What Event Facilitators Do and How to Choose One

What Event Facilitators Do and How to Choose One

7 min read
Find out when to hire a facilitator to breathe new life into your event.

What event facilitators do and how to choose one. #facilitator Click To Tweet

What is an Event Facilitator?

Event Facilitators Defined

Broadly speaking, a facilitator guides group discussion in front of an audience. Think Tony Jones on ABC TV’s Q&A or Jenny Brockie on Insight.

Also known as a moderator, the facilitator act as a neutral ‘third party’ to keep the conversation on time and on topic. A skilled facilitator asks clever questions to tease out opinions and ideas within the group, making sure the audience stays fully absorbed and entertained. Now that’s quite a skill!

Not Just Any Facilitator

Choosing the right facilitator for an event is an important decision. In the hands of a skilled moderator, the exchange – and sometimes clash – of ideas is the stuff of brilliant events. The sparks that fly between different personalities and perspectives are a joy to watch.

On the other hand, your event might hit an iceberg if the facilitator can’t steer the conversational ship. It’s is a specific role that doesn’t suit all speakers and performers, even talented ones with celebrity profiles. The same applies for matching the facilitator’s personality with the audience demographic.

Your #event might hit an iceberg if the facilitator can’t steer the conversational ship. Here's how to choose the right facilitator for you. Click To Tweet

Which Events Need Facilitation?

Event managers use conversational segments at larger events like conferences, seminars and product launches to change up the format and keep the audience engaged. Even the keenest of crowds will lose interest in keynote speaker after keynote speaker without any break in format (#informationoverload).

Even the keenest of crowds will lose interest in keynote speaker after keynote speaker without any break in format. Enter the #event #facilitator. Click To Tweet

3 Types of Facilitation Formats

If your event has group discussion, you’ll need a professional facilitator.

The three most typical facilitated formats are:
  1. Panel Discussion
  2. ‘On the Couch’ chat
  3. Audience Q&A
1. Panel Discussion

A panel discussion is the exchange of ideas between people, in front of an audience. For example, three medical experts debating the pros and cons of a new treatment approach, guided by a knowledgeable but neutral facilitator.

2. Couch Chat

The couch chat is a lighter, less formal version of the panel discussion. The focus often leans more towards entertainment than education. The speakers from previous sessions may be brought back to the stage for a conversation, or the couch chat can form the featured act.

3. Audience Q&A

Audience Q&A gives guests an opportunity to comment or ask questions of keynote speakers and/or panellists. It often takes place towards the end of a session. The facilitator manages the discussion, ensuring the right balance between time and topic, curbing any comments that are heading off tr

6 Essential Skills of a Facilitator

Facilitation is all about managing the the process of group discussion to allow the content to unfold. This is different from a keynote speaker, who has control over his own content and delivery.

Event Facilitator Skills
1. Active Listening

Actively listen throughout the entire session. This is definitely not a job for daydreamers!

2. Observation

Continually monitor both audience engagement and the dynamics between the speakers. Is the audience fully engaged, or do they need a change of gears to refocus their attention? Are all the speakers contributing, or is one dominating? Managing the dynamics of a multi-person discussion is far more complex than a one-to-one, journalistic style interview.

Managing the dynamics of a multi-person discussion is far more complex than a one-to-one, journalistic style interview. #facilitator Click To Tweet
3. Staying Neutral

As tempting as it may be to interject with one’s own opinion, the professional facilitator is an unbiased moderator and allow the flow of ideas and the opinions of the group to come forth.

4. Probing Questions

Asking the right questions, at the right point, to the right person is the essence of great facilitation. The probes are so aptly placed that the speaker is enticed to share – not unwillingly, of course – but in a manner that flows beautifully and prompts authentic expression. The facilitator builds the discussion as a way to explore the topic fully in an informative, entertaining way.

5. Quick Thinking

The facilitator needs to be quick-witted and agile enough to think on their feet. If the conversation needs to be steered back on topic, or one person is dominating, the facilitator must judge when and how to intervene without disrupting the flow.

6. Timekeeper

Being a firm timekeeper is critical. Very rare is the guest who enjoys a late-running session. Not to mention the entire event schedule can be thrown out by one errant segment.

How to Find the Perfect Facilitator

Facilitator – Topic – Speakers – Audience – Event Objectives (aka lots to consider)

Ask an experienced event manager how she does this, and she’ll say two words: Speaker Bureau. A good speaker bureau is always the place for excellent advice on the right facilitator for your event. Still, it’s good practice to understand the thinking.

Event Objectives

Always be clear on what the event is seeking to achieve. Is it about education? Getting a particular message across? Or is it more about celebration? Keep the objective firmly in mind when making talent choices (and, in fact, for all event-related decisions). If education is the goal, the panel of speakers and the facilitators will need some level of knowledge on the subject. The facilitator will need to be skilled at drawing out the specific concepts.

Audience Demographic

Consider the age, education, occupation and taste of the people attending the event. The facilitator should be aligned, with a personality, delivery style and wit that will delight the audience. For example, a male-dominated audience a attending construction management seminar might respond best to a comedic style moderator.

Panellist Composition

The people on the panel will also guide your choice of facilitator. They’ll need to work well together and not ‘clash’ personalities or be tainted by a mutual dislike. Your speaker bureau will offer solid guidance here.

Topic of Discussion

The facilitator’s knowledge and experience must also be appropriate to the topic being explored. For example, an expert like Craig Reucassel would be a great choice to moderate discussion about sustainability in the construction industry.

Breathe Life Into Your Event With a Facilitator

The right facilitator will bring the very best out of each individual participant, as well as foster great exchange of ideas between the members of the discussion group.

They’ll bring the right mix of good will, common interests and harmony with the perfect amount of contrast – and even the teeniest sprinkle of conflict – to keep your audience riveted to the stage.

Add in the appropriate dose of wit, intellect and humour, and your facilitator will bring your event to full, blossoming life, making it an experience for all to remember.

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About the Author

Gav George

When his school music teacher loaned him a cassette tape (yes, he's that old) of a fusion band, Gav entered the jazz world after years of classical music training. He was lucky enough to play with some of the greatest living jazz musicians and toured key festivals. Then Enhance founder Alison Clarke called on Gav to work on the company's marketing. This led him to his new passion of… marketing! Gav oversees Enhance's marketing initiatives, gets a kick out of connecting with clients and unearthing new talent. Gav still has that cassette tape, so if his music teacher reads this, please get in touch so he can return it.

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