What should you look for in a good Facilitator?

As facilitators we do spend a lot of time shouting about about facilitation; what it is, what the benefits are, what types there are. Let’s face it, if you love something you want to talk about it, sometimes quiet a lot.

Facilitation can be either an art or a science, or a craft or a skill….it is indeed many things.

But what about the person behind the process, what do they need to be like?

I have facilitated a fair few workshops, and I have been part of quite a few as well. I have been lucky enough to experience some extraordinary facilitators. So what is it that makes a good facilitator so good?

1) Attention to detail – it’s the little things, the things that hold it all together behind the scenes. When all the materials just seem to magically appear, perhaps there is lots of colourful stationery, well designed flip charts and some things to play with, the facilitator remembers everyone’s names, maybe even knows what kind of biscuits you like. Making people feel comfortable and creating a stimulating and friendly environment really is part of making everything run smoothly.

2) Active listening – You need the facilitator to really tune in well, and to make you feel like you are being listened to. This is harder when there is a lot of information being discussed, the group is large, or there are lots of small group discussions. But keeping tuned in to the group, picking up on queries and ideas is all part of the job. Often the facilitator will return to a point, or ask someone to hold a thought, or make a note of it if it can’t be addressed at that moment in time. There are certain techniques to keep up with all the different contributions, but the essence is a lot of good listening.

3) They are really “on it” with time keeping. I will admit it, this is the bit I have to work hardest at! I love a good discussion and good participation is part of what makes facilitating so enjoyable. Sometimes it is hard to know when to curtail it or bring it to a junction or even when to run over on a particular section in the interests of time. Having the skills to do this is a key part of the facilitator’s role and keeping on top of the time is one of the things that enables the outcomes to be met.

4) A good facilitator often makes it look easy. I have often heard this said, like somehow everything magically hangs together. In truth there is a lot of planning that goes on behind the scenes and then a lot of thinking on your feet during  the workshop. It may look easy, but I promise you it’s not!




5) They make you feel like you want to join in. It’s part of the job to keep an eye on the participants, to make sure that everyone who wants to contribute can. The dynamic of the group is important to the effective running of the session, so you’ll want a facilitator who knows how to keep their eyes on how the group is getting along. Often there are some participants are engaged in the workshop, but not necessarily participating, and this is fine. But it’s recognising who those people are, and who wants to join in but can’t and then enabling them to do so that is key.

6) They’re not afraid to use some good tactics on that person who takes all the airspace. There is a balance to be struck between letting everyone have their say and giving a lot of time to one person’s potentially valuable input. Even if that person’s contributions might seem amazing and totally relevant, a workshop is a group exercise. It’s not easy to know where the line is sometimes, but as in number 5, it’s all about keeping an eye on the group.

7) They ask brilliant questions. Much of the information in the room will come from the participants, not the facilitator. Being able to ask really excellent questions, often the kind that make you think “ooh, good question” is what a good facilitator will do, and then give you the tools to help you answer it.

8) Doesn’t talk too much. I would hazard a guess that there are a few of us out there who do like to natter a bit! It’s part of the job, being a good communicator, a connector, someone who likes a good discussion. But the voice of the facilitator shouldn’t be the predominant one in the room, and stepping back to ensure the participants have the room they need is crucial.

9) Is neutral. Many discussions are absolutely fascinating, and there is a temptation to join in and share an opinion or two. But the key role of a facilitator is to guide the participants through the discussion, not to be a central part of it.

10) Copes with sudden changes of plan. Last minute changes often happen, and while they are not usually the kind of thing to invite, they are often surmountable. You may be expecting a group of 30 and only 6 turn up, the room isn’t the one you think it is, lots of people are delayed, there is a change in the agenda or time frame at the last minute, drilling next door makes it hard to hear… all of these have happened to me. Being able to re-jig and ride the changes is most definitely a skill and something that an experienced facilitator will to a large extent be happy to do. There will of course be a cut off  point, where sometimes there are too many changes to go ahead. These risks should be the kind of thing that you discuss with the facilitator in the lead up to the workshop.

11) Can tell you where to get the best marker pens! Ok, I added this just for fun, but there is a certain love of talking about materials and kit amongst facilitators. So if you know one, I bet they can tell you all about good pens (and other “stuff”).

