What Exactly Are You Facilitating?

I have had a few people ask me about the value of facilitating other people’s workshops. What does that contribute to the grand scheme of things?

What Facilitators do that is visible to participants (that is, stand up in front of a room and guide discussions/give instructions), is probably about 30% of the work of a Facilitator. Another 30% of the time is spent working with the event holders in advance to help them clarify what they want to get out of their session, how they want people to feel at the end of it, what kind of physical outcomes they need for the next step in their process, and how can they structure their inputs to have maximum impact. The good Facilitator guides this inquiry too.

The next 30% block of time is spent actually designing purposeful workshop activities and their sequencing, making decisions about the choreography, group sizes, energy ebbs and flows, and how to capture all that into an agenda for interactivity, creativity and fun. Further discussions with the host team can help everyone share learning and experience about what works in different situations and contexts.

The final 10% of the Facilitator’s time is spent in final details. Do you have your handouts ready? What other materials do you need? What are the segue ways between key activities? What is the opening script? (These are the things that can keep you awake at night.)

The overall goal is not to just to move people around a room for a day. A good Facilitator is a process person with their eye on outcomes and learning – there is reason for every interaction, what is it and how can a process be designed that makes those conversations easier, smoother, and more productive? After all, facilitation comes from the Latin word “facil” which means to make something easy. Good facilitation means making group dialogue, decision-making, information sharing, and learning processes easier and more effective for everyone: your workshop hosts, your participants, and yourself. If you care about your organization, want it to have the greatest possible impact in the world, and learn the most from its daily interactions, then being a facilitator is one good way to help.

1 reply
  1. dormgrandpop
    dormgrandpop says:

    At AU, I have actually succeeded in running events in which speakers stay on schedule, though I know it is more difficult with an outsider. Early in my tenure, I met with offending speakers “Do you know how long your presentation was?” I would ask. “No” would be the reponse. “Twenty seven minutes…! “Do you remember how long it was suppposed to be.? “No..” “Fifteen minutes.” I describe staying on schedule as one of my idisycracies and use the metaphor of presenting on television. When the red light goes off, you are done, no matter where you are on your presentation.;

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