As a facilitator, I’ve developed my own approach to managing a group, topic, and space. I see this as the mark of a professional. I also recognize that it is the trap of repetition. Every once in awhile, I appreciate the opportunity to sit in a classroom as a participant. I find I learn so much from these experiences, both from observing different styles and facilitation techniques and from tuning in to my own reactions. What works for me and gets me excited about the material? What turns me off or makes me want to jump up and take over the presentation?

When I reflect on these experiences, the difference between good and bad facilitation is all in the basics. In a past post, I started a list of Top 10 Facilitation Basics that I really appreciate. Here are the next five, plus a bonus!

  1. Use timers and sound effects as boundaries on small group work. Help participants manage their time by telling them how much of it they will have to complete a task or discussion. Time checks are helpful as the deadline approaches. If you can give them a stop watch for their table, even better. When bringing the time to a close, I prefer a gong or sound effect. It’s fun and feels more respectful than shouting “yoo hoo” or “excuse me” to a room of adults.
  2. Include stories, thoughtfully. The first time I was really challenged to plan storytelling for facilitation was during certification practice for DDI programs. I remember sitting in the hotel room between days of training and thinking through past leadership and communication challenges to pick the best story to illustrate the lesson. As facilitators, we rely heavily on our own stories and invite participants to share their own. I know it’s become easy for me to rely on the same old stories or even pluck one from my memory at the spur of the moment. I have to question whether this has the same impact as a carefully crafted narrative that is specific to the situation at hand. One of the biggest “opportunities” for facilitators is more customized preparation. Selecting thoughtful stories is no different.
  3. Get people up and moving. Much of my facilitation experience has been working with physically active populations in the retail and manufacturing industries. These are folks who have taken on jobs requiring them to be on their feet eight, ten, or even twelve hours a day. And they’re good at it. God forbid I make them sit in a chair all day. And why should they? Whether it’s building a tower out of paper tubes, gathering around a flip chart, or taking a laughter yoga break… a little movement keeps everyone awake and engaged. And provides an opportunity for direct skill demonstration, beyond writing and speaking.
  4. Provide handouts. The fastest way to produce an outline handout for your facilitation is by using the notes tool in PowerPoint. If you are not relying on PP or want to streamline your handouts, think about what would be most helpful for your participants. Is there a one-page job aid that they can use during the session and take with them? Can you provide high-level notes and journaling space in a small packet for those who like to be able to see what’s coming up? These kinds of handouts are especially helpful if you don’t have space to post reference guides statically throughout the entire event.
  5. Utilize questionnaires. Surveys and questionnaires comprise a big category, but there are two ways to use these that I’ll focus on briefly. First, you can use a pre-work questionnaire to get participants thinking about their experiences with a topic, prime them for activities, and gather info about your audience. Secondly, questionnaires can be used when introducing topics related to style or personality. If the participants identify with one of the identities in the model, they can make the learning much more relevant once they leave the workshop.

Like these basics? Get back to more of them with the first five Facilitation Basics.

And if you’re wondering about that bonus I promised, I’ll share that right now.

BONUS: Good facilitators get out of the way. Regardless of your expertise, the true test of any learning event is future application by participants — and ultimately results! Don’t forget to put yourself in the mindset of the participant. They are attending your session for a reason. What is the most streamlined, efficient, and elegant way for you to bring the right information and experiences into the room so that the participants learn what they need for themselves?

Now back to the training room. Maybe I’ll be the one in the back of the room cracking jokes while trying to build a tower out of paper tubes.

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