Ever had the experience of standing in front of a group and thinking, “Get me out of here”?
I have. That day I’d tried everything to bring the group back in line with the direction of the workshop, but nothing was working. It was then that I understood the desperation I sometimes see on the faces of presenters, speakers and facilitators when it dawns on them that they have lost the people they are standing in front of.
Being a rescuer by nature, I always want to leap from my chair and help when it happens to someone else. This is why I created an ‘Emergency Toolkit for Facilitators’, to help them when they find themselves in tough situations. But the best plan is to set things up so that you don’t need any emergency tools.
This article should help you do that. Whether you are pitching, chairing, training, speaking or facilitating, a few facilitation tricks will really help make your facilitation job easier and delight those in the room.
So, what facilitation tricks will help to make a group work well?
1. SET JOINT EXPECTATIONS AND TAKE JOINT RESPONSIBILITY TO MEET THEM.
Whatever session you are in, it won’t work unless you have clarity about your expectations and that of the group. Whatever the size of the group, you may want to ask them to turn to the person next to them to discuss before answering.
If you are a speaker in front of hundreds of people, you can throw questions to the audience, asking people to raise their hands about why they are there. Questions like:
- Who is here to work out how to [x]?
- Who is here because they’ve tried [x] before and it hasn’t worked?
- Who is here to gather some tips and tricks to [x]?
If you are in a smaller group, you can ask more detailed questions and receive some spoken feedback briefly. My favourite line is this:
- “When you walk out of here and look back into the room, what will be the best thing that could have happened?” I then say, “Your time is precious, and I want this to be a really good use of your time. So write down what you want to achieve, and be part of making it happen.”
It’s a winner every time.
2. BALANCE YOUR NEEDS, THE NEEDS OF THE AUDIENCE AND THE CONTENT NEEDS TO GET GREAT OUTCOMES.
This is the most fundamental challenge with the easiest solution:
Stay in the centre of the triangle of self, audience and content.
At risk of sounding like a hipster, all that is needed is giving yourself the chance to notice, to breathe, and to refocus.
If you are too caught up in yourself, how you are coming across, you can’t meet the needs of the audience and do the content justice. If the audience is your focus, you might lose track of how you are coming across and pay too little attention to the content. And if you are too governed by the content, you may not realise how you are coming across or notice what the audience is thinking.
- Then make sure you are firmly in the middle of the three once again.
3. CREATE CLARITY, CONFIDENCE AND COMMITMENT FOR YOURSELF AND THE AUDIENCE.
You’ll get nowhere unless you know what you want the outcomes to be. Set a clear direction, instil confidence in your audience that you will get there, and then commit to moving in that direction with everyone in the room. Interestingly, when you show that commitment, you win the confidence of the audience, and they have clarity about the goals. So, it works both ways, or you can think of it as cyclical.
Commit to your goals and to the timeframes you have planned:
- Start on time.
- End on time.
- Only take as long in each exercise as you told the group you would.
This builds confidence and improves the clarity of the purpose of the event.
USE THE SAME PATTERN FOR EVERY EVENT.
To make these three facilitation tricks work, try this pattern that works in just about any setting:
- Tell people what the session is about.
- Ask a question; find out what they want. Yes, you’ve already told them, but their answers to what they want will help to make the session more nuanced in meeting their needs.
The main part of the session.
- Meet their expectations.
- Stay focused and hold the space well while focusing on the subject at hand.
The conclusion, which has two parts.
- Check with them; find out how it went and what else is needed as a follow-up.
- Confirm the outcomes and the way forward.
Do just that and don’t miss a piece. You will find that people really do feel that their time was well spent and that their expectations have been met. And that’s the outcome you want.