Comprehensive Guide for Facilitator Training

This facilitator guide is for training yourself to lead a group through a learning session, even if you’re not an expert on the subject or an experienced teacher.

 

Table of Contents
Part 1: What a Facilitator Is
Part 2: Big Ideas of Facilitation
Part 3: Techniques of Facilitation
Part 4: How to Plan to Facilitate
What is a Facilitator Guide?
What Makes a Good Facilitator Guide?

Imagine this: you begin a workshop by confidently explaining what participants are going to learn and why it’s extremely relevant to their daily lives. They understand why they’re there and how it’s going to help them.

Your participants are comfortable because they understand the purpose and outcomes of the event. The group quickly becomes a small community, using adult-learning methods to cooperate on gaining new skills and knowledge.

Finally, they have plenty of time during the program to reflect on what they’ve learned and apply it to their own lives and roles. The session accomplishes a lot but doesn’t feel rushed.

Does this sound like the type of learning event you’d like to facilitate? If so, take a closer look at the following sections of this facilitator-training guide:

  • Part 1: What a Facilitator Is — Defining the role of a facilitator.
  • Part 2: Big Ideas of Facilitation — Understanding what adult learners need, which will lead to specific activities that will satisfy those needs in your participants.
  • Part 3: Techniques of Facilitation — Clarifying the goals of facilitation and the skills facilitators use when they interact with participants and lead the group through the learning experience.
  • Part 4: How to Plan to Facilitate — Filling out a facilitation guide outline (basically a lesson plan) to organize your thoughts and prepare you to run a session.

Parts 1–3 will help you understand the learning needs of your participants, how to interact with them effectively, and how to deal with common problems during a facilitated learning event.

If you have to facilitate a session right away, you might skip straight to Part 4 and use our blank facilitator guide template to design your course. Organizing the flow of your session using this template will make a huge difference in the quality of your session, even if it’s the only thing you do to prepare.

A facilitator

PART 1: WHAT A FACILITATOR IS

What is a facilitator? You’re a facilitator if you are the main person who helps others learn during an educational session. You make the process of learning easier for others as you plan and execute effective educational activities.

A facilitator isn’t necessarily a subject-matter expert. You can use the big ideas of facilitation to help others even when you don’t know more about the subject than the participants. You’re the person who guides them through the learning process and helps them become more comfortable in the following areas:

  • Asking important questions about the subject
  • Being able to state the fundamental ideas about it
  • Understanding the solutions they need
  • Taking productive action
  • Seeing the variables in the subject

Not everyone is extremely charismatic or sociable, but anyone can learn the principles of effective facilitation found in this guide and strive to practice them in every learning situation.

What Are the Three Roles of a Facilitator?

There are three broad categories of roles that a facilitator plays:

  1. Guide a group toward well-defined outcomes.
  2. Plan, sustain, and evaluate an efficient and cooperative learning process.
  3. Find ways to get everyone to participate—and appreciate them when they do.

If you keep the ideas above in mind, you can be confident that you are working within the true scope of a facilitator’s role.

What is Training Facilitation?

Facilitation can be broken down into two broad categories of activity:

  1. Preparation: Improving learning outcomes by understanding what good facilitators actually do, planning effective discussion questions, scheduling time for activities, brainstorming how to meet learners’ needs, and so on.
  2. Interaction: Leading the group through the learning process by guiding discussions and activities, making disagreements productive, encouraging quiet members of the group to participate, helping the group apply the learning, and more.

Sometimes, you might be given a pre-existing facilitation plan or outline for a lesson, letting you focus more on the interaction piece of your role. But even then, you should think through the outline carefully to make sure you can use it most effectively as you facilitate.

What is a Professional Facilitator?

There are professional facilitators out there who have years of experience and all the latest techniques and theories. They’re experts at igniting discussions and creating lasting learning experiences.

Although these professionals have a lot to offer, hiring an outside facilitator might not be necessary for something that your organization needs to teach. With this guide, you can learn how to do all the things that a professional facilitator does. After that, you’ll simply need to gain experience, continue to study, and practice the principles of effective facilitation to hone your facilitation skills over time.

How Do You Train Facilitators?

If you’re a manager, you might need to ask some of your employees to take on a facilitation role to teach lessons or lead workshops for your business unit. You can use CMOE’s facilitator guide for training to help them gain the skills they’ll need.

