Top tips and tools for facilitators

a person standing and reading intently

Top Tips for Facilitators

  • Design a good agenda. Be realistic about what the meeting can achieve. Set time limits and tackle all points.
  • Be aware of both content and process.
  • Keep the group moving towards its aims.
  • Use a variety of facilitation tools to keep everyone interested.
  • Create a safe and empowering atmosphere to get the best contribution from everyone.
  • Put a stop to domineering, interrupting, put-downs and guilt trips.

Glossary of Tools

Excitement sharing – people share something good or exciting that has happened to them recently / since the last meeting. Good at start of meetings as it creates a lot of positive energy and puts people more in touch with each other’s lives.

Group Agreement – the group agrees at the beginning of the meeting what behaviour will help make the meeting a safe, respectful place for everyone. May include things like: switch off phones; no smoking; one person speaking at a time; no put-downs; respect etc.

Go-rounds – everyone takes a turn to speak without interruption or comment from other people. Go-rounds help to gather opinions, feelings and ideas as well as slowing down the discussion and improving listening. Make sure that everyone gets a chance to speak.

Handsignals can make meetings run more smoothly and help the facilitator see emerging agreements. Three simple signals should suffice:

raise both hands in the air

Raise a hand when you wish to contribute to the discussion with a general point.

Raise both hands if your point is a direct response to the current discussion. This allows you to jump to the head of the queue, so use it wisely and discourage overuse!

Silent applause‘ – when you hear an opinion that you agree with, wave a hand with your fingers pointing upwards. This saves a lot of time as people don’t need to chip in to say “I’d just like to add that I agree with…”

Ideastorming gathers a large number of ideas quickly. Start by stating the issue. Ask people to say

whatever comes into their heads as fast as possible – without censoring or discussion. This encourages creativity and frees energy. Write down all ideas for later discussion.

Paired listening creates a space where everyone is heard, so participants can explore and formulate their own thoughts and feelings on an issue without interruption. In pairs, one person is the listener, the other speaks about her thoughts and feelings on the issue. The listener gives full attention to their partner without interrupting. After a set time swap roles within the pairs.

Parking space – when something comes up that’s not relevant to the discussion at hand “park” it in the parking space (a large sheet of paper on the wall) and deal with it at an appropriate time later. This allows you to stay focused but reassures

Small Groups create safer spaces for people to contribute to the meeting. They can also make meetings more efficient – any topics are discussed more effectively in a smaller task group, and different groups can discuss different topics simultaneously. Explain clearly what you want groups to do. Write up the task where people can see it. If you want feedback at the end, ensure each group appoints a notetaker to report back.

Talking stick – people may speak only when they hold the talking stick. This makes people conscious of when they interrupt others.

Throw back to the group – many facilitators feel they have to deal with all the problems that arise in meetings. Where possible, let the group do the work. If someone asks a question, you don’t have to answer it so throw it back to the group. Get them to make the major decisions about things like time, and priorities for the meeting

people doing paired listening