Facilitation Survival Guild - Part 3

Welcome to part three of the Facilitation Survival Guide. Please be sure to check out part one and part two if you missed it. Here we're getting into more tactics to sharpen your facilitation skills.

Staying On Topic

When a group has a discussion they agree on the topic to discuss. Everyone talks about the topic in turn by providing comments, information, data or asking questions. When everyone is done talking about the topic you can proceed to the next one. To help the conversation move smoothly here are some guidelines.

Begin your session by sharing the agenda with the group in advance so that everyone is aware of the topics being covered and discussed. This will prime everyone with that knowledge that so they know their time will be valued

Layout the ground rules so everyone is aware of how to act during the session when you are having discussions. Some examples of ground rules: One conversation at a time, respect for people, challenge ideas and not people, everyone has an equal voice, have a parking lot for items raise that indirectly related to the topic in discussion

Actively listen to the discussion to determine if everyone is talking about the core topic. Avoid following people down a rabbit hole and getting caught up in the details. Suggest either an offline conversation and add the item to the parking lot for a follow-up discussion.

Be kind but stern when you interject into the conversation to bring the topic back on point. Wrap up the topic with a quick summary and get a group consensus to move to the next topic in your agenda

Managing Time

Time-boxing is a great way to create focus and set boundaries around the discussion and activities you have planning in your session. Group discussions and activities can take longer portions of your session so you will have to plan out when those activities and align them with the outcome you are trying to achieve.

Some time management tactics for tracking time. Use your watch or your phone to set time limits and let people know how much time is remaining. Set an alarm so people know when time is up. You can delegate timekeeping to someone in the group.

To make sure you keep your awareness in the room for activities and discussion choose a method that works for you and makes it easy for track time.

Regardless of what method you choose make sure you give clear notice and instruction around how you are keeping time, how you will indicate time remaining and what signals time is up.

A Facilitator Back-up Plan

Even the best laid plans can be derailed from time to time. A well prepare facilitator should have a trick or two up their sleeves. I have found that even with a goal sometimes the energy of the crowd or the different agendas in the room can conflict with the outcome we’ve set out to achieve.

Be ready to interchange activities or change methods to stay aligned on the goals of the session. However, if there is a obstacle we can put aside and there’s no way around it you may have to reframe the session as long as you have the permission from the group to do so.

Remember we’re doing these session for the benefit of the audience and we are helping them to achieve the a goal that agree on. If that goal is to change we need everyone to agree.

Energizing The Crowd

Reading the room and your audience is a great skill to have. When a group of people walk into a room they convey energy. It might be excited, nervous, tired, curious or any other kind of energy and once you have identified it you can either use the momentum of that energy or redirected and shape it.

If possible try and plan the activities you have for your session and align it with the energy level of the crowd. To get you started you can get the energy of the crowd flowing with activities like Forming Triangles or Untangle Yourselves.

Keeping the energy levels up enable focus and creativity with the audience work on the task at hand and make of a great session.


As a facilitator you have to check-in regularly with your audience. Are they making progress? Is the process working for them? Have their needs changed?

As much as you want to stick to your plan and agenda be flexible enough to shift activities, exercises, discussion and breaks around so you can keep people engaged and energized.

It’s also a good idea to share with your audience they your observations on progress and process to build in a feedback loop on if you need to change the pace of the meeting or continue on as planned. What’s even better is in involve them in the decision on what’s best to do with the time remaining in the session.

Neutral Facilitation

As my skills as a coach and a facilitator grow I am being asked more to facilitate groups through discussions, decision making and processes to get to a desired outcome.

You have to identify what role you will take for those types of facilitated sessions. Most of the time it’s content that does not concern me directly and I play the role of a 3rd party that is neutral to the content and the outcome.

Other times, I have a vested interest in the content and will come in with an establish agenda and my role becomes more collaborative and co-creative towards the outcome.

Remember the role you taking and do your best to facilitate from that space and stay within the boundaries.


Thanks for reading part three of the Facilitation Survival Guide. Soon you'll be managing your time, staying on topic, energizing the crowd, being a flexible and neutral facilitator. Mastering the skills in all three parts should make you well equipped to take on any facilitation scenario that comes to you.

I would love to hear from you. If there's something you liked or think something is missing then comment below or email me directly on the about us page.


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