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It all starts with you

It’s important to understand that facilitation is not only about the others in the room, it starts with you. The key to a productive session is ensuring that you are performing at your best and taking the steps necessary to get you into that optimal state. Feelings of anxiety, tiredness, or your inner perfectionist taking over can cloud the task at hand if not managed and addressed properly. 

Some things you may ask yourself before a session are:

  • “How am I feeling right now?”
  • “Why am I feeling this way?”
  • “What will help me get through this?”

Working through your needs beforehand will allow you to flow with the session and bring all of these aspects of yourself (good or bad) together in a productive way, there are positives to every perceived negative feeling.

Working toward success

Once you’ve reached your optimal state, it will be easier to identify the needs of the group and adjust the session accordingly. This could start with the room and how it is set up, preempting the sticking points from what you already know, or finding ways to adjust the session if time runs over. We are all people with different views and opinions, but we know the participants in the room all want to work together on the topic, otherwise why else would they be here?



Facilitation Microskills – Our Team’s Trusted Techniques

Setting up the environment 

There are many things to consider when arranging the environment for your engagement. Consider a space that is neutral where all participants will feel comfortable and there is enough space for the number of participants you have. Ensure you don’t have staff numbers outweighing the number of participants, we don’t want to overwhelm them. The space needs to be easily accessible, so consider access to public transport and parking, as well as good physical accessibility. Play host, welcome people, ensure the room is at a nice temperature, there is good lighting and sound quality, comfortable seating and provide catering.

Lived experience

To bring in earlier rounds of feedback or social research related to the topic, we create personas and tell the lived experience of a person through story. This can be a power facilitation tool as it helps those in the group to reflect on the experiences of others, alongside their own views. 

The process of creating personas may vary depending on the project’s needs. The goal is to represent different segments accurately and relevantly, based on research and data. Some examples from our past projects:


In community engagements, the phrase “I’m wondering”’ serves as a subtle approach to making suggestions or posing questions. It allows community members and practitioners the time to shift conversations into more creative spaces, with less pressure to get to the ‘right’ answer, thus prompting broader or more in-depth discussions. This micro skill, often paired with visioning exercises, fosters broader discussions and encourages participants to imagine different scenarios and/or consider others’ perspectives.

Importance of a cup of tea 

Never underestimate the importance of a cup of tea (or coffee). Providing a cup of tea at an engagement session is important for two reasons. First, it allows participants to partake in small talk and begin building connections, an informal icebreaker. The other reason is when people feel their needs are being met, for example a warm drink, a comfortable setting they are more likely to engage their higher functions which allows them to be creative, share perspectives and embrace critical thinking, all of which are important in successful engagement.

Body language of facilitators

Non-verbal cues are just as important as verbal cues –  it is found that 70-93% of all communication is non-verbal. Our body language, posture, gestures and movements play an important role in helping us understand how another person is feeling. Utilising body language as a form of inviting people and keeping them engaged in a conversation is a skill facilitators should use to their advantage. 

If you’re speaking with someone one-on-one with someone, open up your body language using good posture, a healthy amount of eye contact, open hand gestures if having a discussion, and smile. Try to omit crossing your arms, hands on hips, and harsh hand gestures – using disengaged body language might make it seem that you’re uninterested and that what they’re saying isn’t of value. It seems fairly simple, but being conscious of your body language when you’re facilitating a conversation shows that you’re truly engaged in the conversation and can demonstrate your confidence on the subject matter. Most importantly, it can help you bond and develop a relationship with anyone you speak to.

Managing off topic conversations

Given the typically diverse participants and passionate views within focus groups, it’s not uncommon to find ourselves going down rabbit holes or off on tangents. To keep the group on track, summarising and clarifying are your ‘go-to’ microskills. 

Effective summarising and clarifying are powerful, yet subtle tools to redirect conversation while helping participants feel heard. That is, by mirroring back to a group where they are up to with an issue, you can tie up loose ends, clarify input and pave the way to move conversation on. Identifying common themes that link and highlight key input can also help organise participants’ ideas and focus the group’s suggestions.

To make this easier in the moment, arm yourself with some example sentence starters, which might look something like this:

  • “So what I’m hearing is that many of you are concerned about A, due to issues with B and C … is that right?”
  • “So, just checking I’ve understood this right… if I can have a go at summarising what you have just said…”
  • “This has been a great conversation… with lots of tangents. Let’s see if I can bring us back to the key purpose of the session and focus on our next question”.

When using these skills, always check your understanding with phrases like “Am I on the right track?” or “Have I got that right?” to avoid inadvertently imposing your own perspective.

(Adapted from Facilitation Microskills Cards, Seastar Education Consulting, in collaboration with Groupwork Centre)

Conversation Co

Conversation Co proudly acknowledges and celebrates First Peoples of Australia and their ongoing strength in upholding some of the world's oldest living cultures. We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands throughout what is now Victoria – where we live, conduct pop-ups, and engage with our communities – and pay our respects to their Elders, past and present. Conversation Co acknowledges First Peoples' sovereignty has never been ceded. The strength, resilience and pride of First Peoples, their cultures, communities and identities continue to grow and thrive today despite the impact of colonisation and ongoing experiences of racism.

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