6 Tips for Successful Meeting Facilitation

Tips for Meeting Facilitation

Meetings can be useful forums for sharing information, gathering feedback, brainstorming, collaborating, and much more—but they can often go astray. Using trained facilitators, however, can help organizations keep their meetings focused, constructive, and engaging.

Since 1990, BCS has provided facilitation services—including pre-workshop planning, logistics and meeting support, onsite facilitation, and post-event report writing—for clients in both the private and public sectors. Our team of nine trained facilitators customizes their facilitation approach to fit each individual client and meeting. By focusing on results, we help clients define clear goals and develop forward-looking strategies to help them achieve their objectives.

Roy Tiley, one of BCS’ lead facilitators, shares his tips for successful meeting facilitation:

1. Clearly identify the meeting sponsor and understand and agree on the meeting’s purpose and outputs.

When leading a meeting, get to know the organization. Interview the meeting sponsor, so you’ll have a better grasp of what they want to achieve. Agreeing to the meeting’s purpose, outcomes, and deliverables will enable you to guide the meeting more effectively.

2. Create an effective meeting agenda that includes a series of questions for participants. The questions will help get people thinking about how to achieve the meeting’s outcomes.

Begin with your desired output for the meeting and develop a series of logical questions that build on each other to reach that outcome. Incorporate these questions into the meeting agenda to help move the discussion along in a direction that will reach the desired outputs.

3. Prepare for the meeting by sending out the necessary background information and the agenda prior to the meeting.

Provide participants with any relevant materials well in advance of the meeting. If participants know the topics being covered and the desired outcome ahead of time, they can enter the meeting better prepared to participate with comments and ideas.

4. Ensure that the participants who are necessary to achieve the meeting objectives will be attending.

Often in meetings, there are key people needed to bring a certain knowledge base, represent leadership, or make decisions. If the meeting’s success depends on any necessary participants, be sure that all key people will definitely be present. Otherwise, the meeting discussions may be inadequate and might not yield the desired outcome.

5. Remain neutral during the meeting and keep the meeting at the proper level of detail.

Maintain neutrality to keep the meeting fair and to ensure that all sides feel comfortable in voicing their opinions, comments, and ideas. Being a neutral force can also help keep the meeting on track without delving too far into any one topic.

6. Utilize organizational tools such as ground rules, parking lots, and action boards to keep the meeting on track.

Use different organizational tools to help keep the meeting focused and on task. Ground rules can help keep order and establish what is or is not appropriate conduct during the meeting. Parking lots are a useful feature for keeping track of topics that come up that are not currently on the agenda. Rather than allowing those topics to pull the discussion off course, the facilitator can keep them on hand to return to after the group finishes discussing the main topics. Action boards keep track of items needing to be put into motion or steps to take as a result of the meeting.

Contact us to learn more about BCS’ facilitation services.

5 Tips for Using Plain Language to Engage Readers and Enhance Your Communications

Looking for a way to improve the effectiveness of your communications products? Using plain language is a great way to keep an audience’s attention and ensure they understand your message.

The first step to writing any communications product using plain language—whether a news release, fact sheet, social media post, or technical report—is understanding your purpose and target audience. Knowing what you want to achieve and the knowledge level, values, and interests of your readers allows you to “write for your audience” using language they are comfortable with. If your audience doesn’t have to work hard to understand what you’re saying, they’re more likely to keep reading and connect with your message.

Using plain language does NOT mean your writing will be plain. In fact, clear and straightforward writing can make your communications products much more engaging—helping you connect with your audience and avoid confusion and ambiguity. So how do you make sure you’re using plain language in your written communications? We have you covered. BCS’ Communications team compiled five top tips for using plain language:

Don’t bury the lead

Begin with your most important point—think about what you want your audience to know, or what action you want your audience to take. If you start with secondary details, you risk losing your audience’s attention before they get to your main message.

Avoid fluff

Omit unnecessary words that add no meaning to your sentence, and don’t write a phrase when one word will do. For example, instead of saying “The lab has researched novel new processes for the production of fuels,” just say “The lab researched new processes for producing fuels” or “The lab researched new fuel production processes.”

Use active voice

In active-voice sentences, the subject of the sentence is doing the action (e.g., “The agency published a report on national security”), whereas in passive-voice sentences, the subject of the sentence is being acted upon (e.g., “A report on national security was published by the agency”). Using passive voice can make your sentences wordy and can confuse your readers by obscuring who or what is performing an action. Use active voice to avoid ambiguity and cut extraneous words from your sentences.

Use acronyms/abbreviations sparingly, and clearly define them

“Alphabet soup” (an overabundance of abbreviations and acronyms) is difficult for readers to understand, especially when you’re writing for non-technical audiences. Only use acronyms for frequently used words or phrases—and only when the acronyms promote clarity and conciseness. When you do use acronyms or abbreviations, make sure you clearly define them the first time they’re used. What might seem obvious to you is not necessarily obvious to your readers. For longer documents, it is also helpful to include a table of acronyms and abbreviations for readers.

Use lists, graphs, tables, and headings to simplify complex material

Writing isn’t just about the words you use—it’s also important to think about visual space on the page.  Bullet points and tables can help readers visually break up large amounts of information into smaller segments that are easier to digest. If you have a lengthy document, consider using headings to break up information into clear subsections—this will help your audience follow your organization. Visual aids, like graphs and charts, can drive home the significance of your data and leave a lasting impression on readers.

Using plain language is a communications best practice for a reason—because your audience needs to understand your message before they can engage with it. Still not sure if you’re using plain language in your communications? Check out the Plain Language Action and Information Network’s helpful checklist!

 

Q&A with BCS Lead Event Planner Stacey Young

You might recognize BCS as a management consulting firm, but did you know that our long list of services includes event planning and facilitation? From small meetings, to large annual conferences, behind the scenes of every BCS-led event is one of our talented staff, leading the way. Get to know our Lead Event Planner Stacey Young below.

Q: How long have you been doing event planning? How did you get started in this field?

A: I have been working in events for 19 years! In college, I worked at the Shell Island Resort in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, at the front desk and loved it. When I graduated college and moved to Washington, D.C., I did not know what I wanted to do. So, I got a job in conference management at the ANA Hotel (now the Fairmont) in Washington, D.C. I did this for a couple of years, and when another company bought the hotel, I moved to a company that handled meetings for government clients.

Q: What kinds of events have you planned throughout your career?

A: I have handled large holiday parties and government meetings ranging in size from five people to several thousand people. I have worked on exhibit halls, large corporate contract-win parties, offsite retreats—pretty much every type of event. With BCS in particular, I’ve done government meetings ranging in size from 20 people to 700 people.

Q: What is one thing that you find essential in the process of planning an event?

A: Organization! In order to do this type of work, you must be very detail oriented, and you must have great organizational skills. When working on meetings, there are so many different, little things that must be done that most people might not think about. And, if one thing is overlooked or slips through the cracks, it can be detrimental to the entire event.

Q: Do you have a favorite event that you have planned with BCS? If so, why?

A: The National Energy Codes Conference—this is a good group of state and local employees. They are the type of people that are out working in the field every day, and they are just amazing to be around.

Q: What do you enjoy most about the process?

A: That there is a beginning, middle, and end all happening over the course of a few months. It is nice to work with different people/clients all the time. I also weirdly like the budgeting process. I enjoying playing with numbers and seeing what I am able to do—just by playing with them—to enhance different things at the meetings.

Q: What is a fun fact about you?

A: I was a radio DJ all throughout high school!

To learn more about BCS’ event services, visit the BCS Events website.

BCS Lead Event Planner Stacey Young with her puppy Harrison
BCS Lead Event Planner Stacey Young with her puppy Harrison

The BCS Way

Think, Ask, Deliver. These three short words shape the way BCS conducts its business every day. But what do these words truly mean for our company, our staff, and—more importantly—our clients? BCS Senior Vice President Ken Green sat down to explain the true meaning of the BCS “Think, Ask, Deliver” mission.

