I asked three of the best coaches and facilitators I know to contribute to a list of Facilitation Techniques for people new to facilitating or educating a group and for those that just want a reminder of what works. And their responses were gold. So here is a compiled list of tips on training and facilitation from some of the best in the business.
Firstly, I need to thank Mark Vollmer, Wendy Poyser and Maria Stavrinides for their input. These are the highly experienced trainers and presenters who generously gave their words and insights to this and I truly appreciate their time.
Standing up and presenting anything to a group can be a daunting experience and we’ve written a number of articles on presentation skills. Having to teach, train or facilitate a group, however, requires a different set of specific skills and can take that daunting feeling to a whole other level.
As Mark Vollmer, Principal of InspirePro so perfectly described “Facilitators are the ‘context managers.’ Through their own behaviour, both in and outside the classroom setting, facilitators must create and maintain an environment where each participant can contribute fully.
The facilitator has the key role in a group so that the group accomplishes its goals and tasks. As the dictionary suggests, to facilitate is to make something easier; thus, when done properly, the facilitator eases a group through the process of solving a problem, learning new skills, making a decision, redefining its goals, or restating expectations and responsibilities”.
Wendy Poyser of syncHRonicity Human Resources and I have a long history working together as coaches and facilitators and I have always loved watching her in action. Here’s what she shared handling participants and nerves.
On Nerves: Trust What You Know
Remember that you probably know more about this topic than anybody else in the room right now. You have likely done the research, gathered information, written the presentation and reviewed it more recently than anyone else. So, feel confident and remember that right now “you’re the expert”!
Look like you’re oozing confidence! Stand tall, put your feet shoulder height apart so you don’t sway or lose your balance, and spread your arms. Make sure your arms leave your side at some point in your opening sentence as it makes you look bigger and feel bigger! These small things make you look, and feel, more confident!
A great technique I like is to put the question back to others in the group. When a question is asked say “What do others think?” and allow the group to comment. This allows others to participate and give their views and also buys you some time before adding your own thoughts. Sometimes, the group will answer everything and all you need to do is summarise.
Maria Stavrinides, Principal Consultant at ExecuCoach, is another excellent trainer and facilitator, who I’ve worked with for many years. I am always inspired by her sessions. Here are a few things she likes to do, and highly recommends, for a successful training session.
Get a Visual Create a visual roadmap of the session for yourself. This really helps you navigate where you are at any point in the session.
Give Yourself Time Get to your session nice and early. Check your audiovisual equipment works and take the time to get the room ready for the participants to arrive. This really helps me look confident and control when the first participant walks in the room.
Tell a Story Have a few stories to tell for different parts of your session. storytelling really helps participants connect to the content and remember.
Have a Laugh Be serious about knowing your subject matter, but don’t take yourself too seriously. being able to take time and have a laugh at yourself, helps put people at ease and really shows that you are comfortable about what you know… just make sure you get back on track.
1. Meet Expectations with a Checklist People like to know what’s happening, so emailing your contacts and participants a checklist before and after the session can really help them get and stay on track.
I also have a “Trainer’s Checklist” of my own. It includes every detail that I may need to organise, pack, arrange, request, for any session, before and after. It accounts for all eventualities and if it’s not relevant that’s okay, at least it’s on the list. My checklist starts from the moment the training is booked which could be weeks and months in advance, all the way to months after the workshop to include our Make It Stick program.
2. Calming My Nerves and Controlling the Room I have used this technique for over 17 years of training, facilitation and speaking. Similar to what Maria mentioned earlier, I always arrive at least 30 minutes early to set up the room, technology, my ‘tools’ and props. Sometimes I even change the room around as I like the layout to be good for interaction.
But the best thing about being early is that I get to welcome the participants on arrival. I shake their hands, introduce myself and ask their names. It’s a great way to start building rapport. If it’s a big group then I have 3-4 people that I can make eye contact with. This helps calm those initial adrenalin nerves. In small groups, it’s great to have a connection with the participants. It breaks the ice, keeps them engaged and they are more likely to give you the nods and eye contact you need to get things rolling.
Encouraging interaction early is so valuable and adding a fun icebreaker is my favourite way to do that. I always have an icebreaker, even if it is only a short 20-minute presentation.
3. What to Do When You Don’t Know the Answer I’ve been working in my areas of expertise for nearly two decades and still don’t know everything, and that’s perfectly ok with me because I’m a firm believer that life is an ongoing learning process. Here’s a little trick I use when I don’t have the answer to a question. I call it my secret weapon.
When someone asks a question that I don’t immediately know the answer to, to buy some time to think or to get some inspiration from others in the room I say and ask:
“That’s a great question <Name>, what does everyone else think?” I ask the rest of the group their thoughts and usually the discussion from there can help bring the answer to light. If not and you still don’t know the answer, say so and let the participants know you’ll find out and get back to them.
Over the years I use this question as a technique to get others to participate, so even if I do know the answer I still say: “That’s a great question <Name>, what does everyone else think?” – It really is the best conversation starter and the participant feels rewarded for thinking of a great question. Can you tell Wendy and I worked together? This tip is similar to hers!
Practice! Practice! Practice! The more time you get experience in front of people the better you will get. And practice doesn’t have to look exactly like a group at a training session. It could be you offering advice over a coffee or sharing an insight in a meeting. Small steps count.
As Jeff Olson of The Slight Edge says, “Any time you see what looks like a breakthrough, it is always the end result of a long series of little things, done consistently over time.”