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As leaders, it’s safe to say we are used to and comfortable with the teaching aspect of our role. Whether it’s a one-on-one session with an employee, a group meeting in a lecture hall, a classroom setting, or a Zoom meeting with colleagues, we recognize that it’s our job to take the reins, be the subject matter experts at the front of the room, and use our strong communication skills to pass our knowledge forward and walk others through whatever challenges exist. It’s when we’re asked to be a facilitator that things get a little tricky.

Don’t get me wrong. Teachers and facilitators play an invaluable role in communication and leadership development. But all too often, leaders mistakenly use these titles interchangeably, ultimately muddying the waters.

What Does It Mean To Be an Effective Facilitator? 

A facilitator is still the “leader” and “organizer” of the group, and their job is definitely to help people learn. But rather than stand at the proverbial pulpit and espouse all your knowledge while everyone else listens, your goal is to create a back-and-forth dialogue throughout the room that leads to a collective learning experience. Sure, you’re still standing at the front of the room. And in a manner of speaking, you’re in a position of power and leadership. But you’re trying to be as neutral as possible. 

Your role is to guide participants through an intentional process of idea generation. And if you’re doing it right, everyone in the room will be engaged and committed to sharing ideas and solutions that address complex challenges, meet goals, and improve productivity.

Being an effective facilitator in leadership development requires you to do the following:

  • Leave status at the door  
  • Create an even playing field for collective learning
  • Encourage open dialogue
  • Foster individual contributions
  • Actively listen more than you speak
  • Provide group goals
  • Promote inclusivity, trust, and fairness
  • Reinforce positive behaviors
  • Keep everyone engaged
  • Enlist help
  • Ask good questions and confirm understanding
  • Encourage healthy disagreements

The Importance of Expression and Perception in Facilitation

An effective facilitator is proficient in many communication skills, including empathy, sentiment, persuasiveness, and emotional intelligence. I urge you also to remember the skills of expression and perception as you dive into this new leadership role. The bottom line is that you must align your nonverbal communication (posture, body language, facial expressions, gestures, etc.), word choices, and tone (optimism, motivation, conversational, humor) perfectly. Otherwise, you risk confusing everyone in the room.

Think about it: We’ve all heard a teacher or facilitator say, “All ideas are good ideas” and “There are no stupid questions.” But occasionally, they follow that up with nonverbal cues that slash that notion to pieces. Perhaps they look perturbed or give off the vibe that you just asked a stupid question. Maybe their body language suggests you’re wasting their time — as if they’ve heard this argument before and know precisely what you will say next. 

How did you feel in these situations? Did you want to continue participating, or did you disengage from the discussion? 

An effective facilitator is skilled at keeping everyone engaged, enthused, and committed to achieving a satisfactory result.

As leaders, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you have all the answers. But a true leader — and an even stronger facilitator — is comfortable with solutions proposed by others. They bring out the best in others through optimal collaboration. 

The Business World Demands Improved Communication

Your organization's success is paramount to how well you communicate as leaders. And a big piece of that is effective facilitation. This is where tools such as TalkMeUp can help. TalkMeUp is an innovative, one-of-a-kind software that offers a unique and compelling way to activate experiential learning and eliminate traditional scenarios that are too predictable or emulate the old way of doing things. 

TalkMeUp profoundly addresses these needs and related communication shortcomings by leveraging AI for instant measurement, analysis, reporting, tracking, scaling, and more. Like having a communications coach on speed dial, it gives you the feedback you need to understand how you communicate — all in real-time. 

As you practice more with TalkMeUp and do things differently, this practice becomes who you are. To me, that’s the best feature. You can practice with TalkMeUp repeatedly and track your progress. As you begin to see changes in how you communicate, and TalkMeUp backs those thoughts up with accurate data, others will see you as a leader who emphasizes effective communication.

Interested in a personal and private assessment of how strong your facilitation skills are?  Try TalkMeUp for free.

About the Author
Ron Placone, Ph.D., is an Associate Teaching Professor of Business Management Communication and the Former Faculty Lead and Interim Executive Director for the Accelerate Leadership Center at the Tepper School of Business. Ron teaches a range of communication courses and leadership programs for Tepper students. Ron’s research interests include civility in discourse and fostering individual and team creativity. Previously at Carnegie Mellon, Ron was the Assistant Vice President for Learning & Development. Before joining Carnegie Mellon in 1999, Ron was Vice President and Director of Organizational Development and Communications for Mellon Network Services. Ron has been a consultant, leadership, and communication coach for numerous executives and corporate and not-for-profit organizations. He has consulted in health care, financial services, education, technology, and energy sectors. Ron has a Ph.D. in Rhetoric-English from Carnegie Mellon University.