Here’s my top tips on how you can go from facilitator zero to hero

It is important to keep your facilitator game face on throughout the match. Stock image

Gina London

This past week, I travelled to one of my favourite cities in the world, Paris. It was a brief visit. One moment I was basking in the shadow of Saint-Augustin church near the small, but powerful, statue of Joan of Arc as I sat outside a bistro enjoying a steak onglet with Roquefort sauce. The next moment I was working with a team of executives committed to delivering an upcoming workshop on change management.

My job was to help them become more effective facilitators so they, in turn, could encourage their teams to understand, embrace and amplify a transformation.

And, now, to help you the next time you’re asked to facilitate, here are some top tips:

Set the energy in the room Learning and development professionals talk about “reducing the friction” in an engagement. In other words, how do you lessen the resistance to whatever information you are about to share? As the facilitator you have the power to lift or drain the atmosphere of the occasion. Your participants are gauging your enthusiasm on the subject matter. If you don’t bring a passion, how are they to feel engaged about the subject themselves?

Focus less about being informative and more about being transformative. The way that you introduce yourself and show excitement about what they are about to learn or discuss, can move the entire event into a more positive and interesting place.

Understanding your role as a facilitator is the first step towards making an enjoyable, and dare I say, even fun experience.

Volunteers and ‘voluntolds’

As the word “facilitator” implies, your role as the leader of this engagement is to help generate and moderate discussion among participants. If you find yourself lecturing or monologuing, you are not facilitating.

You have likely tried pausing every few minutes from the topic you are leading to ask someone to share their experience or their interpretation of the topic. But what if the only response you receive is silence?

I like to let my audience know right away that they’re expected to engage. I explain I’ll be asking for volunteers, but that I have also taken the liberty of putting everyone’s name in a hat and will draw a name at random if I don’t get a volunteer by the count of three. As you see from the subheading, I refer to these folks as my “volunteers” and well, “volun-tolds”. This (usually) gets a laugh and helps set the tone for a positive and upbeat event. Do not underestimate this playful gesture and other gamification tools as powerful methods to increase and expand contributions.

Don’t take a negative comment personally

Sometimes the topic can spark opposing views or challenges or even outright resistance. These are tricky, but not unnavigable, waters.

As much as you can, try to get to the root of the disagreement or challenge in a calm and reasonable way. Don’t show personal offence.

When I am challenged, I often immediately stop and ask if someone else in the room has a different point of view.

Typically, you’ll find some champions of change in the room who can provide balance. And while the conversation may become livelier, that’s OK. As long as it keeps moving forward.

If you feel you are getting a full-blown mutiny on your hands, however, I encourage you to call for a pause and seek a previous point of agreement or foundational purpose from which you can begin to rebuild.

Support your co-facilitators

As in any team presentation, a facilitated event with multiple presenters needs to have alliance. This means, when a colleague is speaking, the other facilitators, even if they are not in the front of the room, need to look supportive and engaged.

I encourage my clients to “turn on their facilitator light” from the moment the first participant may greet them, until after they have left the building at the end of the event. Only then if you are frustrated or fatigued, do you let it show. Keep your facilitator game face on throughout the match.

Even during the coffee break or lunch, your participants are still looking to you. Keep your facilitator awareness heightened because you can still be guiding and leading during these moments to affect positive outcomes.

This is an area that is often overlooked in many group dynamic situations and can make the difference between a positive or negative result.

Remember, the participants are watching for signals as to how they should be feeling about the topic you are facilitating. If you look checked out or frustrated or exasperated, they will pick up on this.

Start strong, end strong

The key to successful facilitation is heightened awareness of your energy and the energy of those in the room. If the energy or the positivity is dropping, do not let that fester.

Take a moment and have people stand up or have them shake things off. Tell a joke. But break the tension.

Like that famous statue in Paris, small tips can still pack a punch. And I share them, because unlike that heroine, I want to prevent you as a facilitator from getting burned.

Tip of the communicator hat

To one of my clients who added an important line at the end of her signature on emails: “My working hours may be different from yours so please do not feel obliged to reply outside your normal working hours.”

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