10 ways to improve your facilitation skills



The subject of facilitating meetings came up when I was chatting with fellow blogger Kristeen Bullwinkle the other day. “I love being a facilitator,” she said. “Me, too!” I enthused.

But not everyone shares our passion for facilitation. In fact, many people dread it. For them—and maybe for you—the expression, “herding cats,” comes to mind: uncooperative or unresponsive participants, complex group dynamics, unexpected discussions that derail.

So why do I, Kristeen, and others feel exhilarated and energized when we facilitate? Having your DiSC profile skew toward C or S helps, with natural tendencies toward reserve and patience. But it mostly comes down to knowing a few facilitation skills, practicing them, and then getting “in the zone.”

The facilitation zone

Facilitating is like standing in the center of a teeter-totter, where you constantly balance between ”encouraging participation” and “controlling the process.” Tip too far toward encouraging and you get an animated free-for-all discussion that, while interesting, may run adrift and overtime. Control the process too much and participants will feel the discussion is constrained and may stop contributing (you will end on time, though).

Everything you do as a facilitator—what you say, how you use the room, your nonverbal communications—either helps encourage participation or control the process. Here are 10 facilitation skills that can help you strike a balance.

5 ways to encourage participation

  • Frame it up. Plan opening comments carefully to communicate your goals and explain what you want to accomplish. People are more willing to speak when they know what you’re after.
  • Get people talking early. Start with an easy, safe question. Even beginning with casual introductions makes participants more likely to participate later.
  • Pump up the energy. From start to finish, show your enthusiasm for interaction.
  • Use the physical space. Sit, lean against a table, or move to a less central position in the room to shift focus from you onto participants.
  • Make eye contact with individuals. As opposed to sweeping the room visually, focus on individuals to nonverbally communicate your invitation to participate.

5 ways to control the process

  • Set parameters. Let people know why you need their participation and approximately how long you’d like the discussion to last.
  • Plot trends and summarize frequently. Think of this as jumping to the “big picture”: remind people what the goals and scope of the discussion are, make connections and point out common themes, summarize information and how it will be used.
  • Park it. Capture key points and future discussions on a flip chart or white board to head off tangents.
  • Ask closed questions that can be answered with yes or no, single words, or short phrases when you want to slow discussion and regain control.
  • Know when to stop. Bring the discussion to a close at an appropriate time—when you’ve reached your goal or when discussion is no longer fruitful. Thank the group for their valuable input.

Learning to love facilitating is about understanding your role and practicing your skills. When you do, you’ll enjoy the balancing act.

John Capecci of Capecci Communications (Minneapolis) is a trainer and consultant who offers personal coaching, group workshops, and webinars on communication effectiveness.

I took the DiSC test. Now what?

Congratulations on completing your Everything DiSC® assessment. (If you took another version of DISC, sorry, but this article won’t apply to you.)

How can you use this assessment?

Learn about yourself

We’re going to assume that you took Everything DiSC Workplace although the Management and Sales profiles also present this type of description.

YourDotTellsaStoryThe content here is based on where your dot falls in the Everything DiSC circle. For example, if you’re an S style, your report will most likely read differently from another person with an S style. Read more I took the DiSC test. Now what?

Holacracy and Hell

org chartI read an interesting article in The New York Times recently that got me thinking about leadership. The article featured Tony Tsieh, the CEO of Zappos— a work/life integration hero to many of us—and his struggle to implement “Holacracy”. Now, if you haven’t heard of Holacracy, a simple online search will have you buried in more than you probably wish to know. But the thinking goes that people work better, more productively and more happily without all the bosses. Rather than a strict hierarchy, there are roles and teams (“circles”), and authority is distributed throughout an organization. As David Gelles put it in his article, “the goal of Holacracy is to create a dynamic workplace where everyone has a voice and bureaucracy doesn’t stifle innovation.” Read more Holacracy and Hell

Everything DiSC as a graduation present

Recent grad with Everything DiSCHave you considered giving the Everything DiSC Workplace to a recent graduate? I just did that. I have a young friend who received both her high school diploma and associates degree this year. I thought she would find the results interesting and it would be something we could talk about when she came to visit.

She didn’t take the assessment right away and I was a little worried that she thought it was a stupid gift. When I asked her about her results, however, this is what she had to say:

“It’s elaborate. Usually you get a vague outline that’s just enough to be applicable.”

Read more Everything DiSC as a graduation present

Another experience with DiSC

Built into my experience of DiSC is a cautionary tale about using the tools in employment screening. My first exposure to any DiSC assessment was almost a decade ago. Assessment solutions were not new to me by any means, but at the time DiSC was not on my radar. In my case, the department head where I was all but certain to land my next gig wanted me to sample the assessment as I would be working with it frequently in the course of helping clients. I happily obliged. Then it struck me: I wonder if she wants to see my results before officially offering me the position. (After years of education reinforcing “critical thinking” this notion could hardly be construed as paranoid delusion.)

DiSC Classic 1.0With that thought tucked in the back of my mind, I took the assessment. I came out an “S”—or what we might have even called a “high S” since this was back in the days of the vastly outmoded DiSC Classic 1.0 Graph I, II and III and the questionable natural/adaptive concepts.

The trouble? This wasn’t really me. This wasn’t my true style. While the outcome caused no harm, it didn’t help me at all either.

Read more Another experience with DiSC