Tips to Help You Become a Better Facilitator or Ways to Help You Choose a Good Facilitator
Are you tasked with facilitating a meeting and want to take your skills up a notch? Or are you planning to hire a facilitator and want to know how to best evaluate their abilities? Would you like to know how these professionals can make your meeting or event a smashing success? As a member of the International Association of Facilitators, I’ve put together a list of tips to help you prepare for your team-building, strategic planning, partnering session, sales/marketing summit or retreat.
- Create an agenda coordinated with your organization’s leadership. Be sure to note times for breaks, lunch, dinner, social hour, etc. Put a copy of it in your program folder.
- Ask the organization’s leadership if there are changes occurring within the organization that could be a topic of negative discussion during the event. Also ask if there are participants who may need stronger guidance than others. This will prepare you to handle them differently.
- Ask if participants would be open to being interviewed in preparation for the session. State the interview will be brief – only 15 minutes or so. Create questions and run those by the leader(s) for approval.
- Create a bio and put it in the program folder to instill confidence that participants are in good hands. Also put a Feedback Form in the folder to gather input for yourself and/or your organization’s leadership.
- Avoid setting up the room with a U-shape configuration. It isolates participants and makes dialogue challenging. Use a classroom style in a V-shape or a circle.
- Ensure there is a notepad and pen at each seat laid out in a consistent pattern.
- Make sure everyone introduces themselves. Don’t assume everyone knows each other even though they are from the same team or organization. Consider an icebreaker where everyone will ask, “What is something you don’t know about me?”
- Ask participants to share something about themselves, such as: city/town where they grew up, their pet, favorite hobby/sport, big accomplishment this past year, place they’d like to take a trip/vacation.
- Introduce yourself last using the same criteria as your participants, but adding your experience as a facilitator.
- Make it clear you are there as a guide to help your organization reach designated goals, build confidence and increase collaboration among participants. You are not there as a trainer (per se) or a public speaker.
- Clarify meeting norms about how they are to treat one another. Ask for input if they want to add something you’ve overlooked. Don’t hesitate to ask for an example of “what that would look like” so everyone is clear and you can avoid vague expectations.
- Explain the “Parking Lot” tool to channel questions/issues that should be saved for later but not forgotten. The Parking Lot looks exactly like that with empty spaces to write a description of the questions/comments to be addressed before a break, lunch or the end of the day.
- Ask participants for feedback on what goals would they like to achieve during the session, then add any others identified by the organization’s leadership that weren’t brought up.
Once the Session Starts:
- When breaking participants up into groups for sessions, have them count off by 3, 4, or 5 so you avoid groups being made up of their usual buddies. This will encourage variety in their dialogue and outcomes. Of course this will depend how many participants you have and to avoid the groups becoming too large. You want participation from everyone and sometimes too many in a group will allow people to “hide” and avoid providing input.
- Early on, identify those who are reserved and hesitant to speak up. Draw them out by asking a question and then request they and a few others provide input, one by one. This will avoid making them feel like they’ve been singled out. You want to avoid embarrassing them by putting them on the hot seat by themselves.
- Keep the energy going by involving the group or individuals every 8 minutes or less. This is not our show as facilitators. It is primarily a forum for dialogue, collaboration and problem solving.
- When breaking the groups up to answer questions, write the questions on the flip chart/white board so they can refer to them during discussion. You can also write the questions on a handout which you’ll pass out allowing space to note their answers.
- Be sure to tell people specifically how long they will be on break or working in groups, then stick to it as much as possible. Give them a few minutes warning to alert them to when they will reconvene.
- Be open to the need to go “off script” especially if discussion gets contentious. It’s not always a bad thing for participants to disagree, but you will know when dialogue gets too heated. Remind all parties involved to critique the problem, not the person. If need be remind all parties of the norms everyone agree to early on and ask how they could better work through the situation.
- Exude confidence, compassion, collaboration, cooperation and flexibility.
- If you have a participant who tries to monopolize the conversation, look for an opportunity to thank them publicly for their input. Then at the next break, explain that some people in the group are hesitant to speak up and you are trying to achieve successful outcomes for everyone. You sure would appreciate it if he/she would help you out by giving others the opportunity to speak up. You want to make them your partner in this effort.
- Once in a while you will find a participant who is obnoxious, disrespectful and disruptive. If they don’t respond to a gentle request to abide by the meeting norms of behavior, then put the group on break and ask your organization’s leadership if they could speak with the individual off-line or give you permission to discuss it with them. Let them know that if the person will not cooperate, you will need to ask the disruptive person to leave the meeting.
- Give participants an opportunity to “echo back” any key points of dialogue that arose from the group setting.
- At the end of the session, ask participants to share any key concepts, insights or agreements they discovered during the day. Make sure this question is also on your Feedback Form. You’ve primed the pump, so to speak, by asking them to answer the question in advance.
- Other questions you may want to add to your Feedback Form include:
- What do you wish we had time to cover more of during our session?
- If you could change anything from today’s session, what would it be?
Being a Facilitator is a most rewarding role. You will gain a deeper understanding of interpersonal communication, how to problem solve and inspire collaboration. If you have further questions about facilitation or wish to discuss hiring a facilitator (like yours truly), I’d be happy to answer your questions. Please contact me at your convenience.
For another great resource, check out the International Association of Facilitators.