7 Characteristics of a Facilitator

7 Characteristics of a Facilitator

characteristics of a facilitator

Characteristics of a Facilitator are something we know very well at Aristotle’s Cafe. For over 13 years we’ve been training Facilitators from all walks of life.

For the past four years, I have been facilitating groups through transformational experiences across Asia.

I’ve had the honor of working with, and learning from, some of the most incredible facilitators from around the world. I always tell people that facilitating is one of the most versatile skills one can learn because you can use it in any context; from hosting an interactive boardroom meeting, to leading clients through a creative process, to facilitating a peace conference or entertaining your boss’s kids at the holiday party.

There’s space for facilitators everywhere!

Here are seven important tips that I’ve learned on my journey as a facilitator:

Characteristics of a Facilitator – Tip #1: Intention is Everything

When you lead with intention, even the silliest of activities can become a powerful learning experience. Knowing why you’re doing something and what you hope your audience will get out of it makes all the difference. Be clear on what you intend for the activity.

Set your participants up with just enough information so that they can go into an experience with the right frame of reference. If you can master this, your participants will be able to identify a life-changing insight on communication from a simple game of Charades.

Characteristics of a Facilitator – Tip #2: Be Flexible

When leading a program, or a conference, or a creative session, flexibility is crucial. Allowing any session you are facilitating to be organic will lead to a more authentic experience.

You never know what conversations may come up on their own that end up being far more important than anything you could have planned.

That’s where the magic happens.

That’s when you get into situations that blow the mind of both facilitator and participant. Before you start whatever it is you’re doing, look through your schedule. Which parts are less essential than others? Planning ahead of time will give you the confidence you need to let go of the reigns a bit.

Characteristics of a Facilitator – Tip #3: Tell Stories

People connect to stories. Period. People get excited by stories. Stories make things fun. Framing each activity in some sort of story, even if it’s a piece of fiction, makes participants become more emotionally open to the experience they are about to embark on.

I’ve seen it in board meetings. I’ve seen it with high schoolers. Nothing gets people more engaged faster than stories.

They don’t have to be long and drawn out. The quicker the better. If it is a piece of fiction, you can be intentional in the way you convey it that lets participants know it may not be real.

Characteristics of a Facilitator – Tip #4: Get Out of the Way

If you’re doing your job well, you should actually be a little bored. Master facilitators are able to quickly explain the parameters of an activity, answer any important questions, then let the participants do their thing.

Things are going well if your participants are doing most of the talking…

Things are going amazingly if you don’t have to do anything at all!

I know that it can feel uncomfortable. I know that traditional leadership would have us believe that we need to be at the front of the room with all eyes on us.

Any facilitators who are worth anything know this is an outdated idea. Leadership while facilitating should be much more passive. Set the participants up so that they can lead themselves through a process of transformation. That’s how you create an impactful experience.

Characteristics of a Facilitator – Tip #5: Be Real

Who likes a know it all?

No one! Don’t try to be one…

Brene Brown, the legendary social work researcher and TED Talk hero, talks about how the fastest way to establish a relationship with someone is through vulnerability. If you can be vulnerable while you are facilitating, people will recognize that and respect it. They’ll connect with you.

It’s ok to say that you don’t know something. It gives you a perfect opportunity to let someone else in the room be a leader. If you show that you’re capacity for authenticity, it lets people know that they can be real with too.

Characteristics of a Facilitator – Tip #6: Reflect

Even if you accomplish the first five tips, there’s a good chance it could all be for nothing if you don’t allow people the time to reflect.

People need time to think. Make that time.

There is a multitude of ways that you can lead someone through a reflection process, a simple google search will you get you started. If there is one thing that you take with you today, please let it be this. When you create space for reflection, participants are able to connect the dots.

Identify the learnings, pull out the golden idea that leads to an epiphany. It doesn’t need to be a long time, but if you just go from one activity into the next, without any reflection, a majority of the valuable lessons your participants may have learned will fly out of their mental windows.

Stop. Think. Share. What? So what? Now what?

Characteristics of a Facilitator – Tip #7: Innovate

Never get too comfortable in your content. You should always be thinking about how you can improve. Improve your schedule, improve your activities, improve your facilitating.

There a few processes that you can use to help you innovate your material.

One way is to try and think about 20 different ways you could facilitate each activity. What could you change each time to make it different and unique?

Another sure-fire way to innovate is by watching other facilitators. What do they do that you can take for yourself and improve upon? What did they do that you recognize doesn’t work? Learn from other’s mistakes and success to speed up your own innovation process.

characteristics of a facilitator Team

There you have it.

Seven tips that will get you started on the path to becoming a master facilitator. Remember that practice makes perfect. Remember to work with others so you can learn from each other. The more you facilitate while being conscious of these strategies, the more natural they will become.

If you can manage to do all seven with ease, that is a clear indicator that facilitation suits you. Keep it up. The world needs more facilitators.

About the Author

Michou Tchana, a Cameroonian-American, has spent the last 5 years living and working in Thailand. His experiences range from working on migrant education in Northern Thailand, designing and managing experiential education programs across Asia and helping to build capacity for social innovation and social entrepreneurship in Bangkok. Currently, he manages JUMP! Impact, the social impact branch of the JUMP! Foundation. Connect with Michou.

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