Many of the skills to be a good facilitator are developed over time and need a lot of practise. We all draw from our different experiences, even those that at the time might not be the most positive. There is also a certain passion that you need to do the job, something that leads us all to really embrace working with groups, fielding conversations, thinking on our feet and managing fascinating discussions. So next time you need a facilitator, don’t forget to look  for that twinkle in their eye!

What are your experiences of great facilitators?

Do you find Marketing your Workshops a Pleasure or a Pain?

The open workshops that I run are designed to help participants learn how to put a great workshop together. Feedback has been brilliant and people have come away with all sorts of wonderful ideas to put into their own amazing workshops. But there is one thing that I get asked all the time – how to market your workshop. For many people this is not a pleasure but a serious pain that sometimes prevents them from setting up their workshops in the first place.

marketing your workshop

Let’s face it, unless you are doing an in house workshop, getting bums on seats is hard. It’s all very well creating a dazzling workshop but if no one comes along to join in and and benefit from your expertise and knowledge then you might be left wondering why you bothered. It takes a long time to lovingly craft a workshop, so you really need to make sure people are going to turn up.

I’m not a marketing expert by any stretch of the imagination, but here’s what I have learnt so far:

  1. Find out what people want, it’s sounds simple, but make sure you listen. My workshops are all about how to structure and design an engaging workshop. I have spent a lot of time listening to what is needed, and tailored my workshops accordingly. This continues with every workshop as I collect the feedback at the end of each one.
  2. Be clear when you are advertising your workshop exactly what your are offering. And – make sure you have worked through your workshop plan before you advertise it so you know you can actually deliver what you say you are delivering! Although you are able to offer great expertise, will this all fit into the time you have given to your workshop?
  3. People (by which I mean your target audience) need to know why they might want to come on your workshop and what’s in it for them. Just because you think your workshop is just what everyone needs, it doesn’t mean the rest of the world does. What about writing blogs and articles and perhaps doing some videos (if you are brave enough) about your subject and linking this to your workshop? This not only gets people thinking, and understanding how your workshop can benefit them, but also shows that you know what you are talking about.
  4. The whole world doesn’t actually need to know about your workshops. Only a curious selection will be interested. So work out who they are and where they hang out and go and start a conversation. Remember though that a conversation is a two sided affair so rather than bombarding everyone with information, be interested, and when they show an interest in your workshop then talk about it some more.
  5. Ask for recommendations and referrals from past participants. If your workshop really hits the mark, most people are happy to give you a testimonial. But you could also ask them if they could recommend you, and if they could point any future enquiries in your direction.
  6. Give your workshops the edge. If there are other people doing similar workshops to yours, but you are the one who has a more creative workshop, that is far more likely to interest people. Think about how you can inject come some quirky and fun activities and include some especially engaging content that will make your workshops just a little bit different.creative workshops
  7. Think about how frequently you are going to put on your workshops and how much time in between them you will need to market them. In part this depends on what your market is like – for me, there are only so many people that may want to learn about workshops, so putting them every month wouldn’t make sense.
  8. Watch out for events that are bigger than yours on your chosen date. If you know a lot of your target audience is going to be going to a business show the same day as you propose doing your workshop, you may want to rethink when you do it. Check this in advance as changing the date will only induce a headache!
  9. In general workshops are best done on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. This is because Mondays are often a catching up day and on Fridays people are often thinking about the weekend. Think carefully about the time of year and things like school holidays. However, this does depend on your target audience. My next Workshop Essentials is on a Friday because I was asked to do one on a Friday by two of the people who have signed up!
  10. Sometimes venues will help you advertise your workshop – ask them about it when you book in, and tag them in Social Media posts. They will benefit as well as you from the publicity.

There are so many things I have learnt since I started putting on open workshops two years ago. Marketing them is hard and does take up a lot of time and effort, particularly if you are not a marketer yourself. It may turn out to be fun, but even if it is it can be very time consuming.

So, for the new year, in response to the question of how to effectively market your workshops, I have teamed up with an expert! On March 6th 2018 Kimba Cooper from Kimba Digital Marketing and I will be launching our very first  Marketing Your Workshop – Made Easy! 

