Facilitation Essentials

What follows is a collection of learnings gained from practising facilitation since the late 90s. Thanks to Gunner at Aspiration for his ongoing contributions and those who have joined me in learning about facilitation at places like MozFest, RightsCon and The Session Design Lab

Improve your training and facilitation skills at The Session Design Lab

A facilitator aims to surface the unique knowledge and experience of the individuals gathered for the session. The role of a facilitator is to enable peer sharing of knowledge. Overall, the primary function of a facilitator is to keep discussions fruitful and focused. A good facilitator will focus on making the experience:

  • Participatory: Engaging and activating participants from the beginning and getting them to make and do rather than listen and watch.
  • Purposeful: Working on meaningful activities toward meaningful outputs
  • Productive: Well-scoped for participants to achieve concrete outcomes, and time was well spent.

Empower your participants and set them up for success.

  • Design sessions to be flexible and serve the participants’ needs.
  •  Meet them where they are when they walk into the room. Make sure they will be able to do what you’re asking them to do.
  •  Provide clear and understandable instructions. Ensure their energy goes into completing the task rather than understanding it.
  • Signpost the journey – Ensure they understand where they are going and where they’ve been. “Tell’em what they are going to do. Tell ’em they are doing it. Tell ’em they did it”. Refer to your agenda as you go along. And let them know where they are.
  • Appreciate them. 

Design to strengthen community and build solidarity.

  • Provide lots of opportunities for your participants to connect meaningfully. 
  • Be aware of existing power dynamics and ways to circumvent them.
  • Err on maximising the number of small group breakouts (Early and Often) and minimising large group discussion. Keep your group sizes small to provide a level of intimacy and trust. Above four or five people, people will start to disengage. 
  •  Provide and encourage participants with ways to connect after the session.

Know your limits and capacity.

  • When more than 16 individuals attend a session, it’s more challenging for me. My limit is about 24, and I’ll get a co-facilitator if it’s above that.
    •  Facilitating three hours online with a break will exhaust me.- 7 hours face-to-face – with a fat lunch break is also a limit. 
  • The ability to read the room strengthens over time. 
  • Rehearse! Be comfortable with what you need to say.  
  • Accept that it won’t be perfect, and strive to learn during each session. Ask: ‘How could that have been better?’ after every session. 

Further Resources