Top tips for you as a facilitator

Guiding conversations, offering provocative thought and ultimately helping groups of people get to a better result are all key elements of strong facilitation.

At Purple Monster we like to facilitate meetings in a certain way and that takes a lot of experience, a little bit of knowledge and a good dose of self-deprecatory humour, but what are the nuts and bolts of good facilitation?

A few months ago we came upon a concept called Pecha Kucha.

It is a storytelling format, where a presenter shows 20 slides for 20 seconds of commentary each (6 minutes and 40 seconds total).We found it entertaining and informative and respectfully suggest checking out the closest one to where you are as it’s a fun evening.

After seeing it Alan thought it would be good to put our methodology through the Pecha Kucha process and so this article summarises a talk that Alan recently completed and delivered in 6 minutes 40 seconds. (amazing in itself!)

You can listen to the talk here

The job of a facilitator is to run meetings or events and to make them as effective and efficient as possible. 

This isn’t simply about sticking to the agenda or watching the time; it’s about knowing when to allow conversations to carry on and when to stop them, it’s about understanding the dynamics and reacting appropriately to them, it’s about noticing the subtleties in team dynamics or relationships and ensuring they don’t disrupt or take over. This all sounds very complicated and nuanced, and it is.

 

In Alan’s talk he summarises some key tips to help anyone improve their skill levels as a facilitator. Here are the key points he shares…

1. Confidence

For some people, standing in front of a room of people can be very difficult.  Not for Alan, his background is as a performer but even he has stories of not preparing properly and subsequently losing his confidence.  Proper preparation builds confidence. Make sure you know the agenda, the content and what is expected of you. Even when we are facilitating a seemingly straightforward meeting, clients are often amazed at how much we want to understand about the strategy, the team, the people involved. This is all so that we can be confident in our ability to deliver what is required.

2. Check the space

Make sure you know where you are!  Visit the space you’ll be working in beforehand, or at least get there early to walk around it.  Consider how the space will be set out, is theatre style really going to help you run an interactive session? If no, then change it well ahead of the start. Understand where you will be and how that will help you both see and hear what is going on around the room so you can listen and react effectively.

3. Check the space inside your head

People are going to looking to you for guidance, that is the job of the facilitator so you need to ensure you are in the right headspace. Being prepared and confident will help but also ensure you give yourself time to centre yourself in the room and be present. Simon Sinek says nervous symptoms are the same as excitement.  If you tell yourself that you’re feeling excited then you’re halfway to fooling yourself that you are  excited and not nervous.

4. Participation

This is crucial in facilitation.  It’s not a show!  A good facilitator will encourage the group to participate.  A monologue of opinions or facts is not facilitation. How is your style helping to get stuff out of people rather than pushing stuff into them? Remember, this event is not about you it is about the participants and getting them to a better end result. Constantly ensuring that their voices are in the room is key. 

5. Inclusion

If you want the whole group to be with you, make sure you include everybody.  Don’t be selective.  You must coax the quieter members of the group to contribute but in a safe and friendly way.  Give them means to express themselves and have their voice heard.  That could be asking them to write down their opinions, rather than putting them on the spot to shout them out for all to hear.  

6. Listen

Listen before, during and after.  Don’t miss any of it!  What are people saying before the session starts?  Do they have expectations?  What are they?  During the session, play back what you hear, this encourages inclusivity and will bring the group together as well as help summarise what has been discussed.  Listen afterwards too, feedback is important both for you as a facilitator but also where the group might need further support.

7. Spontaneity

Our style is very spontaneous.  Yours might not be.  However, being flexible is critical.  Taking the conversation where the group wants it to go is very important.  This brings us back to inclusion.  Of course, it’s also your job to know when to bring the conversation back to the point in hand. There is a balance between letting a conversation carry on if it is moving the discussion forward but also knowing when to stop it if it is not helping.

8. Humour

Again this will flex depending on your personality.  At Purple Monster we do enjoy a laugh but use humour wisely. It should never be at the expense of anyone but used as a technique to help people feel relaxed and comfortable so that they are able and willing to contribute and talk openly.

9. Know the audience

Research who you’re talking to and their current context. Understanding job roles and hierarchy is helpful but also what are their reasons for being there? Are they volunteers or has attendance been mandated? Is engagement high or tragically low with this group and why is that the case? What are the relationships like within the group – with the leader for example? All of this information will help you prepare and set the tone appropriately.

Really the secret is being there for the audience. Your job is to facilitate, literally make things easier. If you keep in mind that your sole focus is on ensuring that the meeting is productive, respectful and enjoyable then you have done a good job.

And most importantly don’t try to be something that you’re not. If you are quiet and thoughtful then be aware that quiet and thoughtful might be a nice style, but you may have to practise being direct and provide some direction. If your style is more extroverted then you will similarly have to note when to tone that down and play the quiet card.

Think of your audience, drink plenty of water and don’t let things go longer than a couple of hours before you have a break. And whilst we know that this is not heavy manual lifting and physically challenging work, it’s important to look after yourself because it’s tiring. Wear good shoes, your feet will thank you for it.

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



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