10 Things I do in the first meeting with a client (the conversation before the conversation)

Recently, I refreshed the conversations I have with clients before we agree that I will facilitate a workshop for them. I call this, “the conversation before the conversation”, meaning that what I and the client discuss and agree upon before the facilitated event is as important, or possibly more important than my facilitation of the event. A few weeks ago, I held meetings with three different clients to explore the possible facilitation of workshops for their organizations. What we talked about during these meetings, reinforced my belief that the actual facilitation of the planned session has a higher probability of going well if the context of the topic is clearly understood, the outcomes are well-defined and if I listen more than talk during the meeting. When I understand the context and outcomes, I can then design and facilitate the most beneficial discussion and decision-making methods.

Here are 10 things I do when I first meet with a client.

  1. Ask about and listen to their story.
    • Say, “I would like to hear everything you want to tell me about the situation and the upcoming workshop.”
    • Listen for the context, the issues and the workshop outcomes as they talk.
    • Refrain initially from asking too many questions, rather, encourage them to tell their stories, what is on their minds.
  2. Understand where the client is at.
    • I want to learn what the client is experiencing, feeling and thinking. I want to know the background of the situation and what the client hopes to achieve. Rather than asking questions that may direct or limit what the individual talks about, I let them tell their story as they wish. I find about 85% of individuals initially talk about the context, 15% about outcomes.
  3. Listen some more.
  4. Ask questions to clarify and to probe context, issues, successes, situations, needs, and outcomes.
    • Examples: “Tell me more about …”What worked well? What didn’t work? How do you feel about the situation? How do you think others feel?  What would success look like? How do you want to feel at the end of the session; three weeks later?”
  5. Clarify outcomes for the session – over and over.
    • Determine what products and decisions are required, known as the concrete outcomes.
    • Determine how the client hopes participants will feel and how the group may change, known as experiential outcomes.
  6. Demonstrate facilitative skills. Model your values, discussion guidelines and methods during the meeting.
  7. Conduct the meeting in the way you would facilitate the upcoming workshop. For example, listen intently, ask clear and concise questions, use discussion techniques such as the Focussed Conversation (ORID), summarize decisions, and agree upon next actions.
    • Let the client see you in action to gain a sense of what you would do and say in the facilitated workshop.
  8. Talk about the role you play as a facilitator. Describe your approach to facilitation.
    • Explain the differences between facilitation, training, coaching, consulting, chairing, hosting and ensure that the client understands these skill sets and selects the appropriate skill for their session.
  9. Assess your interest and ability to help the client. Share your assessment with the client.
    • How interested are you in working with this organization and topic
    • How capable are you to provide the required level of skill needed for the facilitation
    • Explain why you see yourself as an appropriate facilitator or offer options if you think you may not provide the best service for the specific facilitated workshop.
  10. Summarize and agree on next steps.

And  as a bonus #11, here are two more questions you can ask:

  • “What else may have come to mind during our discussion that you would like me to know?”
  • “What do’s and don’ts in terms of the session and process would you like to share with me?”

As a facilitator, the conversations I hold with a client to understand and plan the facilitated event are equally, and possibly, more important than the actual facilitated conversations during the event. Please contact me at www.barbpedersen.ca with ideas and responses on ways to hold “the conversation before the conversation”  and questions about how I may meet your facilitation needs.








10 Things I do in the first meeting with a client (the conversation before the conversation)
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