Here are the five essential facilitation ‘do’s’ I’ve learnt.

1) Start with a crisp purpose statement

Every workshop happens because of a problem, need or opportunity. So state it, briefly and simply.

Of course, your client might have trouble identifying the purpose, or maybe it’s mired in strategy-speak, or too sensitive to be written down. As facilitator, you’ll need to ask some questions to uncover the real purpose. 

My routine questions for the client:

“What’s the problem, need or opportunity?”

“What’s the output?” and

“Who will act on the output, when?”

These questions generate a succinct purpose statement: “The purpose of this workshop is to tackle XXX problem/need/opportunity by producing a strategy/action plan/whatever that will be acted on by XXX over the next 12 months.”

Another good question is “What’s this meeting supposed to change?” Explore that for a while, and you’re sure to strike gold.

Purpose also includes boundaries, so I’ll want to know what’s set in stone and can’t be changed by the event, for example, the timeline, the implementation budget, the decision-maker, legislative and policy constraints. All those go under the umbrella question “What are the non-negotiables?”

Now, once you have a crisp purpose statement you can go on to design the event, promote the event, and introduce the event to participants so they know why they’re there. 

And, really critically, the strategic questions that form the framework of your event will fall naturally out of a good purpose statement. So you can see why it matters.

2) The 10-minute rule

Your participants will always arrive feeling anxious (iced-up) because they’re not sure how they’ll be treated during the workshop. 

The solution is: within 10 minutes of the start of the event every participant should be genuinely listened to, with respect, by another person. I like to use fun, simple methods like “In 5 minutes how many people can you walk up to and find something in common with”. This is guaranteed to melt the ice and transform people from reluctant audience to willing participants.

3) Never tell when you can ask

The best way to educate a group is to ask the participants what they already know. Inviting and liberating their hard-won knowledge demonstrates your respect for them, and peer-validated wisdom is always more credible than any expert information.

True story: a road safety officer tried asking a room full of road offenders to share their road safety stories and lessons in pairs, and selected a number to share with the room. She discovered she didn’t need to be a top-down educator any more, and the whole atmosphere of her workshops switched from negative to positive.

4) Blow their minds

Having said that, it’s immensely valuable to ensure participants have their minds blown by inspirational possibilities and stories before they start putting their own ideas down. Usually I do a 20 minute slide show of best examples I research off Google images, but sometimes even a whole morning of cutting-edge leaders expanding on what’s possible. 

Why? Because without this input, your participants will tend to produce familiar, safe, conservative ideas because of their natural fear of being embarrassed. We always need to slay that fear before the great ideas come. The effect of mind-blowing stories is to re-set expectations and get them competing on a more daring level.

5) Be genuinely curious

If you’re truly curious about people’s ideas and stories you’ll naturally tend to be a good facilitator – you’ll respect your participants, use silence well, make eye contact, and elicit the most valuable knowledge. 

Of course there’s a lot more to good facilitation than these five practices. And it’s best learnt through doing.

Or you might like to do some training.

Les’s next Facilitate with Confidence training is 3-4 May 2023. Booking and details.

Les Robinson is a professional facilitator and facilitation trainer. His web site is