Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Being a Facilitator

Facilitating is like the best live performances. Although a particular piece may have been done many times, as the curricula of training manuals, it’s the audience that make the difference as the participants in a seminar: how they respond, the look on their faces, their body language, the vibe in the room etc. There are various ways of communicating and collaborating, both between the audience and the orchestra or band, and the facilitator and participants.

Early on this year I was invited by a friend to attend a weekend workshop well known for its resort and training. She had been telling me about the resort for some time and she had been a facilitator there some years back. In fact, the founder is a dear friend and personal coach of hers. I agreed.

After a few minutes into the session, being a trainer myself and curricula designer, I knew that I would be struggling through the weekend. I didn’t think I needed the kind of boot camp motivation being offered. All the facilitators were dressed in Army fatigues and spoke in high decimals…at a resort!

All I could think of was “Judith, what have you gotten yourself into?” I hope my participants aren’t thinking that when I’m facilitating, but I have definitely gotten that same look that I felt. Many times training seminars are mandatory and participants come to us kicking and screaming. What they may not be aware of, however, is what we get from the,.

Knowing the attitude of some participants, I tried desperately to stay positive, but my body language must have shown a slight or not so slight annoyance. The facilitator began singly me out immediately, trying to engage me. She called on me three times in the first 15 minutes and asked if I would come to the front to fill in a vacant seat. OK.

The first time she called on me I smiled and answered. The second time I smiled and answered. The third time I asked if someone else among the 50 participants would like to participate. Her response, “no, I’d like for you to answer.” I did not smile, nor did I answer. I politely gathered my things and left. I was definitely in the wrong workshop.

Now, I am not sure who she’s used to motivating but as a facilitator, I would never ever single out one person among a group and insist upon answers fifteen minutes into the session. It might have also had something to do with the boot camp theme. But I wasn’t feeling it and didn’t wish to be singled out. Though, she didn't get it.

I got the impression right away that this lead facilitator thought she knew me. But she did not. She did not know that I was a Fortune 500 facilitator, and curricula designer. She did not know that I had travelled all the way from Michigan to be there. She did not know that I was there as a guest of the founders' friend. She did not get the right vibe from me other than I was slightly annoyed. I take seemingly difficult participants as a gentle challenge to engage them. It’s like courting them. This facilitator lacked finesse. But, hey, maybe that was the boot camp theme again.

Theme or no theme I don’t think it’s a good idea for facilitators to assume they know participants, especially within the first fifteen minutes into the session. You could be judging improperly and miss the connection and process of growth for both the facilitator and participant.

The weekend turned out to be not so bad, but I had to make the adjustments, as it seemed that the lead facilitator was on one track with no nuances or variances to various participants. When I’m facilitating I try to listen to what participants are saying and what they’re not and wait a while before I responding directly to them. I want not only my words to be right but my inflections as well. I learned this from substituting in a different school everyday and going from elementary school to high school for more than a few years while attending graduate school.

When facilitating, wait, watch, listen and then respond.

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