Group Warm-Ups: Ways to Avoid the Demoralizing Silence

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    In a meeting or facilitated session, it is typical for participants to be initially reserved and very willing to allow others to speak first. As a result, it is not unusual for the first question that the facilitator asks to be met with complete and utter silence! This can be demoralizing for a facilitator, especially when it occurs at the beginning of a session – that time when you are hoping for high energy and great interaction. A great technique for maintaining focus within a group – in addition to the checkpoint you read about in my earlier blog – is group warm-ups.

    The Secret to Warming Up a Group

    Ask two questions that require a non-verbal response.

    To avoid getting silent when asking your first question, warm up the group by first asking at least two questions that require a non-verbal response.

    The key to the warm-up technique is to ask at least two questions that require a non-verbal response. Since the pre-questions you ask should lead up to your primary question, you should plan these pre-questions carefully.

    Sample: Warming Up a Group

    In this sample, the facilitator’s primary question is: “What are the benefits of planning?” Note the questions the facilitator asks and the actions the facilitator takes before asking the primary question.

    Facilitator, How many people here have been involved with a project that wasn’t well planned from the beginning?
    (Raise your own hand.)

    Facilitator It was somewhat difficult, wasn’t it?
    (Nod your head.)

    Facilitator You may have had problems such as a lack of understanding of the purpose, people’s unclear roles, lack of commitment to action, and so on. So there are some real benefits to planning, aren’t there?
    (Nod your head.)

    Facilitator Let’s name a few. What are the benefits of planning? Who can tell me one?
    (Raise your own hand. Call on someone whose hand also goes up.)

    The Finer Points of Warming Up a Group

    The warm-up technique is effective in getting people to respond to you, first non-verbally, then verbally. By twice getting the participants to nod their heads or raise their hands, you have greatly increased the likelihood that, when you ask that first question and raise your hand, one or more people will raise their hands to offer a response.

    The timing of your gestures is important in the warm-up. You should raise your hand or nod your head while you are asking the question. This way, the participants will know what action you want them to take before you finish asking the question, and they can begin responding right away.

    What are some other techniques you use to keep a group focused in a meeting?


    Certified Master Facilitator Michael Wilkinson is the CEO and Managing Director of Leadership Strategies, Inc., The Facilitation Company, and author of the new The Secrets of Facilitation 2nd Edition, The Secrets to Masterful Meetings, and The Executive Guide to Facilitating Strategy. Leadership Strategies is a global leader in facilitation services, providing companies with dynamic professional facilitators who lead executive teams and task forces in areas like strategic planning, issue resolution, process improvement, and others. The company is also a leading provider of facilitation training in the United States.