Great Leadership

How to Become a Better Facilitator

Image of Olivia Hanifan
Olivia Hanifan2023-04-05

People tend to think it is easy to be a facilitator until they are the ones standing up in front of the room (be it online or in person) and suddenly realize that it is far harder than it looks.

Facilitation

What is a facilitator?

Facilitators, in short, wear many hats. A skilled facilitator can greatly impact a group by inspiring, motivating, building teamwork, and in turn, achieving organizational success. They make things easier for the group as a whole and help them work towards the goal of the meeting or help them stick to the meeting agenda. 

Organizations need excellent facilitators to coordinate groups, resolve conflicts or handle a wide variety of situations, regardless of their complexity. Team members will be the primary contributors, and it is the facilitator that is there to encourage this participation, moderate it, and ensure that every single person can have their say and take part. 

What’s the role of a facilitator?

Simply put, a facilitator aims to let the group achieve its goals by providing them with the best situation to do so. 

The goal of a facilitator is to see a group reach its goal and stay on track. Not to define the outcome, to influence the result, or to influence the end product. Their role is advisory and in the background.

Someone running, or leading a meeting, will try to work towards a set goal or objective, steer the group in that direction, and work together to achieve it. 

They will probably contribute, take a more active role, and help steer discussions, conversations, and activities in a direction of their choosing.

How to become a good meeting facilitator 

To be an effective facilitator, you must take inspiration from those around you who expertly played the role and those who are a vital cog in the process while working away in the background. 

There are a series of traits that will link these people together. As we mentioned earlier, the skills of a capable facilitator are similar to those of an adept project manager. 

  1. Active listening
  2. Interested
  3. Authenticity
  4. Impartiality
  5. Tone setter
  6. Patience
  7. Organization

Now let's dive in a bit more in-depth into each of these skills, traits, and characteristics.  

Practice and preach active listening

Listening is a key characteristic of any facilitator, and it’s an indispensable one that you must work to develop. Both being able to listen to others and encouraging others to listen to one another is equally as important. 

A facilitator needs to be able to actively listen to their group and understand what they are trying to say. Paraphrasing, summing up, or using other active listening techniques are great ways to fully grasp and gauge the meaning of what people are saying. 

This active listening exercise can help to create this atmosphere and encourage participants to buy into the importance of active listening.

Active Listening Exercise

Active Listening Exercise

This active listening exercise can help to create this atmosphere and encourage participants to buy into the importance of active listening.

Ask questions 

Asking questions is one of the best ways to spark discussions, debates, and collaborative thinking. The facilitator does not want to simply talk to the group and constantly tell them what to do, what to think, and to opine their own opinion. 

Asking open-ended questions that can initiate discussions that lead to solutions in a way that is much more valuable to everyone involved. 

You must also know how to probe respectfully, firstly to get people out of their comfort zones, but also to encourage participants to delve deeper into their thoughts to get more out of the meeting. 

Curiosity may have killed the cat but it can also be the best way to gather insights. 

Be authentic 

People will soon tune out, disengage, and not trust what you are saying if you are, or come across as, insincere. Being authentic will help you connect with and better relate to the participants. To be an authentic facilitator, you must create a safe space within which individuals are encouraged to open up and express themselves without fear or hesitancy. 

Stay impartial

You don’t want to push your views onto others, instead, you want to create a forum where people can freely discuss and express themselves, allowing problems to be solved and decisions to be made. 

It also goes without saying that treating all participants as equals will ensure that you maintain honest and open-minded conversations. It will be crystal clear to participants if the facilitator is trying to steer the conversation and push their own agendas or views onto the group. 

Set the tone 

You need to know what kind of energy they need to bring to the table, how to channel it, and how to get the group to sing from the same hymn sheet as it were. This requires you to read the room, understand the meeting attendees, understand the objectives of the group, and adapt when necessary.

A good facilitator can help to inspire, encourage, and motivate the group to provoke solutions and creative ideas if there is a brainstorming exercise or bring the energy back down if a serious discussion needs to be had. 

Be patient 

As they say, patience is indeed a virtue and it is a fundamental trait when it comes to facilitating. Staying calm during discussions or when things get heated is important to limit any tensions or situations before they occur. Body language will play a very important part here.

Whether it be technical or process issues, things just don’t always go how you thought they would. You need to ensure they are patient and resolve the issue by encouraging dialogues and introducing different questions to the group as the purpose or plan changes and adapts. 

Build a maintain good structure

This is an interesting trait and applies both to the time spent in the meeting and to the planning time before the meeting even kicks off. Preparatory work can go a long way to improving the flow of a brainstorming session, a workshop, a seminar, or any kind of meeting. 

Plan out how what activities you will do, how long each will take, and what you can do to best aid the group. Also, be sure to steer conversations in a constructive direction and avoid unnecessary debate or conflict. 

Another idea could be to ensure that someone takes meeting notes for future reference. 

What is the difference between facilitating and running or leading a meeting?

Many of you will probably be wondering this and it’s certainly a question worth asking and one worth trying to answer. Simply put, a facilitator aims to let the group achieve their goals by providing them with the best situation to do so. The goal of a facilitator is to see a group reach its goal. Not to define the outcome, to influence the result, or to influence the end product. Their role is advisory and in the background.

A person running, or leading a meeting, will try to work towards a set goal or objective, steer the group in that direction, and work together to achieve it. They will probably contribute, take a more active role, and help steer discussions, conversations, and activities in a direction of their choosing. 

Why not make it easier on yourself?

Becoming a good facilitator can be done with some work and some self-reflection. But there are a handful of ways you can make facilitating meetings easier - no matter if you are a rookie or an experienced vet! Mentimeter is designed to encourage audience participation, gather questions, generate ideas, and ensure that no voice in the room is unheard.

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