The Facilitator’s Second Biggest Mistake


The Facilitator’s Second Biggest Mistake

Whatever work you do, you will find yourself in front of a group of people from time to time; you might be pitching, presenting, running a workshop or chairing a session.

While most people know that we need presenting skills to face a group of people, we also need facilitation skills to create engagement and inclusion. Adding to your facilitation toolkit and engaging with your audience is a great way of acknowledging every person in the room; not just you, have knowledge, skills and experience. However, using facilitation techniques is open to error.

How can you avoid making the classic facilitation mistakes?

A room filled with people is also often a room filled with frustrations. As the facilitator (and I’ll use this term for anyone who is in charge of a group, whether as a meeting chair, workshop facilitator or conference presenter) it is your responsibility to draw on the best knowledge, skills and experience in the room to reach the best outcome. Even as a formal keynote speaker or conference presenter you can ask rhetorical questions or ask people to briefly turn to the person next to them to discuss something, to increase engagement and connection and improve retention of your message.

You are probably familiar with that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you know you’ve lost the group you are standing in front of. They glaze over or seem distracted or even hostile. You know you’ve made a mistake, but you’re not quite sure what you’ve done wrong.

The classic facilitation mistakes are easily avoidable, but only when you recognise what they are. Let’s start with the second biggest mistake most people facilitating a group make. I call it the ‘Oh, one more thing’ mistake (and in my next article, part 2 of this series, I will cover the facilitator’s biggest mistake).

What is the “Oh, one more thing” mistake?

For a moment, think back to a time when you were in a workshop, and this happened:

The facilitator asks a question and gives you three minutes to write down your answer. You feel a rush of creativity, and you start to form the words in your head. You can’t wait to start writing and are politely waiting until the facilitator finishes what she or he has to say so you can put pen to paper. Finally, you hear the words you’ve been waiting for, “Ok, you have three minutes starting now.” Ah, blissful silence. Your thoughts swirl, and you relish the moment of creativity. You start writing, lost in your own story. You have so much to say in three minutes … But then you are interrupted by the facilitator, “Oh, one more thing. So-and-so just asked a great question. Let me clarify what you need to do.” The facilitator goes on to explain more about the original question; that you shouldn’t think about this or you should consider that or don’t worry about something else.

All you wanted was the time to think and to write, but now you’ve lost your train of thought, and you’re frustrated and angry. 

This is the ‘Oh, one more thing’ mistake. I believe it’s the second biggest facilitation mistake. It can even happen in a formal presentation when the presenter offers the audience a few minutes to discuss something with the person next to them for a set time and then interrupts them before the time is finished. It might seem insignificant, but it’s not. The frustration lingers and impacts on the rest of the meeting, workshop or presentation because it has broken trust between the person in charge and the people in the room. A gift of time has been taken away; not a good thing.

Check the balance to avoid facilitator’s mistakes.

For nearly three decades I have been facilitating groups in a broad range of content areas, and in diverse settings. I am fascinated by what works and what doesn’t and have spent many hours assessing facilitation styles. I have hardly ever seen a facilitator give people the time they require, uninterrupted, to complete the task they need to complete. This and other mistakes I see over and over has inspired me to run courses in my Facilitation Academy for those who don’t call themselves facilitators, but who need a facilitation toolkit to manage the groups they are in front of.

Two tips to avoid the ‘Oh, one more thing’ mistake:

  • Check the balance between audience, self and content – Too much focus on any of these three will knock you off kilter. With the ‘Oh, one more thing’ mistake, you are focusing too much on content (getting the ‘right’ response) when you should be focusing on the audience (need silence).
  • Check the balance between the group and individual needs – Go over to the one person who needs clarification and whisper in their ear. Let the others in the group carry on uninterrupted.

Try it. See if you have the discipline to give people the time you have offered them to complete the task you have given them.

I’d love to hear how you go.

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