We recently asked four facilitators to share lessons they have learned over the course of their careers. A common theme among the responses was what they wish they’d known when first starting out. Based on these lessons, here are four key takeaways.
1. Let Learners Do the Teaching.
When starting out as a facilitator, one facilitator said, “I thought the most important part of the facilitation experience was my ability to impart wisdom and knowledge on participants. I quickly learned that this approach led to quiet classrooms and less learning than I hoped.” The important task of a good facilitator is to ask the right questions, which lead to participants’ discovering their own wisdom and articulating it for the rest of the team.
When asked how they got participants to share their thoughts and knowledge, the facilitator said, “Don’t be afraid of awkward silences. If you pose a question, never answer it yourself. Let the room feel the silence; someone will step up and answer. At that point, you have conditioned the room to answer your questions and learn from their own experiences.”
Additionally, making it clear that you believe you have things to learn from the participants will increase the likelihood that they will feel more comfortable contributing their ideas, opinions and feedback. Well-crafted, conversational questions generate stronger participation and result in deeper learning than “presenter pontification.”
2. Preparation Is Key.
Participants are more receptive to your message when your introduction includes a couple of specific pieces of information about their team or their upcoming experience. Make sure your approach doesn’t seem like it was designed for any company in the world and has simply been recreated from your standard approach with other groups. Tailoring your conversation and facilitation each time you work with a new group fosters more genuine connections and more relevant takeaways for participants. Spending some time crafting discussion-creating questions will yield stronger learning and participation than time spent writing professorial statements.
3. Encourage Early Participant Interaction.
The facilitators unanimously expressed how vital it is to lay the groundwork for successful back-and-forth interactions. Time and time again, they stressed, “You will be thankful later in the day that you got participants involved early on.” Why? Establishing participant interaction early in the training session will allow you to get a feel for the group dynamic and interact with participants accordingly. By familiarizing yourself with learners’ personalities – who are the dominant and who are the more timid participants, for example – you can purposefully guide the conversation to ensure everyone is contributing and feels comfortable doing so.
4. Let Others Learn From Your Mistakes.
Many of the facilitators expressed the notion that they wished they worried less about being vulnerable and sharing their mistakes when the opportunity presented itself. A common theme was that being open and sharing stories from your past -especially times when you “went down in flames” and what you learned from them – is a good way to build trust with participants.
Put simply, an effective and impactful facilitator focuses on creating an environment that fosters genuine connections and two-way communication through thoughtful preparation, tailored interpersonal communication and vulnerability. Reminding your participants that, above all, you are human and have learned the lessons you are teaching through trial and error makes the end goal feel more achievable for them.