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Facilitator Guide


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Tips and ideas to improve your facilitation skills:   

1. Facilitator Guide: Handbook of facilitation skills

2. Brainstorming: Tap the best thinking of a group

3. Discussion Tips: Strategies to conduct lively discussion

4. Evaluation Form: A three-aspect evaluation form

5. Visual Aids: Common sense tips for effective visual aid use 

Facilitator Guide: Table of Contents  

Author: Tom Siebold                   

Facilitator Defined   A facilitator is literally defined as “one who helps others learn or who helps make things easy.”  A business facilitator helps participants to collaborate as they explore a topic or issue.  The goal is to encourage participants to think productively and ultimately to articulate key ideas, to ask vital questions, to uncover variables, to find solutions, and/or to identify productive actions.  The facilitator may or may not be a content expert.  The word Trainer is often used interchangeably with facilitator, but the trainer usually connotes a facilitator who has content expertise.  Both facilitators and trainers must understand how adults learn and how to draw out the best thinking of a group. 

Facilitators Code   As you build a learning event or a meeting, make sure that it meets “facilitators’ code.”  In other words, "How well does your intended approach match with adult learning theory?"  As you build your training, assess your approach against the questions that follow:

1.   Are you allowing your participants to be active learners?  This means that you provide the raw material for them to build learning constructs, to solve problems, and to discover and explore new learning.

2.   Do you articulate a clear purpose for learning—both the overall goals as well as individual activity objectives?

3.   Do your lessons and activities connect with the groups experience and shared responsibilities?  Can you articulate this?

4.   Have you included a vehicle for participants to express their concerns?

5.   Have you allowed for different learning styles?

6.   Do you draw upon the expertise of the group?

7.   Have you clarified how the learning will help the participants in their jobs?

8.   Does your material challenge their thinking and encourage them to envision new ways of seeing things?

9.   Have you built in time for reflection and self-assessment?

10.  Have you allowed adequate time for participants to share their learning with each other?

11.  Are you sure that you and the participants share a common language that defines and delineates the topic at hand?

12.  Do you use strategies to include all participants in the learning?


Three Dimensions of the Facilitator’s Role   The business facilitator’s role includes three general dimensions:

·      To help the group move toward specified goals or outcomes

·      To initiate, sustain, and assess a group process that is efficient and collaborative

·      To involve all participants and reaffirm their contributions

Effective Training Characteristics   What does effective training look like?  Below are some characteristics of learning events that have an impact:

1.   Research based and rooted in adult learning theory

2.   Integrated into the organization’s goals and values

3.   Includes a high level of new content

4.   The learning has clear outcomes

5.   Focuses on the real-world needs of the participants

6.   Participants see the training as a means to strengthen their effectiveness

7.   Involves collaborative problem solving

8.   The material connects with participant experience

9.   The participants feel they are part of a learning community

10.  The participants understand that they are valued for their learning efforts

11.  Involves shared learning where the participants can talk directly and meaningfully to one another

12.  Structured so that participants have adequate time to assimilate the material and then apply it.

13.  Participants have ongoing updates, support, and practice

14.  Participants can see how the new learning has an impact on what they do

Session Building   As you plan out what you want your participants to do consider the following:

1.   Match your content to the needs of the group.  It is important to challenge your participants and move toward new learning. Adult learners learn best when the material is thought provoking.

2.   Carefully outline your session.  There is nothing more frustrating for busy adult learners than a meeting or learning event that meanders or feels random.  Most learners what to know where they are going, how they are going to get there, and the milestones they can expect on their journey together.  Of course the facilitator must remain flexible to develop unexpected topics that emerge from the participants.  Nevertheless, the overall flow of the workshop must be clear and sacred. 

3.   Be certain that your agenda has a lively pace to it.

4.   Construct the learning event so that it has a sense of wholeness.  This means it should have a beginning, middle, and end. 

5.   Depending on the length of the session, include various exercises and activities that are both meaningful and consistent with your participants.  It is always a good idea to get the participants out of their chairs on occasion.  Be certain that you allow enough time for the activities to unfold fully but not drag.

6.   When you introduce an activity make certain that it has a clear and meaningful context.  This means making it perfectly clear why the participants are doing the activity (objective); how it fits in with the overall flow of learning; and what they will get out of the activity (debrief each activity so participants can articulate what they have learned).

7.   Be certain that you include enough to keep the session lively.  However, identify particular agenda items that you could shorten or eliminate in case you run short of time.  If you edit on your feet, do not jeopardize the “wholeness” of the training or the goals.

8.   Ask yourself if your materials are visually appealing.  When a participant enters the training room, he or she should see that this will be a place of learning.

9.   Use PowerPoint in moderation.  Don’t put your notes on slides--make them readable, relevant, brief, uncluttered, and visually appealing.

10.  Build in adequate break time.  Be careful not to break the power of an activity by disrupting it with a break. 

11.  Since everyone learns and retains information differently, design your training using a variety of delivery methods.   

