What do you need to become an effective facilitator and trainer?
We can talk about preparation or humility or courage – all of which are essential – but from my perspective, the most important skill is listening.
For some people, this is counterintuitive. Maybe you think of trainers as presenters, armed with agendas and slides and checklists, delivering wisdom from the front of the room while everyone furiously scribbles notes.
This is a flawed model. The biggest problem is that it ignores the inherent wisdom that everyone else brings to the training.
So let’s flip the metaphor. As trainer and facilitator, your job is to gently extract that wisdom and share it among the group members. Here’s how.
Here are three simple things you can do to draw knowledge from your group.
Tip 1: Ask provocative questions
Provide an interesting question or two, then have participants talk in pairs or small groups.
For example, at a recent workshop on volunteer management, I asked, “What was your best or worst experience as a volunteer – and what did you learn from that experience?”
After about five minutes, I collected their answers on a flip chart. The resulting list of do’s and don’ts was more thoughtful and comprehensive than anything I could have written on my own.
For fundraising trainings, two of my favorite questions are “What did you learn about money as a kid?” (borrowed from Kim Klein, with thanks) and “Reflect on you your own giving. Why do YOU give?”
Tip 2: Listen with your whole self
When you’re paying attention, your entire body is a listening device. You can pick up a lot of useful data by using all your senses.
I might say to the class, “Turn the people at your table and discuss this question. You’ve got about three minutes.” Then, rather than use a timer, I listen.
It’s pretty easy to sense when the group is engaged (or not) when you study there body language and listen to the volume, character, and intensity of the conversation. If you watch and listen carefully, you will sense the change when the group finishes its work.
When you feel that moment — when the energy drops — you can say, “Final comments, everyone,” then reconvene the large group.
Of course, you can only sense that moment if you’re mindfully paying attention, rather than responding to email or thinking five steps ahead in your workshop design.
Tip 3: Build listening skills into your agenda
For fundraisers, as with trainers, listening is a crucial skill.
For this reason, we included a pair of listening exercises in our book, Train Your Board (and Everyone Else) to Raise Money.
We’re sharing one here called “Active Listening: What Did You Hear?”. This exercise is so simple and adaptable you can use it in a variety of training situations, including:
- Leadership development
- Recruiting board members or volunteers
- Customer service
- Conflict resolution
If you want to model good listening skills, there’s no better way than teaching others how to be better listeners.
Listen your way to success
If you do all the talking, you also have to do all the preparation – planning in advance what to say, when to say it, how to illustrate it, etc.
On the other hand, if you use the model discussed above, most of your prep time is spent crafting good questions and trusting the group to answer them thoughtfully. It’s a lot less work!
And it’s a lot more effective.