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Facilitation Advice From the Gamestorming Community

an overflowing inbox, full of your advice

On May 4th we asked for your help: to share wisdom with students preparing to facilitate their first workshop. Your response flooded our inbox; it was reflective, generous, vulnerable and helpful. Thank you scrum masters, designers, authors, consultants, coaches, teachers, students and Gamestormers all over the globe.

Common themes:

Prepare to improvise Write your word-for-word script, rehearse even the jokes but prepare to throw it all out as you walk into the room.

Clarify your role As the facilitator you are not responsible for the answers, only to shape the journey on the way to their discovery.

Establish your emotional state The room will follow your cues – what do you need them to be?

Set the tone Be thoughtful with your first activity, it is the foundation for the rest of the workshop.

Connect with the workshoppers Collective and individual connection will energize the room and put you in tune with the path you’ll need to follow.

But read for yourself.

We’ve credited sources where possible.

Be thoroughly prepared and be fully prepared and willing to let go of all your plans and preparations to go with whatever happens and is needed at the time. Materials and preparations are a back up plan, follow your intuïtion and look for what the group needs at that specific moment; what are they not doing by themselves, what is the next step they are not taking. Focus your efforts there.

-Gamestormer

Remember to create personal connection and learn to listen more intently to voice, not only words. Moderate activities to Energy levels constantly

-Gamestormer

Prepare before you get into the room, understand the purpose and who will be there; how do you support everyone working towards that purpose? Remember you are primarily there to support the achievement of the purpose and not delivering content. Therefore, focus on how to make the most of everyone’s contributions and how to keep them engaged with it – vary the activities to support different ways of working (eg. solitary vs collaborative). Also, if you need to produce a report/findings make sure the participants are producing things you can draw on directly afterwards eg. prioritisation matrix or roadmap.

Claire Agnew

Set up the session with a clear centre line. Know your stuff (practice, practice, practice) and gain agreement up front to keep bringing people back to centre when they stray – if you have a clear centre line to draw people back to they will appreciate the level of productivity you achieve.

-Gamestormer

1. Be familiar with the virtual platform that you are using, be it Zoom, Google Meet, WEbecs etc.
2. Be mindful of your virtual presence. Tone (speak clearly, varying your tone and at a moderate speed), body language (dressing , do not move around too much as it is distracting), engaged by looking at the camera hole.
3. Enlist a “co-host” to help you to navigate and take care of other engagement activities with audience. For e.g. polling, look at Chat messages. This will help the main facilitator to better focus on delivering their messages.
4. Add interactive activities such as poll, breakout room for discussions, type their views in chat box.
5. Practice, practice and practice, to build confidence.

-CL Goh

Relax, anything you add to the meeting/workshop/event is better than it would have been without a facilitator. Everything is oops of learning, and we all get better through that experience. But in the end, everything we do makes things a little better and a little more likely to have good results.

-Gamestormer

Facilitation is about designing, creating, and holding a container for the participants to fill up with great ideas and outcomes. Design a session that has just enough structure for them to stay on purpose but loose enough that they can have fun getting there.

-Steve Silbert

The first time I was put in charge of facilitating a project, I remember feeling the need to grasp the opportunity, having to show all that I know. It was only later that I realized that it is important to really grasp the situation, talk to the others involved, and make use of what THEY know before passing any of my own judgment.

-Johannes Neukamm

1) Co-create and agree on-line etiquette with the group. This includes talking order. One of many ideas that sticks with me is”participants talk once until everyone has had an opportunity to contribute”
2) all participants use headphones to cut out amplified background noise
3) create a hand-drawn frame and place it around your laptop camera…. this is to encourage you to focus on the frame when talking to give the impression of looking at fellow participants to “connect“

-Gamestormer

Start with an authentic check-in to create the social foundation to be productive and innovative together. all goes well when the team is united more deeply (than how’s the weather and what’s your name). even if things go wrong they all pull together to find a solution. And check-out at the end, even if it is a thumbs up or down, or a one word checkout. so people feel complete, util you meet again! tips for checkin in here http://www.thecircleway.net/circle-way-guidelines

-Sandra Otto

keep the final objectives in mind – not your beautifully crafted session plans. Sometimes everything runs as you expect, but more often people head off in new directions. Be ready to follow them down those rabbit holes by focusing on the objectives, not the methods you think you need to get to your objectives. You might find yourself in Wonderland!

