When They Ask You to Facilitate After a Lot of Presentations – How to Get Meaningful Participation

(This article was published in our May 2011 Newsletter)

Many times, I’ve been asked to facilitate a workshop session or conference style event which includes many speaker presentations. My client, in these cases, assumes we will simply start the facilitation after all the presentations. The prevalence of using “expert” speakers  to “kick-off” planning or other strategizing sessions often perplexes me (because it does not use the wisdom in the room) but combined with facilitation, can be amazingly powerful.  So, I ask you – are you offering your facilitation skills in these types of situations? What about offering to facilitate processing of the content from the presentations during and immediately after the presentations!?


There are many reasons for doing this including:

  • People will retain the presenters’ information better.
  • You can begin to shape the direction of the participants’ energy, mood, and thinking by engaging them as they hear the “data”.
  • People will develop a rapport with you, the facilitator, before you “officially” begin – thus reducing time to build  trust and credibility with the participants.
  • It is an add-on bonus for the client that they rarely think about. They appreciate you helping them out with this part of the day/session.
  • It gains credibility and visibility for facilitation skills in a way rarely used and helps the whole day become interactive, engaging, rather than just a segment of the day. 
  • It breaks down the hierarchy of the  speaker(s) as the only expert(s) in the room.

Many of you no doubt already do this. However, it comes as surprise so often to my clients about how you do this.


Use a facilitated approach to presentations when:

  • You have several speakers  presenting back to back.
  • You have a very long presentation or a content-difficult subject which participants may have a hard time digesting.
  • The participants are also experts in the field of the presentations.
  • When the material presented is emotionally heavy and may lead to strong feelings that unprocessed, will leave the group exhausted and unable to re-engage later in the day.


A simple way to do this is the following:

  • After each speaker or at least after every 30 minutes of presentation material, stop to let the group reflect on the material in small groups of 3-8 people.
  • Your reflection questions may include: What did you just hear (i.e., literally phrases or “data-bytes” from the speaker)? What surprised you about what you heard?  What was most interesting to you? What are the implications of this material for our group? What else would we like to know? 
  • Post these questions on a PowerPoint slide for the group to refer to if a large group; you can also print out small group instructions for each table group, and get them to record answers on the sheet, or ask someone to record answers on a laptop and send to you for inclusion in the document.
  • HINT: what really makes this go well is to provide a lot of guidance on how they can self-facilitate. (e.g., on the instruction sheets I ask them to choose the table facilitator based on e.g., who had the most pets; who bought an appliance recently; who is wearing the most blue)
  • I also give the group approximate timing for each question so all groups will finish at approximately the same time.
  • I give general hints like – “Get everyone to answer the first question and then solicit 2-3 answers for each of the other questions. Make sure everyone had a chance to talk.”
  • A different way to engage participants during speaker presentations is to use a graphic or visual facilitator who will depict what is being presented on long sheets of paper posted on the walls. This is a great addition, although a passive way, to engage participants – the graphic facilitation provides an excellent reference later in the session and discussion points for break.
  • Another creative way to engage people during presentations is to provide large blank paper (e.g., flipchart size) on the tables with markers. Have participants collectively or collaboratively draw what they heard from the speakers for five minutes or so after each speaker and then present briefly key points or messages they heard to the whole group (e.g., 2 minutes each).