How to be a great workshop facilitator

As daunting as speaking to a room of professionals can sound, it's not all that hard. It's usually the people you think are going to be the hardest to please who will end up being the ones who enjoy your service the most - if you put in the effort of course.

We have devised some of the best things you can do as a facilitator to up your game.

You will usually be trying to master a challenge that has been set before the day of the workshop. Even if you are not going to be the person who is coming up with ideas, it is essential to have background knowledge of the subject. Being in a different position in the room allows you to listen more to people's opinions but also challenge them.

During our design sprints, we love to ask people to validate their reasoning behind solutions even if they sound great! To do this, you can ask, "how might that work alongside this part of the system?" or "can we also improve this area similarly using this idea?".

If you are running a design sprint, the workshop falls on day one and two. You should ensure that all preparations for the workshops are done with plenty of time in hand before anyone arrives. Not only does this give you peace of mind and the freedom to focus on your and the participants' enjoyment, but over the course of one day, sourcing more paper or finding a new pen because you've run out of ink makes you lose time and slow down the momentum of the group.

Make sure the room you are in has the blinds open to let in natural light. Change the air conditioning to a comfortable temperature and place some healthy snacks down to keep everyone fuelled for a long day.

If you are facilitating a workshop in a room which you are not so familiar with, try to visit it before the final moment. Take some photos so you can think about how your activities will fit on the walls or how you will put tables together to form groups.

On the day of the workshop, it is important that YOU feel great! Have an energy filled breakfast and wake up early to mitigate any potential issues while getting to the workshop room. As the participants of the workshop walk into the room greet them enthusiastically and smile! A first impression will go a whole day.

As you come to facilitating your workshop, one tip after you have introduced the session is to gain validation from the group as the ringleader. This helps when you need to move conversations on if they start to drag on. By saying "I'm going to be the facilitator today, and will keep our momentum going through the day so we don’t end up running out of time are we all OK with that?".

It's always more relaxing to be in a room where everyone feels like they can make a joke. If it comes from the facilitator, this will set the tone for what everyone feels they can say. Have one or two in your back pocket that you say when you introduce a task or the whole day.

One of the most important things as a facilitator is to keep the engagement between yourself and the room. You are a human pen. Your jotting of notes on a whiteboard needs to be maintained throughout the day. If you're stuck on what to write or how to translate ideas from participants into drawings or notes, ask "how can I capture that?". This rebounds the question back to the participant and gets them to really dig into their process but also maintains your credibility as the facilitator. 

This one should go without saying; however, you must must must keep to the timings you have set yourself. There is nothing worse than participants leaving a session three-quarters complete. No matter how many great ideas were pumped out, there will be a sense of underachievement. Be sure to keep reminding participants that discussions need to move on by saying something like "that's a great point, so let's revisit that".

An excellent technique used during our design sprints is Time-boxed exercises. We have a clock sitting right in the middle of the table where everyone can see the time remaining. This visual cue not only helps you the facilitator but also everyone else knows that your activities will not last longer than they should. This will also help keep everyone's conversations concise and to the point. 

Feedback from your group is one of the simplest ways to learn and improve for your next session. If you don't want this to be too formal, like a paper feedback form, then a good technique is to ask everyone to rate specific aspects you want to review out of 5 with a show of hands. After a sprint workshop, we use paper feedback forms now so that we can use testimonials; however, you must remember to ask permission to use anyone's comments in your marketing.

Finally, you learn the most by teaching others. Think about how you could organise a small event to the public explaining your trade. Hey, you might even get leads off the back of it.

We hope that these have been some useful tips to guide you to become a better facilitator. If you would like to learn more about design sprints visit our design sprint page.

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MVG Media Ltd
9 Appold St, Hackney