You’ve been there. I sure have. Sometimes meetings and training sessions seem to drag because you can’t get a good discussion going. Other times, people start talking and can’t seem to stop, or arguments and conflicts devour precious time. In order to facilitate effectively, you need to know both how to get a group started, and then how to manage the discussion. Based on twenty years’ experience, these are my Ten Terrific Tips for Group Facilitation:
1. Start with easy-to-answer questions. These questions should be closed ended and not sensitive in nature, so that your audience feels comfortable responding. As you continue to build trust, you can move into more sensitive issues, and ask more open ended questions.
2. Call on the group at large, not an individual. Pose your question to everyone, then as you look around, select the person or persons you want to call on. This way, everyone stays engaged, and no one is put on the spot.
3. Use the silence. Once you have asked a question, don’t jump in with your own answer. Count to ten, if you need to, before saying anything. Let the group have time to think and respond.
4. Ask participants to write down their ideas. Have paper or note cards handy. This is especially helpful with a quiet group, when time is short or when emotions are high.
5. Ask for a volunteer to write comments or answers on a flipchart. This will keep you from having to turn away from the group to write, allowing you to keep the group engaged, or to keep an eye on a talkative group.
6. Incorporate physical movement. Have individuals move into small groups, walk up to the front of the room to post their ideas, or stand beside a flipchart to deliver their findings to the large group. Use games and puzzles that get them physically engaged.
7. Manage side conversations. Make steady eye contact with those who tend to chat, stand closer to them, or use silence until the room becomes quiet. By using these “silent” techniques, you can usually maintain control without having to say anything.
8. Break a large group down into smaller ones for discussion. Give complete directions first, then disperse into breakout groups. If directions are complicated, write them on a flipchart, along with the time to reconvene. To signal small groups to return to the large group, dim the lights or sound a timer.
9. Don’t shy away from conflict. Disagreement can be a sign of independent thinking, and can lead to better solutions in the long run. When conflict arises, try to disagree with the statement rather than with the person. If the emotional temperature gets too hot, you might suggest a short break before continuing.
10. Use courteous language. Words such as “please” and “thank you” and inclusive terms like “Let’s look at our next agenda item” or “Shall we check for consensus now?” foster a climate of respect and cooperation.
Whether you are highly experienced or brand-new to classroom training or facilitation, you have probably discovered your own tips to encourage participation and manage group dynamics. If you are willing to share, please post your best facilitation tips.