Common Mistakes of First-Time Facilitators

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A well thought out training program has many moving parts that a facilitator must successfully manage.  People new to facilitation are often unaware of their own actions, mannerisms, and body language, especially those tendencies that may be having an adverse affect on the participants’ learning.  As new facilitators we may have to overcome a fear of public speaking, and may also worry about getting everything right the first time.  This approach only heaps unnecessary stress on us by feeling we have to perform for our audience.  Instead, a new facilitator would be wise to give themselves plenty of room to be less than perfect and work on improving some of the more common mistakes that all new facilitators end up making.  Here are some of the more common mistakes people make when facilitating for the first time.

Mistake #1 – The facilitator makes him or herself the center of attention.

If the facilitator stands at the front of the classroom and revels in the attention he or she is given by being under the spotlight, then this person should not be facilitating a training program.  Facilitators must place themselves second to each and every participant in the class.  Facilitating learning is like being a tour guide.  A tour guide makes sure that people in the group are heading in the right direction and certainly makes suggestions that will enhance the experience for those participating, but the tour guide doesn’t go out and experience something and then rush back to let the others know what it was like.  No, the tour guide takes the participants by the hand and, together, leads them through the experience so that the participants can experience it for themselves. 

Mistake #2 – The facilitator mismanages the activities on both the front and back ends. 

Remember that the most important part of setting up an activity is to give participants the steps of that activity one at a time.  When an activity is introduced, it is easy for participants to get distracted, race ahead in determining what it is they are going to do, or to get involved in side discussions with other participants about what is about to take place.  Facilitators must make sure that everyone understands what it is they will be doing in an activity.  This is especially true of some of the more involved activities in a training program. 

When conducting the training program’s activities, it is important to also keep in mind that the debriefing portion of an activity is just as important as the set up and the actual activity itself.  So give participants the opportunity to step back for a moment from an activity and review what happened during it.  Let them search out how they feel about what has happened and determine what the experience ultimately means for them.   

Mistake #3 – The facilitator shows participants the program’s seams, thus magnifying them.

Many facilitators get ruffled when the program doesn’t unfold as planned or things don’t happen as expected.  In these instances, facilitators are quick to comment on this, saying things like, “Shoot, I was going to show you a video right now, but I can’t get the projector working.”  Or, “We’re behind in time so I am going to cut this next section short.”  Or even comments like, “You all seem quiet.  Are you guys getting this?”  Every time comments like these are made, the facilitator breaks the illusion of the training program and shows its seams.  This is not good for learning.  We don’t want participants getting distracted by the moving parts of a training program; instead, we want them focusing on the program’s key messages. 

Work on catching correcting yourself making these mistakes and your program will meet with a higher level of success.


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