We Who Facilitate Workshops and Presentations

Do you facilitate workshops or instruct groups of people? Do you coach others individually? And finally, have you ever caught yourself disappointed with someone because they make mistakes or errors after you’ve shared some technique or lesson?

Ah if learning was truly linear and everyone had the capacity to fully grasp everything they are taught; and this includes you and me by the way.

I had the occasion this week to start working with a fresh group of job seekers. My approach with them on a daily basis has and continues to be, that I facilitate a group instruction session at the start of a day, and again at its end. During the rest of the day, my time is spent going from person to person and providing individual help. On Tuesday of this week, I decided I’d give a refresher on the idea of targeting the resume to specific jobs, and how essential it is to first read a posting and then craft your resume to match the qualifications and skills required by the company in order to be asked to an interview.

The people I’m working on behalf this week and next are a bright group; they are truly wonderful people as individuals and I have tremendous confidence in them. It was the following day, when I sat down with one of them for the first time and reviewed his resume which by this time he had completed. Together we took a posting he was interested in and we massaged that resume to align itself with the stated needs of the employer. And all the while, working one on one, he had more and more light bulb moments.

You see what he didn’t grasp fully the first time around in a group setting, he did connect with when looking at things a second time while getting personal help. And here, although I know many of you who instruct others are equally or more qualified than myself, I want to provide a gentle reminder. Just because we share our knowledge it doesn’t mean it necessarily is learned and retained.

And it’s not because we aren’t good or even great at facilitation. No it could just be simply that a person needs to hear something more than once, and receive that information in different ways, in order for the information to be truly learned. The gratification I personally derived from those a-ha moments however was invaluable. And you know it as well as I do don’t you? Those moments when someone who really wants to learn something really does and you are there to witness it.

We all learn differently. Another participant in my group is a literal learner. Things shared verbally are heard, but in order to retain them, she often says, “Can you say that again, exactly like you just said it a moment ago?” I can sometimes, and other times I can’t say it exactly but it’s close. And close for her style of learning isn’t good enough. That’s not a problem of hers you understand, it just means she’s learning differently. Whereas I’m sharing something by way of example, and want a concept learned, she learns best by having the specific example repeated verbatim. I’m concentrating on one thing, her another, and it’s just different.

If you are new to the role of Facilitator, be aware of your own expectations and how often those in your audiences will nod their heads in apparent understanding, but will not be able to apply those ideas in practice immediately. You might find yourself frustrated and say to yourself or your colleagues, “Ugh! They just don’t get it! I taught them this and it’s like they aren’t even listening!” Sorry, but this actually says more about your style of teaching and patience than it does about your audience. And yes I’ve made this mistake too in the past.

When facilitating, it’s critical to remember people learn differently. Some folks are visual learners, and if your lesson includes slides, Prezi’s and PowerPoints, they get it. Some need to take notes, while others just sit back and absorb. Some look like they are sleeping or doodling, but they may be conceptualizing, imagining, and trying to connect the abstract to their reality.

I’d suggest you would do well to create a climate when facilitating, whereby your group is entirely comfortable and has your permission to interrupt, question, ask for the pace to be varied, points re-explained and have the patience to provide examples when you are asked for them. At the outset, it’s always a good idea to remind your audience that their fellow participants will almost always learn in different but equally valid ways. This respect for each other extends to their learning style and retention.

And selfishly, as a Facilitator, you will learn as do I with each and every group, where your teaching style can be improved. If you are consciously aware of it, you’ll discover how to reach someone with a specific learning style who previously wasn’t aware what their learning style was. You then become a better Facilitator because you adjust and connect better with your audience.

Remember therefore that when your audience has nodding heads but glazed over eyes, it may be time to pause and consider alternative methods of communicating your points. This will ultimately make you a strong Facilitator who connects with your audience!


3 thoughts on “We Who Facilitate Workshops and Presentations

  1. You make a good point about learning styles. My challenge is to include opportunities in each session for all three styles; auditory, visual, and tactile. Usually, when a participant is starting to gap out it’s due to not providing these opportunities. In today’s media-rich world appealing to all three styles is as simple as distributing a text-based handout, talking through points, and showing a video or allowing an opportunity to practice.
    It’s also important to remember that people may need to practice a new learning 7 times before it transfers. Facilitation is a lot harder than it looks!


  2. I absolutely love the reflective insight of Kelly gives in his own role. This article as well as others, articulates how I feel, have felt and at times, have been left feeling, ugh! after facilitating a group of job seekers. Usually it something about me, that day, my methods, etc. Evaluation is incredibly important; I need to do with myself on what I have done right, what I could have improved or done differently – based on what participants have engaged with and been able to apply – OR NOT. Luckily, I usually seem to learn and apply the lessons.

    Maybe it’s about not feeling alone, as a facilitator. To feel that you’re part of a larger group of others trying to help job seekers, and striving to improve in any way I can – I believe this will and does, benefit my clients one way or the other…
    Thanks Kelly.

    Paul Jacques


  3. Great topic and advice Kelly.
    I too once shared he issues of wondering why all participants did not completely absorb all the information which propelled me to return to school. One of the best theories I learned about was Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences which talks about different learning styles. Based on this and my experiences as a facilitator, I suggest, in addition to all your ideas and insights, that having participants share their stories increases their comprehension and application of the job search theories being shared. Adult learners come with information and knowledge based on life experiences that we sometimes don’t value until we are allowed to share and connect to the theories.
    Keep these great discussions going!


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