Through a series of sessions, you can gradually teach your facilitators each major point from our guide, which can help them become more-effective facilitators. Just keep in mind that they will learn the most by taking the main ideas and skills and using them in either simulated or real facilitation opportunities.A women contemplating theories.

PART 2: BIG IDEAS OF FACILITATION

The best practitioners of any skill understand the theories behind it. In this section, you’ll learn the core tenets and philosophy underlying adult-learning theory and use these ideas in your role as a facilitator.

What Adult Learners Need

How do you facilitate? The first step in good facilitation is understanding the requirements of adult learners. The classroom techniques used for children won’t work for adult learners because their needs are different.

Plan your facilitation session around what adults really want out of learning:

  • Solutions to problems they have at work
  • Learning experiences, not lectures
  • Experiences that drive internal motivation rather than external
  • A session that they help shape and direct
  • Time to contemplate and reflect on the material they learn
  • Time to try out and practice a new ability
  • To be part of a group of learners who have a common experience and meaning
  • A forum to discuss new ideas and skills with each other
  • To have an interesting challenge in the session
  • To be in a very well-organized session
  • To know what is going to happen during the session and why
  • To share their perspectives, experiences, and stories
  • To be active participants
  • The session to be focused on solving real problems
  • A session that is relevant to their everyday lives

You may have seen or experienced workplace training where adults are treated like kids, relying on “treats” or other external motivators that seem a little insulting. Or, you may have been to training sessions that are boring because they’re long and forgettable lectures.

You don’t want your facilitation to be seen as frustrating, condescending, or boring. Generally, you’ll be more successful the more you move away from expecting adults to sit and listen to a lecture and toward getting them to discuss, practice, apply, and even teach their peers during the session.

How to Satisfy General Human Needs

What are the qualities of a good facilitator? Participants often point to facilitators who are patient, supportive, encouraging, and who do not threaten or alienate anyone in the group. So, how can you win others’ trust in this role? It’s simple: learn how to satisfy people’s basic needs.

Basic needs are the building blocks of all of our complex needs; we are constantly trying to satisfy them. Psychologist Dr. William Glasser lists the basic human needs as

  • Survival
  • Love or belonging
  • Freedom
  • Power
  • Fun

Every person has desires and behaviors that can be traced back to one or more of the basic needs listed above.

As a facilitator, you can focus on helping your adult learners to feel that these needs are being satisfied, even if they don’t realize it. Take a look at each basic need in turn and think about how good facilitation can support it:

  • Survival: Teach a skill that will help them succeed at work, earn more money, or avoid becoming irrelevant.
  • Love or Belonging: Have participants learn together in small, cooperative groups.
  • Freedom: Give them time to reflect on how to apply lessons in their own way.
  • Power: Let them make some decisions about the direction of the session.
  • Fun: Add humor and exuberance to the session, along with presenting them with novel concepts that are challenging and exciting to learn.

Dr. Glasser further defined the types of behaviors that relate to the “freedom” need, which is crucial to good relationships. We’ve put seven of these behaviors into the acronym SALTERN:

  • Supporting
  • Accepting
  • Listening
  • Trusting
  • Encouraging
  • Respecting
  • Negotiating

In contrast, the types of behaviors that alienate learners and make them want to stop participating include the following:

  • Blaming
  • Criticizing
  • Complaining (in order to control someone)
  • Nagging
  • Threatening
  • Punishing
  • Bribing (offering a reward to gain control)


The simplest change you can make is to listen more—which gives participants a feeling of power—and to avoid doling out personal criticism. Instead, encourage participants by showing them they can succeed despite their fears, and provide them with methods, steps, and choices so they can learn successfully.Facilitator strategies

PART 3: TECHNIQUES OF FACILITATION

The next section of this facilitator guide for training will introduce you to the main duties you’ll need to fulfill and skills you’ll need to have to enhance your facilitation skills and excel in this challenging activity.

Knowing these techniques—especially if you haven’t heard of them before—goes a long way towards making you into a top-notch facilitator because you’ll have new tools to call on, even in stressful situations that might stymie others.

What Are the Duties of a Facilitator?

