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Friday, May 5, 2017

5 Facilitation Tips

I don't normally write about what I do for a living here, but I'll make this exception.  

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What's the difference between "training", "teaching" and "facilitating"?  Well for me, the first two are more or less subsets of the third (facilitating).  Specifically, much of the professional work that I've done with other adults, be it in a classroom, conference room or webinar, is for the most part actually facilitation, although there may be a teaching (or training) element to that facilitation.  That’s an important distinction, by the way, one that separates the amateurs from the professionals in the business of learning.  

Anyway, for your enjoyment, here are my “Top 5 Facilitation Tips”.

1.     Have Fun.  One of your first and primary objectives should be to entertain and engage yourself.  If you do that…if you have fun…then it’s far more likely that the people in the audience will be engaged and have fun as well.  “Fun”, by the way, is serious business, as it helps to create natural connections in the human brain*.  Just remember to always avoid anything that might be perceived as insensitive or (even worse) offensive.  Also, be exceptionally careful with sarcasm (to the point of, well, not using it), as it is very easily misunderstood by others in attendance.
2.     Be Conversational.  As learners, adults want to be acknowledged for their knowledge, experience, and expertise.  Talking “at” them effectively shuts that out; talking “with” them, in a way that encourage dialogue between you and with other attendees, provides that acknowledgment (and much more).
3.     Look for Non-Verbal Cues.  Your audience is always communicating with you, even when they aren’t actually speaking.  What’s the level of eye contact in the room?  What are the facial expressions when you are speaking?  How are people sitting in their chairs...leaning forward or falling back?  All of these things, and more, provide you with a stream of real-time feedback on your effectiveness as a facilitator.  Use that feedback data to adjust your delivery on the fly.
4.     Move Around.  This is the physicality associated with #2.  It’s easy to hide behind objects like podiums, especially if you are self-conscious (as I am), but such things create a very real physical distance and barrier between you and the audience.  Instead, and at a minimum, make it a point to move around the room during the event.  Sometimes “moving around” will just be within the confines of the front of the room.  Sometimes you may actually want to speak from the back of the room, especially if there is something being projected that requires the undivided attention of the audience.  Mostly, though, be intentional in how you are physically present in the room.  There's a fine line between engagement movement and, well, flitting around aimlessly.  In point of fact, nothing you do as a facilitator should be aimless.
5.     Always, Always, Always (and Always) Arrive Early.  Become intimately familiar with the space you are working in, well before the event starts.  Find out how your voice will sound in the room.  Re-arrange desks, chairs, etc. to create an optimal environment for the audience.  Sit in a couple of's the view?  Remove anything that might distract from your event.  Make sure that there's nothing to trip you up (physically...see #4).  Test all of the equipment beforehand.  What does any of this have to do with facilitation?  A ton actually:  Your focus and presence is essential, which is something you will lose if logistical problems unexpectedly arise. 

(*“Brain research suggests that fun is not just beneficial to learning but, by many reports, required for authentic learning and long-term memory”.  Citations HERE and HERE.

In short, be present, be intentional, look for the feedback you will receive (in real time), and have fun.   That sounds far simpler than it actually is, and in fact, you can spend a lifetime practicing these skills.  Daunting?  Absolutely not, as most professional skills are far less about achievement and more about continuous development anyway.  Like life itself, this is less about a destination and more about a journey.  

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