-Katie Streten

Have a plan. Be sure what you want to achieve and especially take your time for ice-breaking in the beginning. Have an activity planned for the welcome and ice-breaking according to the audience age. A good start will help you through later struggles. And to decrease nervousness: breath. Before you go into the room, breath calmly.

-Gamestormer

Set the tone early. The opening exercise needs to make it clear that it is a safe space to be visionary and to be wrong. I sometimes ask the room “What’s one thing you believe that no one else agrees with?” Or “If you could wave a magic wand and overcome one character flaw, what would it be?”

-Greg Larkin

Ask a lot of questions

-Gamestormer

Imagine that you need to make the most of the time that people are spending with you. Prepare for each session within the time block, knowing you can change the plan on the spot. Think of props, food, timing, drinks, breaks and work very carefully on planning the time blocks. Once you have it all mapped out you can change as you go along depending on the expected outcomes and what is happening in the moment.

-Alison

Know your stuff, love your stuff and be yourself. (If you know what you’re talking about and care about the subject matter, care about others learning it, then all that’s left is to be yourself – that’s what will get the material across better. Oh, and, tell stories. Stories make your message accessible 🙂

-Vikee Rayner

The facilitator isn’t a trainer, not a teller, nor a seller of information. Get to know your participants (not audience) and empathize as far as possible. In facilitation content isn’t king as it is in training. Empathy is king. So, in preparing for a facilitative session I would strongly recommend as careful a study of the participants as possible — their ages, backgrounds, preferences, learning styles, whatever you can lay your hands on.

-Leslie D’Gama

You are working for the group, you are there to facilitate people, to help them and it’s not about you. Try to make a connection between you and the group since they can help you too. Let they to help you and they will appreciate you for it.

-Silvia Alba

Remember the the 80/20 rule. 80 percent prep, 20 percent running the actual event.
Make yourself a script, prepare your handouts/materials well advance, have your slides done, and then practice! Do a trial run through with colleagues. If you’re facilitating with someone else, you must practice together.
If you do all this, by the time you go to do it live, you’ll feel much more comfortable. All the prep, means you’ll be able to handle a curveball (and there always is one) and you’ll feel and sound natural because it’s not the first time you’re running it.

-Melinda Miller

Focus on the groups needs, not your own

-Gamestormer

I always prepare a detailed time-boxed slide, with everything written out – knowing that everything has been planned and accounted for gives me the freedom to really focus on my participants and making sure the workshop output is all that it can be. I also recommend blocking time in your calendar in the days following the workshop, to ensure everything is captured and circulated back. Last tip – facilitating a longer activity can be surprisingly exhausting. Plan ahead for some downtime so that you can recharge.

-Genevieve Metropolis

From professor Langlois of the Université du Québec, in his LEADEX workshops: Your job (as leader, or facilitator) is to create a positive, memorable experience for those involved. I learned this in 2004 and it has been a validation of my approach; since it has become my mantra.

Facilitation is not about me the facilitator, but about the participants.

-assume you are with friends

-ask open ended questions

-mirror what you understood and ask if it’s accurate and if there’s more

-be genuine and open, otherwise you come across as pushing an agenda

-be complicit, like this is an elite clique (smile with a twinkle in your eye)

-use humor Facilitation is not about me the facilitator, but about the participants.

-assume you are with friends

-ask open ended questions

-mirror what you understood and ask if it’s accurate and if there’s more

-be genuine and open, otherwise you come across as pushing an agenda

-be complicit, like this is an elite clique (smile with a twinkle in your eye)

-use humor

Another foundational quote, from Stephen Haines of San Diego’s Haines Centre for Strategic Management: «People will support what they help build».

Facilitation is a powerful way to get people involved in building a future state.