Facilitators have a number of important duties or responsibilities to perform:

  • Plan the order of events during the workshop or training session.
  • Explain to participants why the lesson is relevant to their daily lives and how it’s going to help them.
  • Explain what the whole unit or workshop is going to teach them, what is going to happen, and why it matters to them.
  • Plan activities and techniques that use adult-learning methods.
  • Turn the group into a small learning community.
  • Lead effective discussions rather than just lecturing.
  • Manage disruptions that may occur.

Even if you’re given a course that’s already planned out, it’s still smart to carefully read through the agenda and program structure, compare it to the template provided later in this guide, and look for any parts of the learning experience that could be improved.

What Are Facilitation Skills?

Beyond the general duties of a facilitator, good facilitators also use skills to improve their sessions and help participants learn best. Here are some of those skills:

  • Focusing on Novel Points: See something novel in the information. If you’re just “going over” material, that’s not enough. You should pick out the things that are new for most members of the audience and highlight them during the session.
  • Crafting Open-Ended Questions: Develop a list of possible questions, and reject any that expect a single, obvious response. Focus on questions that elicit a longer explanation, a story, thoughtful analysis, or the like.
  • Leading Effective Discussions: Ask more questions than you answer directly. When participants disagree, make the disagreement productive by asking them to explore the reasons behind their ideas, always searching for common ground and shared needs and goals.
  • Getting Participants to Teach: Give them time to digest the information and then explain it to each other. Think of this maxim: “Those who teach the most, learn the most.”
  • Speaking the Group’s Language: Carefully figure out which words and thoughts the group uses in relation to the topic, along with their shared goals and experiences. Plan talking points around those ideas.
  • Creating a Community of Learning: Don’t let the session just be people sitting together. Help them find common ground and support each other’s learning goals.
  • Defining Terms: Many arguments and misunderstandings can be avoided if you make sure that all crucial terms are clearly defined and that everyone understands them.
  • Keeping the Session Flowing: Keep things rolling along at an appropriate pace. Have a plan and flexibly stick to it, moving the group through the beginning, middle, and end. Be ready to point out the main heart or main point of a discussion, clarify it, and conclude it. Be ready to smoothly transition from one section or activity to another.

Using these principles, you can write a completely original lesson plan (which we’ll explore in Part 4). You can also improve on your plan a bit while you’re facilitating as long as you remember to use the methods described above.

Managing Disruptions

Managing disruptive participants (those who try to take the group in a completely different direction) is a prime concern for many facilitators. If you make a plan in advance, you can more easily defuse the situation and, more importantly, you can help the group to continue learning. Keep these tips in mind when trying to manage disruptions:

  • Courteously ask a disruptor if you can use his or her question as a discussion topic during lunch.
  • Remind the group of the goals they all want to achieve during the session.
  • Express gratitude for the person’s insightful idea, and then continue with the lesson.
  • Promise to improve the next session by being mindful of the person’s concerns.
  • State that you must not have explained your point well enough and then clarify your central ideas.
  • Express that you now understand his or her concern and the fact that it’s important, and then move on.
  • Encourage others to participate and share their viewpoints, especially those who have not been able to speak much yet.
  • Ask an expert to summarize the issue or anyone else to synthesize what has been said.


If you have a small group of participants who you already know, you can call on specific people who have expertise in the subject and get them to answer a hard question. If you don’t know everyone, try to get to know them quickly and ask them to chime in with their expertise as needed.Preparing for presentation

PART 4: HOW TO PLAN TO FACILITATE

These are the steps you need to take to prepare for an upcoming facilitation session. Take the principles from the previous sections, create a solid plan, and then carefully review the section below.

Getting Ready for the Event

As the date of your facilitated session approaches, work through the following list of activities and record what you learn in a notebook:

  • Understand the Specific Audience: Find out what previous experience your group has with the subject matter, along with their unique goals and needs. Use what you learn to make the training highly relevant, targeted, and customized for the group.
  • Study the Participants’ Teams and Roles: Learn (or write down, if you already know) the business practices and tools that the participants already use related to the subject.
  • Finalize the Goals of Training and the Schedule: Pick a highly specific goal (or goals) that the group will strive to achieve, as well as with the order of activities that will get them there.
  • Work on Logistics: If you’re responsible for logistics, manage important details such as verifying the size of the room, printing handouts, purchasing snacks, and completing other physical duties.
  • Coordinate with an Event Team: If other parties are responsible for organizing the event, request any needed equipment and materials from them as soon as you can.

