How to Become a Facilitator

Last week I had an immense time hosting (or should I say facilitating) two events.
One was with Virgin Media Pioneers for their annual business competition PitchtoRich, where entrepereneurs get the opportunity to pitch their business ideas to Sir Richard Branson (or as I called him on the day Richie Bizzle)
Branson-6

And the second was with Morgan Stanley at their Women 3.0 event for Women Technologists.
MorganStanley

This was an amazing evening where I got to meet the fabulous Ruby McGregor-Smith, CEO of MITIE and Catherine Doran, CIO of Royal Mail as well as facilitating a panel with technologists who work for Morgan Stanley. I appreciate my mentor Vanessa Valley in asking me to do this gig.

How to Host
I often get asked at such events how to get into hosting. How is it that one can get into facilitation and emceeing corporate events?
There are a number of training companies that do provide courses on how to become a facilitator but I can honestly say I learnt mine most from watching other people at conferences, networking events, weddings, etc and then decided to have a crack at it myself. I am thinking of actually coaching people in what I have learned to become facilitators but in the meantime here is some advice.

1. Start with the why.
Why do you want to facilitate? I landed in this space because I liked the idea of being able to make complex things simple (through meetings) and then being able to curate ideas that I am passionate about (conferences). It made me squirm seeing people doing a bad job and thinking what would I want to see and how could I do it better.

2. Watch how others do it
I have attended networking events, meetings, conferences and seminars just to see how others facilitate. What is their awareness of the audience? How do they use humour? What are the common themes they use to keep people’s attention and focus? I made notes and then implemented the ones that suited my presentation style and it worked. We learn by modelling so get out there and model.

3. Understand your brief
When working with those who have asked you to facilitate understand their brief and their outcomes. You are being employed to make the conference or meeting organisers look good. So find out from them what they want their audience to benefit from. Find out how your role can help to string ideas, concepts, panels and speeches together. Explore what the sensitive subjects are and which ones to avoid.
I am sure we have seen way too many facilitators step over the mark. Oh and while we are on understanding the brief make sure you understand the dress code of the event you are facilitating too. Crucial.

4. Ask for Feedback
It’s easy to get excited when people say you are amazing. On the flip side if the worse case scenario happens and people say that you were crap you can get easily put off. Part and parcel of the facilitation proccess should be to shape the feedback you are getting. What did you do well? How can you improve? Integral to that feedback is the opportunity for you to get referrals and recommendations for future facilitation gigs so plan it well.

5. Be Yourself
When you are on stage just be yourself. Don’t try to mimic anyone else. Bring your own gravitas. Your own sense of humour. Just be you. Be authoritative and influential yet allow yourself to be vunerable or self deferential as well. Have fun with it and recognise that the reason you have been chosen to do what you do is that people enjoy and trust what you bring to the table.

Yes of course there are more elements to how you plan, practice and perform as a facilitator but these are the basic rules I work from when facilitating and I enjoy it immensely.