Be a Hack of a Facilitator!


Tips and strategies for new facilitators
By Dorothy Purge


Assuming that you have been appointed Facilitator for a one-day Meeting or a longer Retreat, you are faced with the challenging role of communicating strategically with a group of persons within an organization who could be: evaluating their firm’s activities for a specific period; planning for the future (i.e., compiling a five-year strategic plan); or meeting for any other business related issue which needs to be brought into focus. You could be totally unfamiliar with the group and their jargon, nevertheless you are expected to fulfil the basic three-dimensional aspect of the job which is to find (or extract information from the group) and to establish a system to retain and retrieve those findings.

Does the job sound exciting?

Are you prepared to let the participants do what they never dreamed they could do?

What kind of Facilitator are you going to be?

A Facilitator can very well be termed as a Hacker: One who breaks in and extracts information which will be used to put the client’s group on a higher plateau as in most Non-Government Organisations (NGO) whose theme oftentimes is: “The Way Forward.”

Every group has its peculiarity. Some participants may vary in educational backgrounds, communication skills, or even culture. Therefore before planning is commenced, you should know the number of participants and their job functions. This will assist you when you are ready to design your Meeting and allow you to make specific references during the Meeting; hence if it is a mixed group, the problem of persons feeling ‘left out’ will be minimized.

Sure, you want to be a “Hack of a Facilitator!”

You would like to make a good impression so that you will be asked repeatedly to facilitate. But which of the Hackers would you like to be? Certainly not a ‘negative’ one who is dull, boring and rhetorical. To avoid this, think creatively of a design for the Meeting that will allow you to successfully break into the minds of your participants and find their dormant thoughts and ideas. Activate them for compiling a possible Work Plan where information is retained for retrieval. It is entirely up to you to make a ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ impact on the group.

What are the pre-requisites for the would-be ‘positive’ Hacker?
The two most important skills are listening and communicating.

Of course you want to be that ‘positive’ Hacker! The one who:

Designs creatively;Pitches exceptionally well throughout the Meeting;Paces smoothly.


Be magical! Do not limit your ideas. It is amazing how much participants can get out of you when you are creative. This in turn helps them to be creative.

Here’s just one example:
You could liken the idea of a participant’s company being a motor car which needs various parts to make it work efficiently. Let the participants name various parts of the car and its link to the entire unit in order for it to function effectively.

  • Will the car work without the brakes?
  • Will the brakes work without the discs?
  • What’s the importance of the clutch?

Feel free to re-think your ideas and to re-design its original shape. Break-Out sessions can be stimulating as participants tend to feel more ‘at ease.’ The above example could be used as a Break-Out session where participants work in groups.

Ice Breakers

Plan an ice breaker or two to allow the participants to feel relaxed. If you anticipate the meeting to be a ‘tough’ one, you could try this group exercise:

  • Make participants write a sentence using their left hand, that is, for persons who normally write with their right hands.
  • For those who write with their left hand, they are required to do the reverse.
  • Repeat writing the same sentence a few times.

You will definitely get some ‘hmm’s and ha’s before they begin this interesting exercise.

The aim is to challenge participants to think and pursue difficult tasks while simultaneously demonstrating the ability to ‘show’ what they are capable of doing rather than ‘tell.’

The objective is, that with practice and confidence, each sentence should be better written and with more ease as the writing progresses.

Green Lights

As Facilitator, you are “the Captain speaking” therefore ensure that everyone is aware of your destination, in other words your Objectives.

Have you ever been on an aircraft where a passenger has boarded the wrong flight?Perhaps the flight announcer’s voice was a bit muffled or the passenger was distracted when the announcement was made. In any event the passenger was at the wrong place.

Therefore at the beginning of the session it is suggested that you:

  • Clearly state your Objectives.
  • Invite participants to state what they expect to achieve at the end of theMeeting. This can help you to assess their levels of Insights, Knowledge and Skill on the Topical Agenda.
  • Outline Question and Answer procedures.


Starting the Meeting on a crescendo and ending on a similar note works well. After all, participants should feel enthused returning to their employ, ready to start a plan of action. Let your voice be crystal clear and keep the content fluid.


It is important to pace your Meeting in a timely manner. There are times when you may have to pick up speed but avoid being a ‘quickie.’ Instead, observe the group carefully to ensure that messages are being understood. Wrap-ups are important to summarize conclusions.

Red Lights

Body Language: During the Meeting watch for ‘raised eye brows’, shrugged shoulders or any other action representing a negative tone.

As Facilitator, you should avoid showing any form of impatience or fatigue.Always portray a positive tone which will help to motivate the group.

Retain and Retrieve

One of the most suitable ways of ensuring that decisions from the Meeting are retained for implementation is to devise a Work Plan using “WH” factors:

WHAT will be done

State HOW the action will be done.

Allow time for participants to reflect on the Work Plan and emphasise the importance of Work Plan re-visits which could be every six weeks or three months as agreed by the organization.

The Work Plan (or its equivalent) is the catalyst of the Meeting and is commonly used by Non-Government Organisations as a continuous evaluation record.

Time Management

Be respectful of the participants’ time.

Thank You

Be polite and let the participants know that you appreciated their attendance and participation.

The Author
Dorothy Purge
Writer: National Gold Medalist, Kingston, Jamaica

Contact Us About Facilitation Training and Services ยป