Image may contain: one or more people and text

This workshop is aimed at helping you market your workshops to the right people by learning who your customers are and where you might find them so that you can create some robust and pain free plans. If you would like more information on this then please comment below or e-mail helene(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)jewellfacilitation.com or hello(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)kimbadigital.com




Fidget Spinners – annoying fad or a great workshop fiddle toy?

If you are a parent or someone who spends much time with school aged children, the fidget spinner can’t possibly have escaped your attention. If you are a teacher, I can almost hear you cursing under your breath!

If you have no idea what I am talking about, I got my 9 year old to do a demo:


I believe they were first created as a sort of stress reliever and are potentially useful for children with ADHD or Autism. Whatever their origins, they are now the latest playground craze set to drive any teacher up the wall and something that every child seems to rather love.

When I was at school we used to flick bic biros round our thumbs, but that was back in the dark ages……

I can imagine 28 children in a classroom all playing with these and not doing their maths, showing each other their latest moves (my daughter can make it spin on her head) and very much not paying attention. I am not about to enter into the ban them/not ban them in school debate.

I’m more interested in workshops! Could they actually be a good thing for a workshop full of eager adults?

I often provide my participants with fiddle toys, so now I’m wondering if these may just hit the mark.

A fiddle toy (or perhaps fidget toy) is something for a workshop participant to play with. It is something to fiddle with while they are learning. This could be something simple like lego or plasticine, or something more custom make for the job like stress balls, or bendy plastic figures. So, why are they helpful?

  • They are useful to keep people focused on the content of the workshop while giving their hands something to do, rather like doodling whilst talking on the phone to someone. Increasingly we are not great at paying attention these days and having some kind of small physical activity can be useful.
  • We all learn in different ways, with some people being predominantly kinaesthetic learners. These people need to touch and feel and play with things to learn, it helps information go in. Other people are happy to just listen, some people prefer things written or drawn and in reality we are all a bit of a combination.
  • There is some suggestion that regardless of how fidgeting helps to keep people’s attention on the task, it also helps with memory and retention of information.
  • Some people are just natural fidgets, and this is a good way to channel their fidgetry if you need them to sit down for a bit! We all know people who just seem to have excess nervous energy, well for those people having something to fiddle with can be an outlet. I actually think there is probably a fidget in us all…….
  • Some participants may be a bit nervous or anxious, and having something as a moderate distraction can be useful to put them at ease. It deflects a bit from a room full of expectancy that sometimes comes with a workshop!
  • I always think that fiddle toys are brilliantly adaptable for an ice breaker or energiser. What better way to get people talking than put some funny looking objects or toys on the table? I can already think of at least 3 different activities I could use them for…..

I’d love to know what you think.

Do you use fiddle toys in your workshops, and will you be trying fidget spinners? Or are they just another annoying fad?

To find out more about my nest workshops click here.


Communication discussion starter

If communication was a vehicle what would it be?

When doing my workshops, I do like a good analogy. I find that likening one thing to another helps us process what we are talking about and create a mental picture. Because I see a workshop and the discussions that take place as a journey, something that moves forwards and gains momentum as it does so, I frequently use analogies that involve moving. These are often related to vehicles, roads, rivers, maps and journeys, so I have created a short exercise, a discussion starter mapping communication onto different vehicles!

How does it work?

Well, first have a think about communication, what is it, what does it mean, how does it feel. Try to visualise it. Communication means different things to different people, and that’s where things can go a bit awry. So it’s good to create space to discuss it. For some it’s all about clarity, for some it’s about speed, for some it’s about quality. Perhaps listening is most important. It may be the two way nature, or it may be the versatility, or maybe the depth and range of things we can do with communication. It will inevitably be a combination of things, but different combinations for different people. Think for a couple of minutes what it means to you.

Next imagine if your idea of communication could be represented as a vehicle, what vehicle would it be? Perhaps you see communication as something that is slick and efficient, but perhaps (particularly with all the different mediums available to us) it can be a bit high maintenance. Perhaps a high end car. But maybe you think communication needs to be something that glides along smoothly, that you like it to be simple and uncomplicated, maybe that makes you think of a boat gliding down a river. It’s completely up to you.

