Tips for facilitators – II

Maybe you are an experienced trainer or facilitator or maybe you are completely new to the topic. I know it can be a difficult and for some even daunting task to facilitate a workshop or session, but there are ways to make it easier. In this series, I want to share some of my tips for facilitating.

The first tip I have today is to plan in enough buffer time. About 20% of your allocated time should be reserved for the buffer. This means that when you have a session lasting for 5 hours, one hour should be buffer. And I know it myself. You brainstormed, asked other people for input and feedback and put much time in creating an outline for the training. You want that your participants take the most out of this training, so you incorporate a lot of topics. I understand this all too well. Unfortunately, it can cause a lot of disadvantages. For you as a facilitator and for your participants.

Imaging you have a lively discussion, but you look at your outline and then on your watch and you realize that you are already running late. What you do then is to end the discussion to move on with the agenda. Here, you might have lost some of your participants and probably also some key realizations. On the other hand, when you don’t move on, maybe some key elements of the session won’t be able to be discussed. That is why buffer time is so important. It enables you to give your participants enough time to reflect and discuss. Asking a reflection question always takes a while to process and you cannot rush this thought process. And it is always better to ask them instead of telling them. So, do yourself and the participants a favor and unpack your agenda.

Moreover, be aware of too talkative and too silent participants. Yes, it makes it easier if you have a few people who are willing to talk during a training. Many facilitators fear that no one will talk. However, it is important to still be mindful that some participants might be too talkative and as a consequence don’t give others the chance to participate. You can deal with those people by approaching them during a break and thanking them for their participation and that it helps to drive the conversation forward. Then, invite them to help you to get some more responses from other, more silent, participants. This way you can make an ally out of them instead of not selecting them or telling them to give others more room.

You also will find a lot of people who are glad when they don’t need to say something and can passively go through the whole process. This can be for three reasons. First, they don’t enjoy the process, or second, they are shy and don’t want to talk, or third, they need time to think and once they formulated an answer or an opinion, other, more talkative, people moved the conversation further so that they feel their input is not contributing to this new discussion. You can also approach them during a break to share your observation that they didn’t say much and ask if you can do anything for them. Other than that, you can re-design some of the exercises in a way that allows them to share their thoughts and opinions, like silent brainstorming, followed by presenting the ideas.

Often, silent people have wonderful ideas and thoughts, but don’t get the chance to voice those. Create an environment where they feel safe to share. You can do that by saying something wrong or telling a story when you made a mistake. Many people are afraid to be judged by others and when they see that it is okay to make mistakes or say something “stupid” they might have more confidence to share their ideas. At least that’s what I experienced.


Take care, Stephan

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