I envision my facilitation services to be the “teach a man to fish” part of that age-old hyperbole. I attribute my talent as a skilled facilitator to several factors:
- My natural sense of curiosity
- Experience interviewing people during my professional writer days
- My impish ability to play the devil’s advocate
- My constant need to learn new things and from new perspectives
- And my desire to hand people ideas, tools, perspectives that may be new to them and observe what they’ll do with them.
Like my best fashion ensembles, facilitation can take on several different looks.
In this role, I research the panelists as well as the assigned theme. This gives me insight into the personalities on the stage and the likely dynamic between them, and a deeper comprehension of the intricacies of the topic at hand and the expected direction and outcome of the conversation.
Additionally, I have panelists send me short bios to use and one or two related questions they would appreciate being asked during the event. Unless the discussion is meant to be impromptu in nature, I will share the questions I’ve prepared with the panelists so that they can prepare to the best of their ability.
During the event, I ensure that the conversation keeps rolling at an even pace, that participants are respectful of each other and time constraints, and am an expert at “keeping the guardrails” on any conversation so that we don’t get off-track in any negative direction.
Emceeing events is a little like refereeing a football game. My job here is to introduce the players, make sure they all stay on the field, and to stop the play at the end of each timed quarter.
In all seriousness, though, in order to be an effective emcee, I
- carefully prepare a welcoming speech
- study the bios of each speaker or person to be introduced
- review the program on my own as well as with coordinators regularly
- keep up to date on changes/updates to the program and timing
- and have a few ice breakers prepared for those awkward moments when suddenly the projector won’t work, the speaker got locked in the bathroom, or the presentation clicker needs a new battery.
Strategic Planning Sessions
I’ve met many nonprofit leaders who’ve told me that they plan to facilitate their own organizational strategic planning session. (Do you feel the dramatic pause here?) What I’ve discovered is that far more is accomplished when an experienced “outsider” is brought in to facilitate the planning sessions. Not only do I have the experience and expertise to keep the planning session on track, I do a significant amount of pre-work so that the planning sessions are intense hours of productive discussion, forward progress, and definitive outcomes.
My pre-work typically includes:
- interviewing staff and board members
- independent research on the organization
- a review of the organization’s online presence
- a review of organizational documents (budget, work plans, funding streams, programs, former strategic plans, bylaws, policies and procedures, etc.)
- conducting an internal and external stakeholders survey and analyzing the results
- creating an agenda and
- preparing a workbook
Following the planning sessions, if desired, I will create a rough draft strategic plan for the organization and set up an additional (shorter) session to review, discuss and edit the plan so that the result is a final document to serve as the organization’s road map for the coming few years.
Staff or Board Meetings & Retreats
Strategic planning aside, there are many reasons a nonprofit organization may wish to bring in a facilitator. My approach is the same no matter the reason; I will do as much pre-work as makes sense to ensure whatever it is I’m facilitating progresses smoothly, that all voices have an equal opportunity to be heard, and that we achieve the greatest outcomes possible. I maintain a level of energy and enthusiasm that encourages engagement and participation without being boisterous or overbearing. Examples include:
- Team building
- Board retreats
- Board meetings
- Staff meetings
- Board-staff communication/moderation
- Conflict resolution (that does not require legal representation)