At BCS, we tackle every challenge by…

Thinking it through,
Asking the right questions, and
Delivering effective solutions to decision makers.

BCS’ mission may be short, but a lot of thought and consideration went into its development. Ken noted that more than 10 years ago, “We went through a series of meetings to kind of drill down [some important questions]…what are we about; what are we here for; what are we trying to do for our customers; what are we trying to do for our staff; what are we trying to do as a company, [and] for our community?” Most importantly, we asked ourselves what sets us apart. Through that conversation, we developed the BCS motto.

As Ken further explained, BCS has always demonstrated a tendency to not just meet client expectations—but exceed them, which has become a key part of the company’s identity and has helped set BCS apart from our competitors over the years.

As BCS leadership looked to encapsulate BCS’ core values in just a few short words, they found themselves thinking a lot about BCS’ approach to work, which involves developing a thorough understanding of our clients—their needs, goals, and mission—and determining how we can best support them. This philosophy ultimately translated to the think, ask, and deliver actions.

THINK

Take the time to think through all aspects of an assignment or request to provide a customized response. Ken explained how a client may be new to the position or just so busy with other work that he or she may not have the time to analyze all the available options. That’s where BCS steps in—really thinking through what actions and deliverables will benefit the client, what the possible solutions are, and how to implement them.

ASK

Better understand project needs by learning to ask the right questions. “Sometimes those questions can help frame and provoke some more thought, and you end up with a better approach and deliverable,” Ken noted. To eliminate any confusion or mixed signals, Ken stressed the importance of posing questions to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Doing so reduces the need for back and forth and helps ensure that we’re delivering the best products to our clients.

DELIVER

Effectively deliver the best possible product on time and within budget. Providing high-quality deliverables is a hallmark of BCS’ achievements. Ken explained how thinking about a client’s needs and asking the right questions tie together to help us produce something valuable that contributes to a client’s accomplishments and success. BCS consistently follows through on its commitment to deliver products that add value to our clients’ work and help them achieve their missions.

Over the years, this signature approach has become so fundamental to operations that executive leadership now gives a session on it to all new hires. “We particularly do the ‘BCS Way’ presentation for new staff because we want them to have that ingrained in the way they do business every day,” Ken said. “With every assignment, we want them to think, ask, and deliver.”

While this concept has withstood the test of time for well over a decade, it has directly helped BCS grow and thrive as a business.

“The premise of what we do is pretty simple—try to provide thoughtful, quality services and products; set ourselves apart from our competitors; help our clients be successful; and hire good staff to do so,” Ken concluded.

As we look to the future, we can guarantee our clients that we will continue to provide our best service by following our mission every day, with every project and every deliverable.

The BCS Graphics Team: Telling Compelling Stories through Visual Media

How much thought have you given to the images that define your organization? Visual identity is important for any company, and graphic design plays a vital role in the way audiences interact with and perceive your business. From logos and branding materials, to infographics and charts, to videos, to professional reports and fact sheets, to innovative and interactive web design—the visual media you use can both make your products more accessible to users and tell a compelling story about your brand and mission. Here at BCS, we’re really proud of our expert Graphics Team. Check out the infographic below for an overview of the products that we offer, and stay tuned for more infographics about the graphic design products we create.

