect to include all three components.  Even a lousy book or movie includes a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The Beginning

Planning Predictable Results

Manage (and rehearse) your introductions carefully.  You want to make sure that your participants feel that their meeting has clear purpose and impact. Remember, to use the integrative and plural first person of ‘we’ or ‘us’ and avoid the singular ‘I’ so that you can begin to transfer responsibility and ownership to the participants since they own the results.

Have your room set-up to visually display the purpose, scope, and deliverable of any workshop.  If you cannot convert these three guiding principles into 50 words or less (for each), then you are not ready yet to launch the workshop. Let us repeat, if you do not know what the deliverable looks like, then you do not know what success looks like.

Consider displaying the purpose, scope, and deliverable on large Post-It paper, along with a set of ground rules appropriate to your politics and situation.  The following sequence is typically optimal for a robust introduction.

  1. Introduce yourself and explain the importance of the meeting, how much money or time is at risk if the meeting fails. Try to avoid using the word “I” after this moment. It is tough to drop the ego, but at least be conscious whenever you do use the first person singular.
  2. Present the purpose, scope, and deliverable and seek assent.  Make sure that all the participants can live with them. If they can’t, you probably have the wrong agenda prepared since it is designed specifically for your deliverable.
  3. Cover any of the administrivia to clear participants’ heads from thinking about themselves, especially their own creature comforts. Explain how to locate the lavatories, fire extinguishers, emergency exits, and other stuff particular to your group and situation.
  4. Cover the agenda and carefully explain the reason behind the sequence of the agenda steps, and how they relate to each other. Relate all of the agenda steps back to the deliverable so that participants can envision how completing each agenda step feeds content into the deliverable, thus showing progress for their efforts as they get closer to completing the meeting.
  5. Share some (not more than eight to twelve) ground rules. Consider supplementing your narrative posting of ground rules with some audio-visual support, including some humorous clips, but keep it brief and appropriate. See your FAST alumni site for some wonderful downloads.
  6. For a kick-off, have the executive sponsor explain the importance of the participants’ contributions and what management hopes to accomplish. For on-going workshops, consider a project update but do not allow the update or executive sponsor to take more than five minutes.  Your meeting is not a mini-Town Hall meeting (unless it actually is).
  • NOTE:  For multiple day workshops, remember to cover the same items at the start of subsequent days (except executive sponsor or project team update).  Additionally, review content that was built or agreed upon the day(s) before and how it relates to progress made in the agenda.

The Middle

The agenda steps between the Introduction and Wrap comprise the middle steps. Most of our other blogs are focused on what you can do between the introduction and wrap to help a group build, decide, and prioritize.  We also provide a separate blog that deals exclusively with a robust approach to the Wrap-up.  See How to Manage the Parking Lot and Wrap-up Meetings for HOW TO manage the end of a meting or workshop.

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and detailed tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

How to Manage the Parking Lot and Wrap-up Meetings

At the conclusion of your meeting or workshop, review the outputs and deliverable (eg; decision, actions, information, priorities, reports, etc.), created during the meeting. Ensure that the pieces fit together and form one cohesive product. Use the documentation generated during your meeting to structure a quick walk-through. Review it, do not relive it. If the walk-through includes process (ie, a bunch of sequenced activities), insert some real-life examples to see how the sequence of activities performs.

Action Items


Use an action item step in every planning or problem-solving workshop.  Have your group list the action items that they have already agreed to or will undertake—starting with tomorrow. List the items, clarify them, have someone take responsibility, and have the group assign a deadline (month, day, year) for the action to have been completed.  Consider applying the RASI tool (Transform Your Responsibility Matrix Into a GANTT Chart) to convert your action items into a project plan.

Absence or silence is unacceptable during assignments so do not permit making assignments to someone who is not attending the meeting, either live or virtually.

Open Issues
(Parking Lot)

There are various ways of describing open issues that develop during meetings. Other terms used by organizations include Issue Bin, Coffee Pot, Water Cooler, Elevator Speech, Limbo, Chestnuts, Popcorn, and our favorite, Refrigerator (a term used in the Middle East because the items temporarily stored there can be preserved and cooked up later). Regardless of the term you use, or the phrase that is embraced by your organizational culture, open issues need to be managed properly rather than left unattended as a list of items without context or assigned next steps.

Complete your open issues step after the review of completed items and assignment of action items. During the meeting, record open issues as they arise. Now, review each open issue. First make sure the open issue remains valid. Over the course of meetings, some open issues are no longer “open” and if so, they can be deleted or marked accordingly (eg, OBE = Overcome by Event, or taken care of). Append each open issue with the following:

  • The issue status—along with a complete, coherent statement of description
  • Who is responsible for communicating back to the group on the status of the open issue (frequently viewed as who ‘will do’ or complete the open issue)
  • When completion is expected (month, day, year)
  • How progress or completion will be communicated to your group of participants
  • Give the file a name so that future ‘searches’ are made much easier
  • Consider email size limitations, file naming conventions, and file-server security restrictions


To – By – For

A simpler method for managing open issues is called the “2 by 4.”  Meant to connote a standard piece of lumber, the method suggests a quick, tripartite approach—namely:

  1. To:  Do what ?
  2. By:  Who and when ?
  3. For:  What purpose or benefit ?


Obtain comments on the method you used during your meeting (ie, the agenda steps) and your (ie, facilitator or session leader) performance.Use the evaluation questionnaire described in the FAST Continuous Improvement section or create two “plus” and “delta” columns to capture what went well and what could change to improve the next meeting. Others terms used to describe the “Plus/Delta” tool include OFI or an Opportunity for Improvement, “Benefits & Concerns” (also known as the “B’s & C’s”), “Star/Delta”, and Appreciative (+) or Opportunistic (-).

Remember friends, nobody is smarter than everybody. For detailed support, see your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MGRush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

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