-Gamestormer

Level the playing field. Whenever I facilitate, I make sure that I get this message across at the start, that I am one among them playing the role of facilitator not instructor. By doing this, you set the expectations at the right level both for you and for the audience.

-Gamestormer

Besides a great design that you have co -created with key sponsor and maybe participants too, set intentions of how you want to be experienced. I often say to myself that I will be an ocean of love. This often works for me and I usually add one or two intentions based on what I assess the group will respond to and benefit from to bring their best most hopeful, creative selves. And, importantly, no matter how busy I am with prep I greet people as they enter, and “R before T” put relationship before task. A few welcoming words and a question to bring about exchange are more valuable than can be expressed.

-Michele Berry

Pause for 5 seconds after you ask a question to allow people to “hear what you said, process what you said, come up with a response, articulate their response”. I literally count to five in my head to give people time to process. Second, is a mindset. You are not responsible for the outcome… your job is to focus on the process. Similar to an umpire of a baseball game. Keep the participants focused on the rules/process. The game is there’s to own the outcomes.

-Gamestormer

People are going to share so many interesting ideas on content, templates, games… logistics are a lot less sexy… and getting logistics right will make or break a workshop. If you get it right, they won’t notice how well planned it is, but if you get it wrong your reputation will suffer no matter how good the content is. So here are thoughts on the practicalities.

+ Try to figure out the space (real or virtual) first. Where will you pin things, where will you do breakouts, how will you bring people back.

+ Make sure you build in time contingencies, things usually take longer than you think they will. Even getting people into and out of break-out groups takes time. You may feel pressure to squeeze more in, but the quality will suffer if you don’t give people enough time to work through ideas, have disagreements, work through disagreements etc

+ Pre-plan how you will do break-outs either using a pre-planned list or a game eg line people up in order of their birthdays & divide the line into 2, 4 etc.. Don’t tell people to organise themselves or it gets cliquey or awkward.

+ Keep lots of pace changes, some fast exercises, some slow. some digital presentation & some analogue, some sit down exercises, some standing. It keeps people alert

+ Snacks. At the start of a workshop lots of great snacks set the scene & get people excited for the day (especially important if you have people who would prefer to be somewhere else). Keep the snacks going throughout to keep energy up. If virtual, get people to pre-organise their snacks and you could even use this as a fun warm-up.

+ Don’t skimp on warm-ups and try to gradually use them to encourage people to open up and be a little bit vulnerable. Silly stuff is good. Warm-ups may seem a waste or precious time, but they build the rapport necessary to create a safe space for non-judgemental creativity.

+ Music can help to keep up the energy during break-outs and signal when time is up

+ Lay out a master plan of how the workshop will run (details are not necessary) at the start. If people have a sense of what will be expected they will stay focussed.

+ Make sure you have all the kit you need (boards, sticky notes, tech back-up plans etc. Also important is thinking about what printouts you need eg templates, reference material etc. And have spares.

+ Have a welcome plan, especially if attendees don’t know each other. They won’t all arrive at the same time, so think about what is happening in the space between the first person arriving and starting the workshop

+ Be flexible… things never quite go to plan, so you may need to change things up as you go, that’s pretty normal, don’t be hard on yourself.

-Gamestormer

Prepare
+ Review the list for facilitating (assume your professor has given these, if not find a list)
+ Develop a list of probing and follow-up questions
+ Research info on audience
+ Prepare an opening that is a story or questions to pique curiosity

Onsite
+ Start on time even if the audience is not ready
+ Focus on the audience and supporting their ability to connect with each other and share ideas; walk around and introduce yourself before the session starts
+ Watch your energy level – and smile
+ Walk the room; if there are slides go to back when they are being used – your role is a guide on the side not a sage on the stage
+ When there is a question, re-frame it and throw it back to the audience – and if possible, to those who are not speaking
+ Watch the time and make sure you leave time for the ending
+ Have a strong summary statement that reflects what happened during the session
+ Provide a call to action at the end
+ Thank the audience for engaging

PS
If there is work time for the group during the session remember you are still facilitating and paying attention to their tasks and the time; move from group to group; capture good ideas to share; listen to their discussion and help if they are off track; continue to monitor time; and, DO NOT fiddle with your phone or stand in the corner and talk to other facilitators. Once the group has reconvened, share what your saw and heard.