BCS Graphics Team products and services

  • PRINT DESIGN & PUBLICATIONS
    Reports  ♦  Fact Sheets  ♦  Case Studies  ♦  Posters  ♦  Business Cards  ♦  And More!
    We design and develop a wide variety of print materials, with prime expertise in producing large reports, fact sheets, and case studies. We create striking and professional-looking designs that will make your products stand out and appeal to your audience. We assure fast turnaround, unmatched service, and stunning results.
  • LOGO DESIGN & BRANDING
    Logos  ♦ Templates  ♦  Branding  ♦  And More!
    We understand the important role that visual identity plays in the way an organization presents itself to both internal and external audiences, and we offer extensive experience in designing effective visual brand identities for businesses, organizations, programs, and events. From single logos, to corporate stationery, to brand identity packages, BCS designers can help give your products personality and separate them from the competition.
  • WEB DESIGN & DEVELOPMENT
    Websites    Intranets   Open Access Portals    And More!
    We develop effective, modern, and responsive user interfaces for websites and applications with open-source content management systems (Drupal, WordPress) and SharePoint. Whether developing websites, intranets, or open access portals, we apply effective solutions and always keep the end user and user experience in mind.
  • DATA VISUALIZATION & INFOGRAPHICS
    Interactive Reports    Maps    Technical Illustrations    Training Modules  ♦  And More!
    We turn boring, static data into striking interactive reports, charts, and maps; technical illustrations; and interactive games and training modules by utilizing cutting-edge technologies, including Adobe Flash, HTML5, XML, JavaScript, Google Maps, Tableau, and Highcharts.

The examples above represent just some of our Graphics Team’s capabilities. BCS’ three talented designers, Brandi Boykin, Jen Caul, and Jared Largen, hold more than 27 years of combined experience providing captivating visuals for federal, state, and private-sector clients. With demonstrated success in translating technical information into products that are dynamic, visually engaging, and accessible to diverse audiences, our designers exemplify verifiable skill in using visual media to tell a wide range of compelling stories. To see additional examples of their work, check out our Graphics Team’s online portfolio and collection of select interactive tools.

The BCS Graphic Design Team

Brandi Boykin Jen Caul Jared Largen
Brandi Boykin Jen Caul Jared Largen

For more information, please contact Lindsay Southerland, manager, at lsoutherland@bcs-hq.com.

Five Teachers That Have Inspired BCS Staff

As Teacher Appreciation Week comes to a close, we at BCS wanted to take a moment to celebrate some of the influential teachers in our lives. Teachers have a tough job, but their influence on us is often felt far into the future. Read on to see which teachers have inspired these five BCS employees, and consider thanking the teachers in your life this week!

  1. Bob Ward, Wheaton North High School, Wheaton, Illinois

    BCS Research Analyst Stephanie Kovanda Layman: Ever heard of a little musical called Hamilton? Well, my AP U.S. History teacher Mr. Ward made up the very first historical rap I had ever heard featuring Alexander Hamilton and one of his many political adversaries, Thomas Jefferson. While he was no Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mr. Ward had an incredible talent for instilling in his students passion for and critical thinking of American history, all while making the subject matter so entertaining we did not realize just how much information we were absorbing. To this day, thanks to Mr. Ward, I still have a random understanding of John C. Calhoun’s bleak influence on American history and appreciation for his incredible hair. More importantly, of course, I learned from Mr. Ward just how important it is to look back with a critical lens as we consider the present and future.

  2. Jenny Penniman, Howard Community College, Columbia, Maryland

    BCS Senior Manager Liz Penniman: Not to be corny, but my mom has been the most inspirational teacher in my life. I’ve never met a teacher, or really even a human, who is (a) so passionate about math and (b) so passionate about getting others to like and understand math. While I chose a profession as far from the subject as possible, I credit her with my ability to be right and left brained (to an extent), as well as with my desire to follow my passions in life. And, I’m going to brag about my mom for a second… She has 5 out of 5 stars on ratemyprofessor.com!

  3. Phyllis “Flip” Knutson, La Cueva High School, Albuquerque, New Mexico

    BCS Manager Lindsay Bixby Southerland: Mrs. Knutson is the teacher who had the biggest impact on my life—it’s not a coincidence that I had her for geography, U.S. History, and then as a teaching assistant in high school. What is most notable about her is that she really inspired students to live up to their potential and treated everyone with great kindness. Even though we only made it up to World War II in the history class, she taught in such a way that made students want to learn more during the summer. That is a feat in and of itself! I am grateful for all I learned in her classroom and about how important it is to be respectful to others no matter the circumstance. Thank you, Mrs. Knutson!