Preparing to serve a specific audience is foundational to this process. Think how differently you’d discuss the same topic with, say, your grandmother versus a work colleague—or with a specialist in your department versus someone in another department.

Envision one or several of the specific people who will be in your group, and write down answers to questions like the following:

  • What is important to this person about this subject?
  • What problem is she already aware that she wants to solve?
  • What keeps him awake at night? What worries him?
  • What goal(s) does she have related to this subject?


The more clearly you can see and understand a member of the group you will be teaching, the better you will be able to anticipate the actual group’s needs, the activities that they’ll appreciate, the concerns that they’ll have, the skills that they’ll need, and so on.

What is a Facilitator Guide?

How do you effectively facilitate a workshop? It’s almost impossible to do it well without a facilitation action plan, also known as a facilitator guide, which is similar to a lesson plan used by teachers.

If you’re facilitating a single 30- or 60-minute session, you can create just one plan. If you’re instead facilitating a whole workshop, you can break it into units of around 45 minutes each and fill out a plan for each unit. Repeat this process until you have a larger workshop facilitator guide mapped out.

Does 45 minutes seem too short? You might need to present material that takes longer. Either way, you should give participants a break between each learning module, let the material settle in their minds, and then present the next section of the course.

Visual Features of a Facilitator Guide

You might choose to print your guide on a piece of paper or keep it on a laptop or tablet screen. These are both fine approaches, but it’s also valuable to know how to create a facilitator guide for PowerPoint.

In PowerPoint, you can create slides to display during the session and add your facilitator notes to the “Presenter View,” which lets you run the whole session right out of the slide deck. As you advance the slides, your notes will conveniently tell you (and only you) what to do next and give you reminders of what to expect.

Speaking of visuals, if you are going to repeatedly use a facilitator guide template for instructional design in future sessions, you might want to pick out simple facilitator guide icons to give yourself a visual reminder of what you plan to do in each part of the session.

Icons should be visually simple and representative of specific tasks or activities during the session. Here are some examples:

    • A small group of stylized people: Time for a group activity
    • A graduation cap: Explain the main learning objectives
    • A flipchart: An activity using a flipchart
    • A document: Hand out and use a document
    • A PowerPoint slide: Use a slide to teach a concept
      Facilitator plan

What Makes a Good Facilitator Guide?

When you are preparing to facilitate a unit, the best practice is to write out the step-by-step process of what you are going to do, along with realistic time limits for each step. You can also give yourself italicized reminders, such as common answers to discussion questions.

Writing a complete facilitator guide for training that will be 30–45 minutes in length might seem unnecessary, but it is very easy to lose your train of thought and where you were in the session, especially as the participants ask questions. Your guide will ensure that you don’t leave out a crucial point you were planning to make on skip over an important concept.

Plan each session with a clear beginning, middle, and end—a welcome and introduction, the main instructional section, and a conclusion. Work in the ideas and skills we’ve discussed above, along with any other helpful suggestions found in the next few sections of this guide.

1. Introduction/Welcome (5–10 minutes)

Begin with some combination of the welcome activities described below:

  • Introduce yourself, and have the participants introduce themselves to each other, if necessary.
  • Introduce the topic and goals of the session.
  • Explain exactly what they’ll be able to do with the information they’ll be given: the new perspectives or abilities they will gain from the session.
  • Use your insights into this group to explain how the lesson or workshop will improve their specific roles and lives.
  • Go over any ground rules or guidelines that will help everyone get the most out of the session.
  • Provide an outline of the topics you will explore in the session and the activities the group will engage in.

2. Instructional Activities (20–40 minutes)

For the main instructional portion of the session, plan what the group will do to move toward the desired learning outcomes. These can vary widely depending on what the participants are likely to enjoy and the time you have available to you. If you can, use a variety of the strategies below to accommodate different learning modalities.

Lectures

Keep lectures as short as possible. Adult learners want to participate actively and build new skills. We retain very little of what we hear in a lecture, so only a small portion of the session should be devoted to this method of learning.

Clarify for the group that a quick lecture will be followed by a learning activity or discussion. Participants will be more eager to hear the information if they know they’re about to actively use it. You could also think of how to challenge an assumption and direct them toward a new way of thinking.

