Secrets to Being a Great Facilitator

obama the organizer

Facilitating a business group can be a daunting task. Your group looks to you to help them achieve their goals, and you will typically feel pressured to deliver.

Whether you’re moderating an on-line twitter chat or organizing an off-line local meetup, here are some keys to ensure a successful experience for your members:

1. It’s not about you

Your goal should not be “How can I benefit FROM these people?” but “How can I provide benefit FOR these people?” Keep doing that, and your members will come to view you as the person who makes things happen. That’s much better than being just another salesperson, isn’t it?

If you only think of your group in terms of how they can help you, then they’re just customers. What member wants to spend the little valuable time they have on that?

2. Work to their benefit, not yours

When coming up with topics of discussion, presentations, and activities, don’t just focus on your own areas of service or expertise. Put yourself in your members’ position, and think of what would be helpful for them.

Got a large bunch of newbies? Focusing on intro stuff would be great. More slanted towards experienced members? Drill down to particular processes that you (or others) found challenging or needed guidance in tackling. Maybe devote sessions to a roundtable discussions where members bring their questions for a panel to address.

3. Don’t let fear guide you

When choosing topics and activities, sometimes the best authority you can get is a “competitor” of yours. Don’t worry about it! If that person can provide your members (and you) a great learning experience, that’s a good thing. Also, doing this exposes you to your industry’s wider world, and puts you on the expert’s radar as a potential future collaborator. Industry contacts are great to have, and you never know who’s going to grow into a big shot in your field.

Case in point… Back in July 2009 I tried to get a new business owner I’d followed on Twitter to come give a Social Media presentation to our Web Meetup. At the last minute she had to cancel, but sent one of her top people to speak instead. Now, good luck if you want Shama Kabani to speak at your ten-person meeting – she’s a world-reknowned entrepreneur, TV personality, and very successful business owner.

4. Pay it forward

If you have expertise, share it within your group. Your example will encourage other group members to do the same, and everyone will be that much wiser and better prepared. (Ever hear the expression “A rising tide lifts all boats?” This.)

When you started out, you needed a hand understanding some things or learning others. Take that helping hand you got and pay it forward to the next generation of budding business owners. Sure, you might run into a couple of those “pick your brains for a minute” people, but if you spread yourself around and make your limits clear, you and your group will all benefit from your collective experiences.

5. Be a facilitator, not an expert

It’s easy to fall into the trap of “I’m the organizer so I know best.” If you look around, though, you might find that your members can help you learn stuff too. Sometimes it’s as simple as an innocent question that forces you to re-examine an opinion that no longer has merit. Other times, a member might have a similar experience with a different slant that you hadn’t considered.

Listen – it’s that simple. If you keep an open mind you’ll find that individual members have areas of expertise that exceed your own. Cultivate those members, and encourage them to craft presentations for the group that will benefit the other members.

What do you think?

I’ve been involved with many such groups, as facilitator and member, and have seen (and done) good and bad things that helped contribute to this list. What other experiences or suggestions would you have for your fellow facilitators?

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