While some people love acting as the facilitator for meetings, not everyone has a passion for it. If you have unresponsive or uncooperative participants, you may feel like you’re in the hot seat, which can be uncomfortable. Practicing and improving your facilitation skills can transform facilitation from a painful experience to an exciting one. Here are ten tips to improve your facilitation skills.


  1. Start by identifying your goals and parameters.

Having a definite plan when you enter into facilitation can allow the discussion to go more smoothly. Set out an agenda and goals for the group. This lets everyone know what is expected of them during the meeting, how long the discussion is going to last, and why you need their participation.


  1. Show your enthusiasm for the topic.

It’s hard to be excited about a topic if no one else is. Even if you’re the only person who is excited to be in the meeting, show that you’re upbeat and enthused about participating from start to finish. You may feel like you’re putting on a bit of a show, but it gets easier to do with practice. Don’t worry if you feel silly – keep going.

Think about it this way. You probably had a high school teacher or a college professor that was just over the top excited. And their engagement was perhaps better than a lot of your other teachers or professors; enthusiasm is contagious. When people set the mood, it’s hard not to rise to their level.


  1. Use the physical space to aid your facilitation.

When people know that you’re the facilitator, it’s natural for them to defer to you. Participants often want to blend in and make themselves less apparent. Of course, this won’t help your discussion or meeting. If you’re in a rare in-person meeting, use the physical space to “blend in,” so to speak. You can sit among the participants instead of stand. You can lean against a table or move to a less central position so that the focus is shifted from you to your participants. Do whatever it takes to make the discussion itself the focal point of the meeting.


  1. Make eye contact with individuals.

We all know this tactic. It was often used in school to get quiet students to talk to. And it’s useful! Instead of sweeping the room with your eyes, make eye contact with individuals. You can communicate with people nonverbally and encourage them to participate in the discussion. Studies have shown that once someone engages in the debate, they’re more likely to do it repeatedly. So, just helping them do it one time can genuinely help you increase participation.


  1. Maintain neutrality

Your role as a facilitator is not to offer your opinion, but knowing how to discuss without providing your insight. Your goal is to allow others to reach a consensus. Don’t try to influence the outcome of the group. You can prompt, ask questions, have them reflect, or play devil’s advocate, but you should never reveal your preferences.


  1. Be objective

Remember, the discussion is not about you as a facilitator. The best facilitators can remain objective and genuinely “hear” what the group says to continue to guide the discussion. When you maintain an objective and non-judgmental stance throughout the entire debate, you’ll be more productive.


  1. Preempt trouble

Do your best to preempt any trouble that may occur. Perhaps there’s a lot on the meeting agenda, an individual who likes to do all the talking, or someone who tends to offend. You may have many dominant personalities in the group or a group that just doesn’t like talking. Whatever the issues are, you should spend some time working through each scenario ahead of the meeting, so you’re prepared for any potential outcome.


  1. Improve the small details

A good facilitator knows how to focus on the small details in order to maintain a good discussion. However, sometimes small external details can cloud the discussion altogether. It’s up to you, as the facilitator, to note these issues, fix them, and help get the group back on track. For example, having a good location, having a discussion at the right time, being in a room with a comfortable temperature, and having high-protein snacks and water on hand can help to keep everyone on track.


  1. Be prepared to play numerous roles

A facilitator wears several hats, depending on what the situation requires. They’re a listener, observer, clarifier, and more. They help to focus on the agenda, break up arguments, create space for those who need to be heard, and help work towards decisions when the meeting is coming to a close. When you’re acting as a facilitator, you need to be ready to flip between roles and feel comfortable doing so.


  1. Practice self-awareness

While a facilitator has “power” in the room, you’ll only become better at your role if you ask for feedback at the end of the session. Groups are often more than willing to be honest about what you did (both good and bad!). Remember that facilitation isn’t a static skill and that you must continue to work towards improving yourself as a facilitator at every chance.


Final thoughts

Whether you’re deciding where to eat or you’re deciding to start a company skillful facilitation allows meetings and discussions to go smoothly and efficiently. Some people are natural facilitators, but many others must learn how to facilitate through practice. Don’t worry if facilitation doesn’t come naturally to you. You can easily learn to facilitate by working to improve your skills and volunteering to do it as often as possible.


By Titu Sarder, President & CEO, LLTV, Inc