Being a facilitator rather than a presenter.

Last week we spoke about the steps needed to be a more effective facilitator. So this week we are going to consider how you can include everyone in your session and ensure that every voice is heard equally and without prejudice.




Whilst it’s easy to talk about inclusivity during conferences, workshops, meetings and so on, it actually takes more deliberate effort than you might think to be able to call any session genuinely inclusive.

To be able to include people in discussion, encourage them to talk and contribute requires more than a happy accident. It requires deliberate and focused intent and a small helping of daring.
We hear so often the phrase ‘death by powerpoint’ but it isn’t ever the technology that’s at fault…it’s always the speaker, and more accurately the intent behind what the speaker is saying. If you wish to genuinely engage people then you have to plan with that intent. You must create time and space for voices other than your own. If the main presentation option seems only to be you talking at the audience, it may be worth considering the following possibilities:

  • The audience talking to you
  • The audience talking to each other
  • Individual members of the audience addressing the rest of the audience, instead of you

You also need to create meaning and a reason to connect. It’s lazy to assume that what you have written as your topic is sufficient on its own to provoke meaningful interaction and discussion. Instead, consider exactly what it is about your talk or presentation that would have real resonance for your audience and would make them want to interject or answer any question that you might pose to them. This also means that you have to know the answer, or at least part of an answer, to this question:

Who is the audience and what is the context in which they are listening to this talk?

Do you know something about their opinions, their attitudes and their historical circumstances? If you don’t, make sure that you take the time to read up and find out. If that’s not available to you, then ask them directly. If you know very little or have no time to find out beforehand then follow these simple golden rules:

  • Be bothered
  • Be interested
  • Be curious
  • Connect

Just the term, ‘speaker’ is dangerous and misleading because it implies that this is all that is necessary to engage and include an audience, but it clearly isn’t. What’s most important is the need to listen and show that you’re listening.

Your eye contact and body language will always show people whether you’re interested and listening to them or whether, I’m afraid, you are just self-absorbed.

So finally a short story, because it wouldn’t be one of our articles without at least one story.

“Yesterday, on the aeroplane, a gentleman was helped to his seat by a member of the cabin crew and was seated next to us as he folded up his white stick. He immediately made contact with Robin and I (Alan) and told us a little about why he was visiting Valencia. It transpired that he was a big fan of Moto GP and was taking a trip to meet some of the riders and teams who had been in Valencia this past weekend as part of the final race of the season. He told us a great deal about his life and the challenges of being at first partially sighted and now, totally blind.

He also announced with some pride that he was a ‘talker’. And he was!

Subsequently we learnt a great deal more about his life in Lancaster as a young boy, his working life with HM Treasury and his eventual retirement. He also shared one of his most profound insights which was when his sister revealed to him that he was a serial complainer and everyone else in his life was beginning to get very tired of it. So he changed his behavior, stopped complaining and tried harder to appreciate the things around him. This initially made him approachable and good company.

However, although he is a good talker, he is I’m afraid a terrible listener and after about 60 minutes, we suggested that we perhaps could halt our conversation for a while and catch up again after a small snooze. He immediately took the hint and proceeded to speak to the gentleman on the other side of the aisle for the rest of the flight.”

Sometimes being inclusive requires you to tell people that enough is enough and it’s time for someone else to take their turn.

This could very well apply to us all in our role as a facilitator, by the way. Those that don’t either feel confident to speak or don’t feel what they have to say has sufficient merit or are just too polite to interrupt anyone else deserve their opportunity to speak too.
In short, leave space, leave time, leave room, try and leave your ego at the door and above all else, be a generous listener which will go a long way to making you a more inclusive facilitator.

Do you want some exercises to help in your facilitation efforts? Download exercise instructions here: