Tips for more engaging group facilitation
Ultimately facilitation is about guiding participants vs. leading them, engaging vs. directing and stimulating learning vs. lecturing.
Facilitation isn’t an easy task, you are not only responsible for encouraging participation from all the people in the room, but also for helping guide the different personalities and work styles towards a common result.
Encouraging participation for buy-in
- Frame the session. Craft your opening comments carefully to help share your goals and explain what you need to accomplish. We are more willing to speak up when we know what we are after.
- Get them talking from the start. Start with an easy, engaging questions. Even a casual introduction makes participants more likely to participate later.
- Use your space. Make use of the room, actively take a less central position in the room to shift the focus from you onto participants and the conversation.
- Connect with each individual. Rather than looking at all the participants, focus on individuals. Communicate your invitation to participate both verbally and nonverbally.
- Capture information in their words. Whether digital or flip-chart the key is using their own words vs. trying to interpret their meaning.
- Learn to be comfortable with silence. Try not to fill silence with talk. Give the space to think by keeping quiet.
- Acknowledge all hands. As participants put heir hands up acknowledge them, then engage them in that order. There is nothing worse than members of the audience feeling they are not seen, or acknowledged. Holding their hands up, resting their elbow on their other hand for support.
- Repeat the ideas to ensure clarity. Repeating what was said allows those who did not hear to understand what was said. Repeating the idea allows us to manage the pace and get clarification of what was said to ensure correct capture.
Managing the facilitation process
- Set a clear agenda. Why you need their participation, and for approx. how long.
- Be brief. Over-instruction can kill enthusiasm. Writing up instructions in advance can help keep them short and to the point. Move around the room and answer any questions once they get started, instead of over-instructing.
- Summarise regularly. Regularly remind them what the goals are, identify connections and common themes, summarise key information and how it will be used.
- Park off topic content. Capture points for future discussions on a flip chart or white board to prevent the group going off on tangents.
- Use closed questions to regain control. Questions with a yes or no answer can slow discussion and help regain control.
- Know when it is time to stop. Close a specific discussion at the appropriate time. Either when you’ve reached your goal, or when the discussion is no longer fruitful.
- Avoid leading. We all have opinions and ideas, but it is not our place to lead the group down any specific path. Keep questions open and encourage participation.
- Beware your timing and pace. It is better to finish a few minutes early, than late. Adjust your pace as necessary to achieve this. Learn how to speed up and slow down to manage time and keep participant’s energy up.
- Build consensus. Consensus-building does not require everyone to agree with a decision, it means they all had an opportunity to share their perspectives. Reaching consensus takes time, but usually achieves stronger buy-in from the group.
- Manage conflict. In a room full of people conflict is inevitable. Conflict is, in fact, part of the process for effective decision-making. Learn how to harness the power of conflict in a positive way.
- Take care of yourself. It takes focus and energy to successfully facilitate. Be self-aware enough to know when you need a break, need water or a snack to keep your energy up.
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