According to the National Training Laboratory, research shows the following average retention rates for different training methods:

·         5% Lecture

·         10% Reading

·         20% Audio-Visual

·         30% Demonstration

·         50% Discussion Group

·         75% Practice by Doing

·         90% Teaching Others

Before the Workshop Begins   Before any kind of workplace learning event, from team meetings to professional development workshops, the facilitator must take care of some basics before it begins:

1.   Survey the location before the session to ensure there is adequate lighting, disability access, parking (if the session is off site), bathrooms, etc.

2.   Check to make sure that the both the space and lighting are adequate.

3.   Be certain that all supplies are ready to go

4.   Check equipment to make sure everything is working and correctly placed

5.   Arrange the room to maximize learning

6.   Be certain that all participants receive pre-training notification and reminders as well as pre-training readings and handouts (this includes an agenda).

7.   Know your participants before the training begins. Know their educational backgrounds, age spread, work experience, titles and roles, and their developmental needs.

Upfront Tasks   Early in your training session the facilitator must clarify basic housekeeping concerns as identified below.  Although they are necessary, you don’t want to burn too much time on these or gobble of prime learning time.

1.   Establish ground rules or working agreements so that all participants know the group norms and expectations.  Frequently it is best just to ask the group to identify three to five for themselves.

2.   Ask the participants to articulate their expectations for the session.  Ask them to tell the others what they would like to learn or get out of the session.

3.   If participants don’t know everyone, provide time for introductions.  Note however that a common facilitator mistake is to let introductions go on too long.  It not only slows down the training, but it also burns up prime learning time when the participants are at their freshest.  Don’t forget to introduce yourself (keep it warm, brief, personal, and humble).

4.   Give the group your facilitation framework.  This includes two basic items:

5.   The goals of the session

6.   A road map indicating how you will achieve those goals—your outline or agenda.

7.   Define terms if necessary.  To save time, you may want to have terms defined in a handout or printed on newsprint and pasted around the room.

8.   Check for agreement, “Is this a good way for us to spend our time together?”

9.   Introduce your topic with an opening that sets the tone for the session.  For example, if you expect the participants to discuss throughout the workshop, it may be helpful to get them talking early in the session.  If the participants sit and listen to long trainer lecture, they will learn that they are to be passive in the session and it will be harder to get them actively discussing later on.   Whatever introductory approach you use, it should accomplish the following:

·         It should stimulate interest and engage the learners

·         It should set the learning tone.

·         It should indicate how you want the learners to engage with the material and each other

·         It should provoke participant thinking

·         It should launch the material toward your learning goals

  Facilitating Content Flow   Although there are many ways to introduce content, a typical flow is as follows: 

·      Challenge: This can be in the form of a question, a thought provoking story, an example, a set of facts or statistics, a shared experience, a metaphor, etc.  Give enough background to launch a healthy and meaningful discussion.

·      Discussion: Allow the participants to respond and discuss.  Draw on various discussion strategies.

·      Focus and Narrow: Move the group to the heart of the topic.

·      Exemplify: Clarify with examples, added information, an exercise or activity

·      Synthesize and Clarify: Highlight responses that are the most relevant

·      Practice or reinforcement

·      Check for Understanding

·      Close: Clarify key points.  It is important to have the participants articulate what they are learning.  

·      Transition: Bridge to the next activity or content segment of the agenda.  It is important that the participants understand where they have been, where they are going, and why it makes sense to go in that direction.


