There comes a time in almost everyone’s career where they have to take a big step—run their first meeting, training program or brainstorming session.
As a strategy and execution coach, I spend a significant amount of time facilitating sessions with business leaders. A lot of my background is in teaching—I’ve been a trainer and speaker for most of my career.
When I got started running sessions, frankly, I sucked. My sessions were boring and not terribly interactive.
Think PowerPoint slides. 153 of them. In one session. Yes, that happened. I even bored myself. There’s no need for you to trip over your slide deck!
Here’s a huge stack of tools, tips, tricks to get you started.
Before your session
1. Make sure you know what the problem is you’re working on, and what success looks like.
2. Design your workshop like you would a story. It should flow.
3. Then cut your material in half. Yes, half.
4. Create your agenda and send it to stakeholders.
Pro tip: many Gravitas Impact coaches don’t include set times on the agenda, as it allows the facilitation to flow as needed.
Starting in your session
5. Start with an icebreaker.
From Anthony Taylor: During the introductions, ask people to share a favourite hobby, embarrassing moment or something everyone else doesn’t know about them. That way, the rapport gets increased in the first 10 minutes of the meeting and participants are already becoming a better team.
From Erica Groschler: Everyone sends in something to you about themselves no one knows. Create a sheet with each ‘item’ and people then have to guess who’s who— it’s lots of fun.
6. Get expectations clear from the start. Ask the participants what they’re hoping to get out of the session (e.g. issues to resolve, decisions to make) and write this on a board. You can then ensure the session covers them, or reset expectations from the start.
7. Use music to get the energy up in the room. Think ABBA, not Metallica.
8. Always have a parking lot for off-topic discussions and an action items board up. Use them often.
9. Get people moving. Especially after a break.
During your session
10. Be curious. Then be more curious. Your job is to draw out their expertise, not show yours.
11. Keep fidget toys available. Many people process better when using their hands.
12. Get comfortable with silence. Ask your question and hold the room. Let people process and answer for themselves. Then go back to #9.
13. Do less.
14. Structure your teaching/talking time in less than 10-minute bursts. People need to reset to get attention again. Switching between teaching, videos, activities and Q&A regularly will keep people focused.
15. If you see attention start to stray, shift gears sooner! Ask questions of the group, check in with them, have them do something physical or an activity.
16. Beware the transition! Transitions between topics or exercises can kill the momentum. Find ways to create flow between the parts of your session.
17. Use a calming stop signal. Yelling “STOP” is jarring—but a nice bell or curious sound will capture their attention without stopping their energy.
18. Laugh, and get them to! It relaxes everyone and helps them focus.
19. Break the group up into smaller groups to discuss key items and then share their findings (from Erica Groschler).
20. Lean on your ability to paraphrase.
21. Summarize what’s been said at the end of a dialogue. Allow for the discussion and only intervene if clarification is required.
22. Consider a graphic facilitator to add visual aspect to the session.
23. Have fun!
Closing your session
24. Review your parking lot.
25. Review the action items list so everyone knows what they have to do.
26. Review expectations to ensure all have been met.
27. Ask the group to share 1-2 things they learned.
28. Have them score the meeting (and provide what can be done better). Always have the key stakeholder go last.
Websites and other great resources
29. Mind Tools
Thousands of essential management and leadership tools, exercises and learning snippets (from Anthony Taylor).
30. Liberating Structures
An amazing library (and community) of tools and exercise for facilitators (from Anthony Taylor and Erica Groschler)
31. The Thiagi Group
Facilitation games! Who doesn’t love a good game?!
Great tool for designing your workshops and sessions. Includes a library of 700+ exercises. There’s even a free forever account!
33. First Time Facilitator Podcast
I love this podcast. Leanne Hughes interviews some of the best facilitators and coaches in the world. Check out their Facebook group as well.
34. Workshops Work Podcast
Dr. Myriam Hadnes does a great job of diving into creating powerful, creative workshops.
35. The Workshop Book
Considered the bible of for creating effective workshops.
36. Don’t just do something, stand there! 10 principles for leading meetings that matter.
Whew! That’s quite the list.
Facilitation is a powerful skill, which requires lots of practice to get good at. Once you do though, the rewards are huge. You can watch a room light up, become engaged and collaborate to solve the most complex problems.
What are your favorite tips for facilitating sessions?
Mike Knapp is a strategy & execution super hero with incrementa (un)consulting. He is passionate about helping the leaders become the heroes of their own stories by developing their vision into clear goals and an execution plan do drive their business forward. Connect with Mike.