“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” ― Pablo Picasso
As facilitators, we always thrive to make our session great. We each have our own style and unique flavor that we bring to the workshop, to make it engaging, impactful and memorable. I cannot teach you to be me. There are, however, a few elements that all good facilitators have in common. To be great, we can treat these elements like a checklist of things that need to be taken into consideration.
Here are some tips that have helped me prepare to deliver great sessions.
Tip No. 1 – Preparation. Preparation. Preparation.
Preparation is the key to any facilitation. You could never over prepare! Why? Although you may be familiar and even comfortable with a topic, the audience is different each time – their expectations, their learning styles, their level of expertise, their engagement levels are all unique to each set.
Therefore, while there will always be things that you can replicate across different audiences, each experience must be treated as unique and fresh. When a facilitator is not fully prepared for the session, we naturally face some level of nervousness, and the audience WILL sense this.
Before every session, it is important to spend some time in reflection of past facilitation experiences – what went right, what went wrong, and what needs to be done differently. Most importantly, visualize how you want your next the session to be. This will help you to come across as a well-prepared facilitator.
If you are able to research and understand your audience before the session, it’s a tool in your arsenal that should definitely be leveraged. We don’t always get this opportunity, so when we do, it’s important to make the most of it. This simple activity, while time consuming, adds great value to the facilitation experience, as well as hones one’s skills as a facilitator; Because all good facilitators know that great facilitation is more than just having subject-matter-expertise.
Tip No. 2 – Be Confident.
A master facilitator once told me – “it’s all about showmanship”. In other words, great facilitation is about how you drive and deliver the learning experience and the value you bring to the learners. When you are confident, you have control over the audiences, to influence them, to motivate them, to persuade them and ultimately convince them to believe in themselves.
When you are confident, you invoke confidence in your learners. This confidence doesn’t come from the presentation slides, facilitator notes and content material you use. It goes far beyond that. Confidence comes with relentless preparation. Therefore, when you are not prepared, you are not confident.
How do you increase your confidence? Research beyond the content of your workshop – read the company website and annual report, and understand your audience, their roles and expectations (if you know in advance who they are). When you have more depth and insights to give to your audience than what’s on the slide, you will come across as an experienced facilitator and participants will be convinced by you.
If all else fails, ‘fake it till you make it’. So long as you ‘BELIEVE’ that you are confident, even if you don’t entirely feel it, the audience will believe that you are confident as well. That’s the hallmark of a great showman – never letting their audience know exactly what’s going on inside their heads.
Tip No. 3 – Engage with the Participants.
Some facilitators are great presenters. They have done their preparation and appear very confident but fail to connect with the audience. Facilitation is all about the audience, not the facilitator. Therefore, missing out on the opportunity to connect with your audience means that you fail to develop the sense of belonging and community amongst your participants, which are important for peer interaction and social learning.
Although a crucial activity, it doesn’t take much to connect with your audiences. Keep good eye contact, call your participants by their names and be a good listener when they are talking. Engage each one of them whether they are sitting in the front or last row. In this way, participants will feel included and will be open and receptive to you and others in the group.
Tip No. 4 – Good Time Management.
In facilitation, timing is key. This includes being on time, whether it is at the start of the day or with breaks. Arrive early, start and conclude your session on time, and cover the agenda within the stipulated time. Remember that the participants are mentally prepared for the agenda. You might be a great facilitator and your topic could be the most interesting but if you do not manage your time well, you will lose their attention. Good time management builds respect and rapport with the participants, and shows them that they are valued, that you are here to help them learn and develop their skills and not just go through the agenda like a checklist activity.
Tip No. 5 – Be Passionate.
There are things we do to get a check on the box and there are things we do with our whole heart. Training is something that needs to be done with passion. Facilitation can be challenging and tiring, and quite often repetitive as well. But it is important for facilitators to have great stamina – not just physically but also mentally. Every session, even if you are delivering it for the millionth time, should appear as if it were your first one.
So, it is important that we love what we do and feel good about it so that we can bring value to the organization. Think about why you came into this field. Think about why you do what you do. The immense impact that you are making to the learning workforce. Reflect on it and continuously learn to be a better facilitator. At the end of the day, being a great facilitator is a labor of love and unending passion.