-Gamestormer

It’s about them; not about you. Listen intently and learn the different types of questions to ask to keep a group moving. Where they go is up to them; not up to you. Emergence is a very exciting property of good facilitation.

-Gamestormer

I’d say they could observe the experience as they lead it and take cues from the group – to see where they can improve next time and where the group is suggesting what works and what doesn’t.

-Mike Rohde

Know yourself thoroughly , ask yourself why you are in facilitation. Knowing this, enjoy yourself, equipping yourself with the necessary knowledge , trends, state of the art practices and co explore with fellow practitioners.
Do off line facilitation work shops with your friends , community and known circles, to get the feel.
Be thorough with tools, technology and logistics .
Reflect on the sessions ,feedback and make improvements .

Don’t worry how people react or if they don’t want to follow your instructions. It is mainly a sign of their emotional state of themselves, not something because of you.

-Gamestormer

Team with a co-facilitator. Facilitation can be an endurance sport. There may be a question you are trying to answer, but no matter how many ways you phrase it, you can’t get a particular individual to understand. Another facilitator, with different experiences can calmly come in and offer a different perspective that might click for that individual. It is also very helpful to have someone who can help with logistics, if something needs to be addressed when your attention needs to be elsewhere.

-Gamestormer

Have a game plan and even have a back up in case things go belly up. And then when you execute it, own it. Even if you have to pull some “fake” confidence out to feel like you pulled it off. How do you get fake confidence? Practice your introduction in a mirror before hand. Be an actor/actress. There is truth to fake it until you make it that I have even put into play as a librarian.

Remember you will build with each facilitation experience you give so your “fake” confidence will grow into true confidence with experience behind it.

-Michelle Boisvenue-Fox

Embrace imperfection

-Gamestormer

Come with a plan. Rehearse that plan. You can even create a spreadsheet created with your facilitation plan detailed down to the minute.

Then throw that plan out the window.

Be present.

Respond to the room and let the facilitation evolve as both the people in the room and you gain more clarity on the ideal outcome of the session.

Aim to conclude with a consensus of next action

-Adam Kreek

Be transparent when trying something new to you. The group doesn’t have to know everything is new to you… just say, “I’d really like to try xyz with this group…”

Be quiet sometimes. As a new facilitator, I told stories and got chatty to cover my nerves. With feedback from video and colleagues, I have learned to breathe instead.

When something goes wrong, move on. Things happen – technology, typos, skipped steps in an activity – just acknowledge and move forward. People will remember what you spend time on and what is uncomfortable, so apologizing at length could overshadow the good stuff.

-Gamestormer

It’s important they understand to not try to be the smartest person in the room, but instead, ask the smartest questions :wink:. Have a bunch of questions mentally (or physically) ready. And if ever they ‘seize up’ and don’t know what to do, use those questions. Like: What’s the most important thing we want to get out of this meeting? What would it take to finish this meeting early? (that’s a cheeky one, I like that one). Is this the right thing to be discussing now? If I was the boss/main stakeholder/team/anyone else you need to talk to after this, what’s the main outcome of this that you tell me? How would you summarize this discussion as a tweet?

-Ben Crothers

Over prepare. Conduct full-dress rehearsals with all the accoutrements so you create in yourself a ‘muscle memory’ that automatically flows through facilitation. A foundation of preparation minimizes surprises, allows you to gracefully respond when they arise and return to the facilitation plan.

-Gamestormer

I think they need to be prepared: agenda, activities and materials in advance, they need to dominate instructions and repeat instructions in a clear and simple manner. They need to take time to define key messages they want to leave to the audience and personal stories or examples to reinforce them.

-Martha Roa

Practice breathing. No meeting and no facilitator is perfect. One thing that holds true in every engagement I facilitate is that something unexpected always shows up. So learning to take a deep breath and pause so you can re-orient to the present has been the most helpful tip that was passed down to me, so I pass it onto others.

