Facilitator Succinctness

Succinct Banner1

SUCCINCT! I’ve always loved that word. So my question to everyone of us who facilitates meetings and workshops is: Are you succinct enough?

In our recent concurrent session at IAF Asia, several people noted that we needed to be clearer in our instructions with the big group. This is an example of where we were not succinct enough. Another place that I’ve noticed about the need to be more succinct (have I said how much I love that word!) is context setting. The bottom line is every process facilitator needs to know how to minimize his or her own talking to allow the group to do their work. This is a key competency that I struggle with all the time. I have a bad habit of using more words than needed. This blog addresses a number of ways that we can be more succinct in giving instructions, writing objectives, sharing information, paraphrasing and acknowledging what you’ve heard.

So as per my photos in the banner, let’s throw those excess words into the trash bin, and clear a more succinct path to the group’s success. Yesterday, my husband and I cleared two trees of excess branches that were getting in the way of the pedestrians using the sidewalk, overshadowing plants in the front yard, and making it difficult for people to park on the street. All those excess leaves were impeding progress for many forms of life!

Warning – I will try to be extremely succinct. ✅👀👍🏻

1. Giving Instructions

First, get everyone’s attention. Tell them you are going to give them the brief form of instructions. As you speak, refer to the same but more focused instructions on a flip chart, PowerPoint, or whiteboard. Make sure your writing is large enough for everyone in the room to be able to see. If there is more than one instruction involved in the activity, include the instructions in written form. In our resources below, you can access three examples of small group instructions for a vision, celebration and change discussion.

2. Writing Objectives

Most of my aims or objectives are way too long, i.e. more than 15 words! How can you reduce your objectives to a smaller number of words? One of our past blogs, noted in the Resources section below, addresses effectively written objectives. In the blog, here is one that is too long. What is wrong with it?

“Maintain a fair and impartial claims processing system as determined by yearly client service”.

Answer: There are at least six extra words that detract. You don’t need to say “as determined by…” because that’s the how not the what. Objectives are about the what. So, the newly succinct version is:

“Maintain a fair and impartial claims processing system” (8 words!)

Here is another example of wordiness in an objective for a recent workshop we did:

“Identify ways that every team member can create a supportive environment to realize the mission”.

What would you do to make less wordy? We offer our suggestion at the bottom of the Resources section.

3. Sharing Information

A prime example of sharing information is when you introduce yourself and perhaps your co-facilitators. You could go on and on and on about all your credentials and/or have someone else introduce you with a very long-winded bio. Instead, here are two alternatives:

    1. 1. Simply say: “I provided a bio on the back wall and I’ve also included a link to it in the agenda you received in advance. I’d like to emphasize that I have always appreciated the kind of work your group does. I’m delighted to be here. My role is to guide you through processes that help you do your best thinking together.” Done! Say no more!
    1. 2. One of my colleagues, Nanci Luna Jimenez has the group ask her questions as a way for the group to get to know and trust her, i.e. she tells them, “You can ask me anything you want to know about me”. That is especially effective when you’re spending several days with the group working on personal or deep issues.

4. Paraphrasing

Most facilitators over paraphrase. The concept of paraphrasing is to summarize what a person said. But why would you do that more than once or twice in a day long workshop? Most of the time people do not need you to paraphrase for them. It can feel patronizing and give the person the impression that they were not clear in what they said. Now sometimes that is true. People are not clear. Ask someone else in the group to summarize what they heard that person say. That removes you from doing the talking. Or, paraphrase only when you do not understand what the person is saying. I might for example say, “I’m not sure I understand you. I’m thinking that you are talking about a new way of reaching the public about… Can you sum up what you just said in a sentence that I could put on the flip chart?”

5. Acknowledging People’s Input

In our ToP (Technology of Participation) Facilitation Methods course, we often remind people all they need to do after someone offers an answer is to nod their head, or say “thank you”. You do not need to make a comment about what they said. You do not need to summarize what they said. You do not need to say how great their comment was. Why? Because if you tell one person their comment was great, you really need to do that for every other comment. That would become disingenuous and tedious.

That’s it for being succinct. Let me know other ways you are succinct.


Check out the last tip in this blog to be more succinct in giving small groups a time check: https://www.northstarfacilitators.com/2017/03/time-the-ultimate-asset-in-meetings/

Tips for making your visual instructions amongst other ideas: https://www.northstarfacilitators.com/2015/08/raise-the-bar-on-meeting-participation-the-art-of-visuals/

Tips for creating objectives: https://www.northstarfacilitators.com/2015/12/the-clarity-and-confusion-around-goals-and-objectives/

Download these small group instruction and other template examples from this webpage link: https://www.northstarfacilitators.com/facilitator-templates/

Our answer to making an objective less wordy:

“Identify ways to create a supportive environment” (7 words versus the original 15)

Barbara MacKay

Barbara loves “everything facilitation”. She thinks BIG! She loves working with other facilitators around the globe to create transformational results for client groups. She loves teaching others how to do that. She loves presenting at global facilitator conferences. She loves certifying new professional facilitators. If you also love what process facilitation can do for the world, connect with her – virtually or in person. She believes facilitation processes, used well, will provide the roadmap to a more just and sustainable world.

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