  4. Dr. Kathleen Anderson, Palm Beach Atlantic University, West Palm Beach, Florida

    BCS Communications Specialist Kelsey Satalino: I credit Dr. Anderson with really teaching me how to write and think critically. While I technically knew how to write before stepping into her classroom my sophomore year of college, she had such high standards for writing, researching responsibly, and crafting critical arguments that I feel like my writing was completely transformed. Dr. Anderson also incorporated fun interactive learning activities into her lesson plans; to this day, I have fond memories of running around her Victorian Literature classroom, screaming as we acted out a scene from Great Expectations (I was Miss Havisham). Over the years, I took several English classes with Dr. Anderson, and she pushed me to work on my writing outside of class and provided countless hours of guidance as I tried to figure out my career aspirations. She was a hugely influential person in my life.

  5. Dr. William Watson, Colorado Christian University, Lakewood, Colorado

    BCS Lead Technical Research Analyst Garrett Shields: The teacher that had the largest impact on my education was Dr. William Watson, Professor of History at Colorado Christian University. He had a contagious enthusiasm for history that involved pacing, jumping, and energetically swinging his legs while sitting on a table at the front of the classroom. You couldn’t help but pay attention to what he was saying. Dr. Watson also would engage in, and even encouraged, lively debates with students. He perfectly displayed how to disagree with someone’s opinion without disparaging them or losing any respect for them as a person or for their intellect. Because of Dr. Watson, there are far more lovers of history and kind-yet-critical thinkers in the world.

BCS Starts Off Quarter One with Three Contract Wins

Spring is in the air over at BCS, and so are new contracts! This season, we’re busy providing support on three awards we received in the first quarter of 2017, including new contracts with the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis (EPSA) and Sustainability Performance Office (SPO), as well as an extended subcontract with the U.S. Air Force Civil Engineering Center (AFCEC).

EPSA serves as the primary advisor to the Secretary of Energy on domestic energy policy development and implementation, as well as Energy Department policy analysis and related activities. BCS provides a range of programmatic, communications, and analysis support to EPSA and most recently assisted in producing the second installment of the Quadrennial Energy Review (QER), titled Transforming the Nation’s Electricity System. BCS played an integral role in the report’s development by planning and executing stakeholder meetings held across the United States; providing daily support to the QER Secretariat; supporting coordination and communication with the White House and inter/intra-agency partners involved in the QER process; collecting and analyzing public comments received on the QER; and providing comprehensive graphic design, layout, and editorial support.

SPO oversees Energy Department sustainability efforts required by federal laws and regulations and assists programs, sites, and national laboratories in meeting sustainability goals. BCS staff support data collection, processing, and analysis; inter/intra-agency collaboration meetings; workshops and conferences; Energy Department-wide programmatic interfaces; and general administrative management. Examples of our support activities include coordinating the collection, analysis, and aggregation of Energy Department site data; developing, maintaining, and making enhancements to the data collection and reporting systems, such as the Sustainability Dashboard; producing diverse communication materials, such as the DOE Sustainability SPOtlight newsletter, presentations, and training documents; and helping to develop plans, such as the Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan.

AFCEC provides civil engineering services and enterprise life-cycle leadership to Air Force installations. BCS is supporting AFCEC’s Energy Directorate by identifying and evaluating opportunities that will help the Air Force reduce its energy consumption and costs. Our Certified Energy Managers and Licensed Professional Engineers are positioned at Air Force locations across the country, where they perform energy audits; develop energy saving plans and associated implementation strategies; develop energy awareness programs; conduct energy accounting and rate analyses; provide support for energy savings performance contracts, demand-side management, and utility privatization efforts; and apply for rebates and grants to assist in implementing energy projects and maximizing the return to the government.

BCS provides support across the federal government in technology and analysis; communications and outreach; information technologies and business management; and security and integration. For more information on BCS support services, please visit the BCS website.