Sometimes you’re not going to be the center of attention. Sometimes your speaking opportunity is to facilitate others in giving their presentations or in experiencing an event. You could facilitate a panel discussion, a meeting, or a support group. Being a facilitator is like being a guide or sherpa. Everyone else is really doing the work, you’re just showing them the path. What follows are some tips for facilitating that will help you do a more effective job.
Before the Event
Get clear on the purpose of the meeting so that you can organize the best flow to accomplish that goal. To do this, you’ll need to know the answers to these questions:
- How much time do you have?
- What outcome should attendees expect by the end of the meeting?
- What options are available to create those outcomes?
- What resources and facilities will you have access to?
Now you can determine which activities can be done given the time and resources, as well as in what order to schedule them.
Now, make sure that the resources you need to support your agenda for the event are arranged for. Touch base with your roster of speakers and make sure they are confirmed and that you have arranged for any thing they might need, as well. Coordinate with the venue to make sure the room is set up the way you need it to be.
The Day of the Event
Arrive early and double check that everything is going according to plan. If it isn’t, fix it. Sometimes this will mean going with plan B … you had a Plan B, right?
Once the meeting starts, your main role as facilitator is to keep things going according to the agenda you set up. That means keeping an eye on the time, guiding people through the flow and makings sure guest speakers don’t step on each others’ toes. Depending on what kind of event this is, you may also be the voice of the audience, asking panelists questions on their behalf.
As facilitator, you are stepping into the role of peacemaker. You are in charge of making sure the audience’s needs are being met by the speakers, as well as that the audience behaves respectfully toward the speakers. More often than not, this doesn’t require much effort. But sometimes you’ll have to deal with big egos, rude behavior or people that get carried away and hog up time. Gently and forcefully stop these behaviors … much in the way I suggested when dealing with hecklers.
After the Event
For some events, you’ll be in charge of initiating follow up with attendees, speakers or both. This means sending thank you messages or providing supplementary information that was promised during the meeting. You may need to hold a debriefing meeting where you summarize lessons learned to improve the next meeting. You may also be in charge of making sure that the venue is put back into order before closing up and leaving.