Preparing to Facilitate – Are You Ready (Enough)?
The photos we use in the banner and narrative for this revised 2011 blog are from my current trip in Vancouver Island off the west coast of Canada. There are magnificent coastal views of course being on a spectacular island with much rain forest – albeit much of it has been logged. I was thinking about the metaphors one can use to think wisely about preparing to meet your client’s needs, your own needs, and of course the group’s needs. The banner photo is meant to evoke a sense of the landscape for which you are preparing. The path looks fairly clear but there is a long way to go to reach the point of land on the right. There are some cloudy or grey areas but some glimmer of clear blue sky to guide you through the maze of preparation you must go through to create a smooth, successful session for your group.
We feel this blog is most appropriate for Facilitator Journey stages 5 and 6 when you are the lead in facilitating. It will help you to market yourself (stage 5 – marketer) at a good charge-out rate, because when you do a good job in the preparation, the client sees and feels it. They are happy and more fully understand why you charged the higher rate. It works also for stage 6 (warrior) because you may be a little anxious facilitating more complicated jobs. You want to make sure you are doing everything you can to sustain your reputation as a solid facilitator within your organization or as an independent external one.
Here are five must do’s to ensure you feel relaxed, confident and PREPARED to do the very best facilitation job you can do at that given moment, for that given situation. I can honestly assure you that often, even with all the preparation in the world, things do not go as planned. This blog intends also to help you figure out how to prepare for the unexpected.
Prepare Yourself – Optimize Your Style
After you have spoken with your client group, you will have a better idea of why they need a neutral facilitator, what they hope to accomplish at both a practical level but also what they hope to have as a workshop experience. Finally you will have learned how your particular style fits in with this group and how you will adapt or use it for maximum impact (see blog on styles below). You have asked good questions of your client group to get this basic information. See resources below for some great questions you can use when contracting with and interviewing your client group. Some other ways you can prepare yourself to feel consciously competent with this particular job are to: visualize the process from start to finish; choose methods and tools that you feel comfortable with and are suitable to the objectives of the group (i.e., not just your usual “go-to” tools and methods but ones that truly will pin point exactly what the group needs to make a break through); develop your own detailed script, mind-map, outline or guide for unfamiliar portions; plan open-ended questions for each activity; and foster a good ongoing relationship with key members of the group and client (see next point below).
Know Your Group and Let Them Know You
There are different approaches to create an open flow of communication before showing up as their facilitator. If you feel the topic is complex, or there are many different perspectives, or participants feel unsafe about this event, it is good to get to know them and them to get to know you fairly well, ahead of time. You can pre-interview key stakeholders (approximately 1/3) and do a good job of researching the situation of the group and/or their history. In a recent complex situation, our facilitator team created a survey monkey questionnaire for all the participants to answer and we had two virtual group meetings with all the participants.
Design Session Framework – Create Order from Chaos
In this section of your preparation, you will want to draft the objectives of the session and agenda and get feedback from key members of the group on both before finalizing. Then review and finalize the methods and/or techniques you will use. In the same scenario as noted in point 2 above, we also had a virtual meeting with the core planning team (virtual because they were in a different city from us) and asked them to each write down what would be the best possible outcomes. We also pre-tested some ideas for activities with them. Then we designed a draft agenda from that. We shared the proposed objectives and agenda with all participants and got their permission to use that as our guide. We also let them know we would adapt as needed. Our agenda and objectives looked orderly but we also prepared ourselves mentally and emotionally for “anything can happen” scenario which of course it did. We breathed and took mini “panic” sessions before we started to let out our own worries about how difficult this might be. We also had planned some back up activities and pre-decided which activities we could cut if more time was needed to achieve certain objectives.
The Where and Who – Ensuring Space Works for Participants
You will need to verify that your room location and adjacent spaces will suit the agenda you have co-created with the client. You want to ensure that you and the participants know exactly where the meeting room is. In addition, you should arrange to get into the room an hour or more before the meeting and arrange for an hour after the meeting to ensure you have relaxed timing for setting up and taking down. The best possible situation is to set the room up the day or evening before, then there are no surprises. Have you checked that all the technology you need works? We always try to get a photo of the room or visit it in person and leave clear instructions with the planning team about room and equipment setup. If you have not identified all of the participants, this is a good time to ensure all the right people will be at the meeting. Ask a question like: Who is not yet invited that has knowledge or perspective that will ensure you can implement the results you come up with?
The Infamous Props and Visuals
Most groups will do much better if you have ample visuals to help them process what is happening in every part of the meeting. For example, use PowerPoint slides for instructions for a larger audience. Use flipchart pages or a white board that describe the agenda and objectives for smaller groups. Sometimes we do a double size flipchart and write really big with extra “fat” markers and multiple dark colours. Ensure you do NOT use orange, pink or red writing as it cannot be seen by some and from far way they cannot be read by anyone. You may need to prepare small group instructions (a few sample templates can be found at this link) and charts that will hold information that the group generates in the meeting. You may wish to have a center piece or some fun kinesthetic toys if the meeting objectives warrant some extra special energy. See blogs and videos below on ideas for what to pack!