Tips for Facilitators

  Good facilitators share common characteristics

1. Be prepared

2. Have clear objectives and goals

3. Clarify meeting expectations

4. Allow participants to learn from one another

5. Expect participants to be engaged

6. Enforce positive and respectful interaction

7. Summarize and clarify difficult content or discussions

8. Ask open-ended questions and  listen carefully

9. Be aware of pacing; keep an eye on the clock; keep it moving

10. Clarify with examples but don’t overuse stories

11. Be positive, enthusiastic, and focused

12. Trust your participants to have good ideas

13. Maintain a balance of content and process

14. Include a variety of activities

15. Offer encouragement, praise, and recognition

16. Be sure that your content has a beginning, middle, and end.

17. Gear your material for your audience—challenge them

18. Understand that people like to learn in different ways

19.  Have a sense of closure or a call to action

20. Solicit “real” evaluations

21. Solicit ideas, new perspectives, and fresh points of view.

22. Encourage constructive differences of opinion

23. Keep participation balanced

24. Park or table topics that will derail the focus of the session

25. Get agreement on group actions

26.Work toward consensus whenever possible

27. Pay attention to participant reactions, moods, and attentiveness.

28. Listen, listen, listen  

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Tips for Participants

  Meetings will only be effective if participants do their part

1.    Be willing to trust and respect other participants

2.    Be truthful but careful

3.    Offer correct information or facts to support your opinions

4.    Maintain an open mind.  Be willing to accept other views

5.    Listen carefully to what others are saying

6.    Discuss with a spirit of learning

7.    Attack issues and problems, NOT people

8.    Record ideas on flip charts so everyone can see

9.    Ask questions and encourage others to speak 

10.  Don’t dominate the discussion. 

11.  Don’t forget about humor

12.  Be aware of pacing; keep it moving forward

13.  Bring closure to discussion (don’t let things hang)

14.  Ask real questions; ask follow up questions

15.  Summarize what you think others are saying

16.  Be willing to share ideas

17.  Understand that effective meetings are empowering

18.  Volunteer, do your part for the good of the group

19.  Offer praise, encouragement, and support

20.  Be committed to having an excellent meeting


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Facilitators We Dread

We have all been to workshops or meetings run by poor facilitators.  But some facilitators can drive us nuts.  When you encounter one of the bad facilitator types listed below, you know you are in for a long day.

  • The Drill Sergeant—The facilitator who is rigidly stuck on the agenda and puts the clock above content

  • The Guardian—The facilitator who makes certain that all conversation goes through him or her and not from participant to participant

  • The Know-it-all –The facilitator who always has the answer.  The know-it-all can’t say “I don’t know.”

  • The Ice Cube—The distant and aloof facilitator who is unwilling to personalize the experience

  • The Blabber—The facilitator who loves the sound of his or her own voice.

  • The Pretender—The facilitator who doesn’t ask real questions but only “pretense questions” that are really designed to give the facilitator an excuse to pontificate.

  • The "I Can't Hear You" Guy—The facilitator who refuses to listen.

  • The Marathon Man—The facilitator who piles activities on top of one another, doesn’t allow for breaks, and ignores the need for groups to reflect on a topic or idea

  • The Parrot—The facilitator who relentlessly recaps information, restates ideas, and summarizes the obvious

  • The Molasses Man—The facilitator who is painfully slow and doesn’t have a feel for pacing, variety, or style

  • The Passenger—The facilitator who lets people talk too long and gives up the reins of facilitation,

  • The Storyteller–-The facilitator who tells far too many cutesy stories and never really gets to the content.

  • The Centerpiece—The facilitator who makes himself or herself the real content of the workshop

  • The Tunnel Driver—The facilitator who keeps doing the same thing hour after hour

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Session Closing   There are many ways to close a learning event or meeting.  The key is to think of the session as a journey that has a beginning, middle, and end.  Indeed, when the participants walk out the door, they should feel that it is their journey now to carry forward.  Below are a few reminders about closing a session:

  • Restate the general direction of the session—ground covered

  • Highlight key points

  • Summarize discussion

  • Highlight a vital point or lesson that emerged out of the session

  • Clarify proposed actions

  • Emphasize what the group has learned or accomplished

  • Tell the group how much you enjoyed their involvement

  • Congratulate the group for a job well done

  • Offer some ideas that they can take with them

  • Encourage them to act or use what they have learned

  • Ask for feedback and give participants a chance to evaluate the session

People Concerns   There are times when a facilitator has to quiet or redirect individuals who are derailing the learning or disrupting participation. As you handle these challenging people be certain that you don’t allow your own frustration to become personally negative.  Always address the unwanted behavior and not the person.  If it feels like a retaliatory strike, you run the risk of losing the whole group.  Below are just a few strategies that you might use:

  • Remind the group how important it is to stay on the agenda.

  • Tell the person that you would like to continue his/her line of reasoning during the break (not now)

  • Ask if you can move his/her questions to lunch as a discussion topic

  • Speak with the person during a break and ask him/her to give others a opportunity to participate

  • Compliment him/her on his insights and move on

  • Express an awareness of his issue and get back on track

  • Say “I hear your concerns and I will make adjustments at our next session.”

  • Say “Perhaps I wasn’t clear when I made that point, let me try saying it a different way.”

  • Ask the group if there is anyone who can summarize the issues (and end it)

  • Say “Thanks for sharing” and move on

  • Encourage balanced participation and get someone to take the discussion in another direction

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Characteristics of the Adult Learner   Workplace training experiences are more likely to be successful if they are built upon the needs of adult learners.  Researcher Malcom Knowles identifies some vital principles of adult learning:

  1. Adults need to be actively involved in the learning.

  2. Adult learners are self-directed

  3. Adult learning is generally more problem centered rather than subject centered

  4. Portions of the learning must be self-directed.

  5. The learning must be practicably connected life experiences.

  6. The learning must be relevant to everyday work needs

  7. It must be structured so that participants can see where they are going and why.

  8. It must be well organized.

  9. Adult participants must have time to voice opinions and personal experiences

  10. They must feel that they are helping to shape the direction of the learning

  11. They need room in the training to reflect and speculate

  12. Adults learn best when challenged

  13. Adults need time to practice new skills

  14. Adults like to tell their story

  15. Adult groups like to find common ground and shared meaning

  16. They must have ample time to discuss

  17. Part of the learning should be experiential

  18. Learning should be ongoing where concepts can be reinforced and expanded

  19. Adults are more internally motivated rather than externally motivated

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