-Gamestormer

Plan
Practice
Remember that noone knows the finer detail of the plan except you (so it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t quite go to plan).
Be yourself

-Mary-Ann Shuker

Don’t expect it to go as planned. When it doesn’t, be kind to yourself and others.

-Gamestormer

1. Make the content your own and deliver from your truth. Don’t be a regurgitator.
2. Experience for yourself the processes you want to deliver
3. It’s better if everyone starts with acknowledging they don’t know the answer – including you – so true emergence can be experienced
4. Learn how to host yourself before you host others
5.It’s not about you: people are there to have an experience hosted by you, not about you, so…
6. Relax and enjoy the experience together. If you don’t have fun with the problem you’ll never solve it.

I remember my nerves radically shifted when I realised being up front of a room of people facing complexity was not about me, but about them. And all I was there to do was help them tap into their wisdom, creativity and remember what they already knew.

-Gamestormer

“Raise your hand if you can hear me” > I love this as a way to quiet down a boisterous room.

I’d also say to remind them that you must be overly prepared, and then things will shift regardless, but it’s that preparedness that allows you to be able to shift and adjust. If you hadn’t prepared at all, you’d be lost.

-Amanda Thompson

Remember your job is to keep away from the content and maintain a neutral stance. Focus your energy on moving the group forward – it’s not about you!

-Gamestormer

Smile – even if you have to force it a little because you are nervous and you want to do well. A smile will put others at ease and releases dopamine, endorphins and serotonin into your bloodstream – all good things that help you to be present in the moment. Its free, you carry it with you everywhere and it has immediate impact. Also, embrace being a beginner at this and be gentle with yourself. We are all learning, all the time.

-Gamestormer

I find it important to start the day with rules/expectations and an ice breaker to get everyone in the group comfortable talking. The most important rule (in my opinion) is to make sure everyone stays open to ideas of others.
So exciting – workshops are fun!

-Allison Squires

Connect personally with your audience before launching into the session – a brief moment in which you share something small/simple and at whatever level of depth fosters comfort and safety for you and the group.
This can be a small insight about yourself, your journey to this session, a personal interest in or reflection on the session’s subject matter or this particular group etc. You’re prompted to pause before starting and pushing off into the session from a place of human engagement rather than the adherence to runsheet/script.

-Gamestormer

Your goal as a facilitators is to help a group reach a meaningful outcome, but also remember how people FEEL when they leave your workshop is as, or more, important than what you are teaching them.

-Chris Federer

Your workshop needs to be prototyped and practiced. Make sure that you get a chance to run through it as much as possible to iron out any quirks. Having a good flow will allow you to focus on the participants. Also work out your timings and stick to them

-Gamestormer

Be extremely comfortable with design and make sure you be as clear as possible with it. Especially the learning objectives.

prepare like crazy … including jokes and stories and pauses etc. …. BEFORE the session….however emerge with flow DURING the session….hold the design lightly not tightly … Be a scientist while preparing but an artist while delivering

Do a good audience analysis if possible… if you know them and their context well, there will be less surprises

Set it up well … try and manage expectations of everyone before delivering

get the audience to speak as early in the session as possible… choose a game or an activity …

Enjoy it … cut yourself some slack…gracefully accept any screw ups but make sure you LEARN from them”

-Gagan Adlakha

Be perfectly prepared, as if your life depends on it. And once you start with the workshop: let go and trust in the process.

-Gamestormer

Be clear on the aims of the meeting/retreat/etc. beforehand (engaging stakeholders in that process) and discuss these at the start of the gathering to ensure there’s buy-in (and, if not, discuss any possible changes). For the kinds of processes I facilitate, the goals typically include some more process-y stuff (e.g., teambuilding) and some more product-y stuff (e.g., strategy development).

-Gamestormer

Work with your own strengths – as a government worker years ago I was asked to facilitate a lot of business planning, with only a small amount of training, because I was friendly, gentle and diplomatic. I was nervous but once you realise you’re only facilitating, not decision making, you can make the most of your skills.

-Gamestormer
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