By Julie Grass


Management Consulting + Training



5 Tips for Fabulous Facilitators


  1. Good facilitators never underestimate the power of an “AHA!” moment.  Instead of telling people what is important, create exercises for group members to discover it for themselves.

  2. Strong facilitators know their audience and tailor their style accordingly.  A group of attorneys might want a different tempo or tone than a group of police officers or hotel employees.  Take the time to figure out who you are working with and what would be the most compelling way to reach them.

  3. Mix it up, particularly for long meetings.  Move people around into small groups, pairs, back to the whole group.  Invite them to write on the boards, to present their ideas to the whole.  Maximize participation and keep energy high by keeping it moving – literally.

  4. Humor.  Laughter.  Creativity.  Fun.  The more of these you can incorporate without diminishing the importance of the meeting, the better.  They are all invitations to engage and engaging the group is half the challenge.

  5. Always prepare ahead, but don’t be afraid to move with the group.  Stay focused on the agenda and the outcome while realizing there are many ways to get there.  If something isn’t working, try something else.  Facilitating is art, not science and sometimes art needs an extra bit of this or that.


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Before we talk about how NOT to facilitate, let’s agree on a working definition:

A facilitator is someone who guides a group of people with a common purpose through a process, whether it is to make a decision, solve a problem, plan the future or simply exchange information and ideas.


If you want to be the facilitator from hell, read on,
take notes



Make lots of judgmental comments like, “that was stupid” and “I can’t believe you really said that!” OR you might start off the meeting with ground rules such as:


All opinions are to be received with respect

No one gets criticized for offering an idea

Disagreements or differing points of view are about the idea, not the person suggesting it

Decide who you think is right and point out all the reasons why. Also take into consideration who has the most clout. Then enumerate all of the flaws in the other sides’ logic. You might even capture them on a flip chart, such as

you might play the facilitator’s role which requires that you:

Remain neutral
Invite all perspectives to be verbalized
Avoid assigning value words like ‘great’ or ‘not so great’


Allow a couple of honey-tongued people to dominate the conversation.  If someone else tries to speak, cut him off immediately and ask him to wait his turn.  If he tries to participate again, ask him to leave the room or, at minimum, to sit in the corner OR you might:

Maintain a balance which sometimes means summarizing someone’s run-on speech and saying, “let’s hear what someone else thinks about this”
Invite everyone to chime in
Go around the table and ask people to weigh in on the conversation

If the discussion starts to veer off track, go with it.  For instance, if your group is meeting for the purpose of deciding budgets for the coming year, and somebody comments on the receptionist’s funky voice and how she wears too much perfume and the magenta streaks in her hair, ask them what else they don’t like about her.  Tell them about a bizarre receptionist that you used to have OR you might:

Remind the group of the meeting's focus
Create a ‘parking lot’ – stating that you understand the receptionist issue is important, and that you will capture it (i.e., ‘park’ it) in a designated spot to make sure you come back to address it at another time


If you detect conflicting perspectives or any dissention, cut it off immediately.  Be clear that it is impolite to challenge one another’s ideas and that it will only lead to bad feelings OR you might:

Encourage all respectfully-voiced points of view
Invite people to look at the ramifications of each idea, both positive and negative, from their perspective in the organization to better understand the impact
Ask people to advocate for positions they might not even agree with so that they can understand it from someone else’s perspective.  For instance, have your CFO argue in favor of replacing the antiquated phone system even though he resists it because of cost


Start late, end late and plan your most focused, detailed, work right after lunch when energy is lowest
Use PowerPoint and read it word for word to the group
Set the room up classroom style in rows so that people are sitting behind one another and have no eye contact
Conclude the meeting without action items so that whatever was decided and discussed will NOT be implemented



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