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The Fountain Institute

Answers to Your Top Questions about Facilitation

published6 months ago
2 min read

Hey Reader,

Three of the most frequent questions that I get asked about facilitation are:

  1. What role does preparation have vs. being spontaneous?
  2. How do you motivate quieter participants?
  3. How to stop the ones that talk too much?

Facilitation is similar to juggling: you’re trying to keep many balls in the air simultaneously without dropping one. You have to manage participants, activities, and stakeholders' expectations.

1. Time Management

When you are in the role of facilitator, you are responsible for guiding people in different activities and discussions.

Providing more time for your planned activities helps you balance preparation and spontaneity.

The first rule is that everything will take longer than expected. When planning a workshop or meeting, especially for an activity you have not tried out before, give yourself 1.5x to 2x more time than you think it will take. You may be able to adjust the amount of time after you have run that activity 3x with different groups.

Pro Tip from TFI: We like to use a visual outline of the workshop, including timestamps. I also use different colors for different activities to help me quickly look and see what's next, so if I see a yellow box, I know we are moving into breakout rooms.

Visual outline from our upcoming course, Defining UX Strategy

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2. Active Listening

Active listening is the practice of preparing to listen, observing what verbal and non-verbal messages are being sent, and then providing appropriate feedback for the sake of showing attentiveness to the message being presented. - Wiki

This type of listening is a skill: the more we do it, the better we get. Designers need to sharpen their active listening not just for facilitation but for user interviews, meetings, user testing, and workshops. If you want to improve this skill, try this:

  • "Listen" to non-verbal cues
  • Don't interpret
  • Don't judge or jump to conclusions
  • Don't start planning what you will say next
  • Ask questions
  • Paraphrase

Active listening is crucial for better engaging with our quiet and talkative participants. Visual Thinking Strategies is a great way to train your active listening skills.

3. Managing Participation

Participants who don't speak or talk too much can derail a collaborative working session. I have found it helpful to have the correct question in my back pocket in both scenarios.

For the quieter participants

  • Who haven't we heard from yet?
  • I’m noticing a connection with _____. Is anyone else noticing this?

For our more vocal participants

  • "We are running low on time. Can you quickly summarize your thoughts"
  • That's a good point. For now, can we take note of this idea so we don't forget it and get back to _____?

These three tips are just the tip of the iceberg for managing audience participation.

I might dedicate a whole article to the idea, but I want your participation! If you want to know more about managing participants, reply to this email and let me know.

Until next week!

Hannah Baker
Educator & Co-Founder
The Fountain Institute


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