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Be a Better Facilitator, Be a Better Leader

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Facilitating is an important skill on the job, at home, and in your community.

If you want to lead, you need to be a great facilitator. I asked Jim Dowling, a great facilitator that I have the privilege to work with,

What are three practices that will improve my facilitating skills?

We discussed these points:


A facilitator uses authority to persuade the participants to trust the process. Authority comes from having an agenda and using transparent protocols for the meeting. By setting down what will be discussed and how it will be discussed, the facilitator creates the authority to keep the discussion on track and civil. People will trust the process when they believe the everyone will be heard and have a voice in the meeting. The reluctant will take part when they believe the group will respect every person and give opinions a fair hearing.


Speakers say a lot at meetings, covering points on and off the agenda. Fatigue from listening and learning can disrupt the connection between the speaker and the audience. People absorb knowledge at different rates. It’s the facilitator’s job to keep the speakers on track and help everyone with their listening and learning. A great facilitator periodically summarizing what the speakers have said. Speakers appreciate a summation during the meeting if the facilitator respects the speakers’ authority on their topic and keeps the speakers the focus of attention.

A great summary distills the key points and ideas delivered in a logical and memorable précis that links back to the theme of the meeting. It states how the audience can benefit by what was said and shows how it relates to the purpose of the meeting. The facilitator summarizes, builds bridges, and tells the audience the next steps outside the meeting.


A great facilitator knows the temperature of the audience and the speakers. How are the speakers reacting to the audience? How is the audience reacting to the speakers? People are excellent at taking the temperature of people, because we’ve done it since birth and know an uncomfortable situation. The art of taking the temperature is knowing what to do when it get hot, cold, or stormy. The facilitator is the social lubricant for the meeting and a condenser that focuses and re-channels discomfort or ill-will. If the concepts of the speaker roil the audience, the facilitator identifies the discomfort, names it to the audience, and relabels it to remove its power and move on to the next point. For example, the speaker states why the unemployed members of the audience are not getting jobs and tensions rise. The facilitator steps in, acknowledges that the discussion is uncomfortable and why, says why the speaker’s key points relate to the topic, and moves the audience and the speaker on to what’s next.

If you want to be a better leader at work, at home, or in the community, learn the skills of a great facilitator and practice them.

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