3 Tips to Successful Workshop Facilitation

– by Michelle Todd


When confronted with the challenge of workshop facilitation, many us will coalesce around our trusty advisor (i.e. our laptops) and start typing into our preferred browser:

“Best way to facilitate a workshop”

“Top tips for managing workshops”

 “How long to roast lamb leg per kilo”

The results are overwhelming – companies, coaches, professional consultancies, training providers, media outlets and personal bloggers are providing numerous techniques and tools all at the touch of our fingertips.

I’m not suggesting the techniques and tools they document aren’t fit-for-purpose – they certainly have their place. But I’m here to save you all that hassle. Having recently completed a series of client workshops with a large government department, I’m sharing my top 3 tips for the facilitation of successful workshops.

Consider your audience

The best designed workshops are adaptable, flexible and ever-changing to the needs of your audience. The workshop that worked well yesterday needs to be adapted to suit the audience of tomorrow. When facilitating the same workshop style within an organisation, you should consider the differences between your attendees.

Engaging participants prior to the workshop can help you determine the following:

  • Sentiment regarding attending the workshop. Especially if the organisation is suffering workshop fatigue.
  • Comfort levels in participating in interactive activities. Balance personalities so others are given time to voice their perspectives.
  • Individuals roles and responsibilities within their organisation. Insights here can inform your presentation and facilitation, saving you time on the day.
  • Where attendees see themselves in the organisation into the future. Very helpful in determining morale levels and comfort around transformation and change.

Use the results to guide your workshop facilitation on the day. It will always change, as people change – although your process remains consistent, the individuals do not so adapt and remain flexible.

Build rapport and trust

One of the keys to facilitating workshops successfully is to build strong rapport and trust between yourself and the audience. This can be a challenge, depending on the length of time you have, and whether you have had the opportunity to engage with participants prior to the event.

Remind yourself that you are facilitating a workshop that engages participants in structured activities to leverage their skills, knowledge, professional and life experience to achieve an outcome.

Follow these four steps.

  • Relax. Take a deep breath, follow your plan, stick to your times;
  • Be yourself. You are not a thespian (and if you are, you’re an individual of many talents)
  • Stay true to your word. If the workshop contains some contentious ground, e.g. challenging leadership strategies within the organisation, ensure participants’ views are anonymised delivering honest feedback.
  • Find common ground. We are all human and destined to have some things in common. Don’t derail by delving straight into politics!

Observe, Interact, Pullback

If you’re facilitating a workshop that has a series of activities throughout, there are three key words to keep in mind. Observe, Interact and Pullback.

I recently facilitated a workshop where my interactions with the groups were high, the participants enjoyed this approach. The following day, I facilitated the same type of workshop with new participants and noticed two of the three groups didn’t appear to want the same level of interaction. In this case, I pulled back my interactions with those two groups and reverted to observing their activities instead (i.e. pullback and observe), while continuing to engage with the third.

Remember, don’t take interact vs. pullback experiences personally. Instead, recognise that people are unique and require different levels of support and interaction to achieve their goal.

Like all workshops, you will need to adapt and remain flexible throughout. Some interactions, activities and methods that worked well previously may not work for you the next day.

Considering your audience, building rapport and being flexible with your facilitation are three tips that will bring better results and see you grow in confidence.

At Noetic, we design workshops that allow for active participation and the generation of insights, crucial to our project’s intent. We’ve developed signature tools and facilitation methods and design unique sessions based on proven ways to get results. Our workshop experience spans strategic planning, futures thinking and design, information and training, policy design, team-building and benefits realisation, to name a few.

If your organisation needs further support to facilitate a successful workshop, and deliver impact with positive outcomes then get in touch with our team.