Then you draw your vehicle.

Communication discussion starter


There is no right or wrong answer. I did a workshop recently where someone drew a picture of a tank! They saw communication as a bit of a struggle, and they needed it to be like a tank to get through, to get their message heard. The point is to use this as a discussion starter, to use the analogy to explore what different people think, to gather opinions and to get everyone thinking. One of the things you might find is that actually a certain vehicle is great for a number of things, but that there are many things it cannot do. One mode of transport does not quite represent all the facets of communication. It is a multidimensional thing. This exercise is a way of starting to explore that. From this starting point you may go on to dig deeper into communication problems, challenges, ideas for improvement, setting goals to move forwards, creating actions. But that’s the real heart of the workshop. This is just to warm you up.

It can also be a bit of fun and can be good to break the ice. This analogy can be used for other things too, not just to discuss communication – you can make it about anything you want.

Have a go and I’d love to hear the results, and I’d really like to see some pictures too!

What vehicle did you choose?

Brainstorming the business of how to make your horse thirsty….. and more.

Do you remember me talking about the power of a group in my last blog? If you didn’t get a chance to read it it’s here.

By way of a little follow up of the event I did for International Women’s Day, I thought I’d update you on how it all went and how we used the Brainstorm Booth to move forward with a few problems.


The mini workshops were designed to enable participants (women at The Enterprise Network‘s conference for International Women’s Day) to bring along a problem to solve. Each session was an hour, which in itself presented a small conundrum to me – that old problem of time. How do you brainstorm 9 different problems in an hour?

The answer is you don’t. And you don’t get a fully fledged start to finish problem solving session. For that you need a far longer time frame – one where you can unpick problems slowly, piece by piece and bring them together in a way that gives you step by step actions to follow. When I facilitate in house with a group, perhaps to brainstorm ideas to move forwards with a project, or to think of ways to add value to a piece of work, we have at least half a day (a whole day if I’m lucky). But this was a taster, a mini workshop and chance to see just what was possible in an hour.

So, in the first place, not everyone had a particular problem to solve. Some people had come just to be a part of the discussion. For those that did, we started by presenting the problems, and then taking a look at whether there were any that shared some similarities. By pulling them all together, we realised that there were indeed issues that gelled together and that would benefit from being tackled in a broad sense by the same small group.

So that’s what we did, we set out the issues then pulled them together, gave them a heading and cracked on with the discussions in small groups.

Our two groups in the first session had the problems:

How to make your horse thirsty


How to grow our businesses.

The second session discussed:

Appealing to different customers/potential employees


What was important to start up a business and create a strategy

I probably need to explain the thirsty horse…..one of the participants told us a story based on the expression “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”. Just like running a business, you can give people all sorts of information and tell them that your product or service is amazing. But you need them to want what you’re offering to become your customer. You need to make the horse thirsty. So team horse, were discussing ways to attract new customers and have quality engagement with them.

I facilitated the workshop so the participants could work through a process that I had designed for them, enabling each group came up with some brilliant ideas which they distilled into a handful of top tips. The sharing of thoughts, experiences and knowledge and the collaborative working to generate ideas really made the discussion valuable. Everyone seemed invested in the process and there was a wonderful energy in the room. These elements are some of the key ingredients for a good workshop, whatever its size.

There were some wonderful top tips that came out of the session, including:

Building up face to face relationships, being persistent and keeping on touch with potential leads to make the horse thirsty. Knowing your market and starting with a vision in mind for starting up a business and creating a strategy.

But it was much more that the things that were written down. It’s the process of the discussion itself that was powerful. Those little nuggets of information that come up, those shared stories, that confirmation that you are not alone in your dilemmas, that acknowledgement that running a business is not easy, but that we can share our insights and inspiration to move forwards.

A good brainstorm though, should not end there. It’s not about throwing the balls in the air, talking about them and leaving. It’s about what you do next. I gave each of the participants a shiny lightbulb to write down their best idea from the workshop, something to take away on act on, to remind them of the discussion and to create some continuity of the hard work everyone put it.

Shiny idea

Thank you to all the participants in both my workshops. You invested your time and energy into the sessions and made them a wonderful experience to be a part of.

What are your tops tips to make your horse thirsty?