20 strategies for successful facilitation

Groups need to be alive

The art of facilitation is complex. Have you ever found yourself running late, not having things properly prepared, or you don’t have a good feel for the content. I think we have all had that experience. We struggle through the session and at the end dissatisfied with our performance. We are often relieved it is finally over. Over the past 30 years I have found the following ideas most helpful in keeping myself in the room and enjoying the experience:

  1. Appear but more importantly, be prepared – know what topics come next without having to look at your notes. Know where your resources are. One way to manage this is to draw on a flipchart a map of the session. Be creative – in one training we used a journey metaphor so each day it was modes of transport from trains to air balloons.
  2. Have a clear flow for the session which helps to appear organised – Tell them what you’re going to tell them and then tell them what you’ve told them! Remind participants regularly about where you are in the session, what you have covered so far and what you still have to cover.
  3. Speak confidently – use positive rather than hesitant language, e.g. “You will find” rather than “you should find.”
  4. Start on time – whether everyone is there or not, start on time. Otherwise we penalise those who made the effort to be on time and reward those who are late. Everyone’s time is valuable. Set the expectation that you will keep to start times and break times. Time slippage often occurs around break time so keep this sharp.
  5. Finish on time – people may have arranged activities after the session so don’t have them sitting anxiously wondering when the session will finish.
  6. Give time at the end for a solid wrap-up – reflecting upon the session bridges to out of session consolidation tasks. Reflection is an important part of any learning/understanding and we are
  7. Schedule breaks – Everybody may not be as fascinated in the topic as we are. Even the most interested participant can only concentrate for so long. We need to let people stretch and move around.
  8. Make breaks count – send participants to the break with a question to ponder. While they might not consciously attend to the questions, their sub-conscious will continue to work away in the background.
  9. Avoid distracting habits – getting rid of distracting habits and mannerisms (fidgeting, jingling change, saying “um” and “ah” etc.) can enhance the effectiveness of your facilitation.
  10. Admit mistakes – as facilitators, we’re not perfect; we make mistakes and we don’t have all the answers. When we make a mistake just admit it. This is about integrity. Group members are very forgiving of our humanness.
  11. Always be positive – being in group is an opportunity to deepen understanding, learn new skills and often discover things about ourselves that are really interesting. By having a positive attitude (not over the top) we bring an energy for discovery into the room.
  12. Believe in what you are doing – we are easily found out. When we don’t believe in what we are doing our body language will tell others loud and clear. Find something in the content that you do believe in, even if there are issues with some aspects.
  13. Find out what drives the person and adapt to this – a key question I often ask is, “What interests you in this issue?” This generates wondering and front-end buy-in to the issue.
  14. Always follow the process – the minute you go ‘off-road’ you run the risk of going into territory that might be uncharted or where you haven’t thought through answers to questions that might emerge. You also haven’t delivered the content so this then impacts upon the integrity of what you are delivering.
  15. Don’t give incorrect information – you don’t have to be the expert, so it’s ok not to know – and say so. Tell the group you will find out and get back to them.
  16. If the participant asks something you don’t know either refer to the manual or ring someone else. There might be someone else in the room that has the information – give them the opportunity to talk to it.
  17. Keep your sessions moving – don’t let it drag. Like driving a car, the skill of facilitation is to know when to slow down, when to speed up and when to overtake (safely of course!).
  18. Control discussion – I find this is best by using a number of clear process questions that can ensure discussion remains focussed upon the topic at hand. Rather than, “What do you make of this?” I would ask, “What two things you like and two things you dislike about this? Note starting with a positive frame first.
  19. Look for better ways to get the message across, but – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. There is always better ways to get our ideas across to our group participants.
  20. Prepare everything and check it before you start – sounds obvious but you would be surprised what can go wrong. On one trip I flew into a small town in Queensland, Australia to run a session and when I turned on my datashow, it blew up. Did I have a back-up datashow? No. Did I do a great session? Yes. I had thought of many ways to present the information that did not rely upon one medium.

These are my ideas. I am sure you have plenty. Love to hear your ideas.

Published on Saturday, February 25th, 2012, under Learning & development, Practice tips and techniques

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