An alternative way to present learning content is to use an interesting and relevant video. If a video clip with decent production value will hold the attention of the group better than you can, use it!

Activities

It would be impossible to list every learning activity out there; they come in all shapes, sizes, and types. You can look up learning activities online or invent your own, depending on the specific needs of your situation.

Anticipate the types of activities that will be most enjoyable and valuable in terms of helping your group retain the information effectively or learn a new skill. Be sure to explain exactly how the activity will benefit them and help them achieve their goals so they understand the activity’s worth.

Carefully plan for how long each activity will take. You might only have the time for one activity that lasts 15 minutes. Be very careful to leave enough time for participants to reflect on the activity and share what they learned with you and the group. An activity is only as valuable as the debrief that follows it. Fifteen minutes can pass very quickly, although depending on the activity, that might be all the group needs for high-quality learning.

In other sessions, you might be able to include two or three different activities because the duration of the training session is longer. Here are a few examples of activities you could use:

  • Idea Gallery: Split the group into small teams and have each one capture main concepts from the unit on a piece of flipchart paper. The teams then walk through the newly made gallery wall of team posters before reconvening and discussing what they learned.
  • Page Notes: When a group is required to read a multi-page document at the beginning of training (or before it begins), have each participant place at least one comment or question on each page using sticky notes. As their questions or comments are resolved during training, have them write what they are learning on their sticky notes.
  • Think-Pair-Share: Split participants into pairs or small teams. Have them think about a topic or question for 20 seconds. Then, ask them to explain what they think to their partners, and then switch. Give them only two or three minutes for the entire activity. Optional: Let a few of the small teams explain their insights to the larger group.

Group Discussions

Participants can gain a lot of new insight and perspective from engaging in discussions that challenge their current thinking. Use well-crafted, open-ended questions and other creative methods to get everyone talking—not just a select few members of the group.

Write some facilitator notes to yourself. What are facilitator notes? They often come in the form of thoughts you want to share during the session or answers that the participants might give to specific questions. Of course, they might think up different answers from the ones you come up with, but your notes can give you an idea of how well the participants are understanding the topic as well as allow you to offer ideas that differ from those of the participants.

Write questions that help participants think through how to use the lesson to solve current organizational challenges—but also be ready with examples of how to do this.

Personal Experiences

You can share a personal experience with the group that will help them understand the session topic better, as well as asking them to share their own experiences. Some of the listeners are sure to empathize with the story and imagine themselves in it, helping them to connect with the material more deeply.

Even if you don’t specifically plan to share a personal experience, you can identify one in advance that will help you answer a certain question or explain a key point. You can then choose to use it—or not—depending on the needs of the group.

3. Closing Activity (5–10 minutes)

Rather than ending the session abruptly, draw the learning experience to a close by using a final application activity to help participants use and retain the material you’ve discussed. This will also help you assess how well they’ve learned the material presented and how valuable they found it to be. A few examples of closing activities include

  • Quiz Show: Show slides with fun review questions, asking the group to try to quickly answer them.
  • 3,2,1: Have them write three ideas they’ve learned, two ideas they’ve confirmed, and one major question they still have.
  • Exit Poll: Ask them one or two questions and have them write their names and answers to the questions on a slip of paper that they hand to you on the way out.

Use This Facilitator Guide for Training Yourself and Others

This guide will give you an excellent foundation in facilitation skills. There are whole books written on this subject, but the advantage of this guide is that it offers the essential steps and key points of facilitation so you can begin to use this information right away.

If you have a session coming up quickly, using this guide will give you far better results than just diving in with no strategy. And, over time, you can practice these tips during multiple sessions and gain greater mastery over them.

These ideas can give you immediate, small rewards, as well as yielding larger rewards to patient practitioners of these proven methods of facilitation. We hope you’ll use them to develop your facilitation skills, be a good example of better facilitation to others, and pass on the best techniques to your team. Write to us about any interesting progress you make—we’re excited to hear from you!

 

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About the Author

CMOE Team

CMOE’s Design Team is comprised of individuals with diverse and complementary strengths, talents, education, and experience who have come together to bring a unique service to CMOE’s clients. Our team has a rich depth of knowledge, holding advanced degrees in areas such as business management, psychology, communication, human resource management, organizational development, and sociology.