You’ve been cast for the leading role: Star facilitator

Fondazione Teatro Massimo Palermo, Sicily Italy, Credit: @amanksidhucomms/Featured @sweetmeliissa

Fondazione Teatro Massimo Palermo, Sicily Italy, Credit: @amanksidhucomms/Featured @sweetmeliissa

All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players
— William Shakespeare

Congrats, you made the cut, after the casting call, they’ve chosen you! Wait a minute, did you just realize you are not an actor, so how could this be? As a trained facilitator, and also having spent a few years performing in community theater, I must say there are stark similarities between facilitating a meeting or session and acting in a theatrical piece or scene. Let’s explore overlapping themes to bring out the best actor, and/or facilitator in you with the added challenge of:

Most of us dislike meetings. How can you bring enthusiasm and activate participants to your live performance?

Know your audience in advance

An audience, in the case of facilitation, are the participants attending your meeting, which will engage differently and at various levels. It’s important to have a firm understanding of who will attend your session, what they expect to see and accomplish during the meeting, as well as, if possible, understand any dynamics between the “audience” and the meeting leader (which may or may not be you).

Knowing your audience is clutch for your “on stage” performance. The audience type will set the tone and feel of the meeting, as well as help you mentally prepare for reactions and complex dynamics. For example, when I facilitate a group with government officials, the countries they represent may present complex dynamics or have a controversial feel.  When I facilitate office meetings with participants who represent different departments, I know they bring a different focus and vested interest, depending on who is invited and the nature of the topic.

Tony Robbins, a successful motivational speaker and life performance coach, advises over preparation by truly studying your audience in advance. He recommends, to the extent that you can, do your homework to discover their desires and concerns.

It’s a live show

When you are in a meeting, just like theater, it is live. There are no cuts, take 2’s or 3’s, no up-close candid shots, just you and the meeting participants. This raw, “live” feeling can give you a buzz and can be nerve-wrecking at the same time. The best way to approach it is:

1.       Prepare prepare prepare: Thorough preparation, creativity and understanding of meeting goals requires time and effort before you hit the spotlight.

2.       Collaboration with the meeting lead/boss: Work closely with the person in charge to ensure your agenda and “performance” align with their expectations and meeting goals.

3.       Be confident: Although this may be obvious, it may be hard to exude depending on your audience, your personality and a range of other factors. However, a confident facilitator will be most powerful and successful.

One- man improv performance

Do you remember the show “Who’s line is it anyway?” I refer to this, not only because it had me in stitches for its games and participants, but the creativity and strength of improv. If you don’t know the show, it is where actors participate in a variety of improv games, coming up with dialogue on the spot, reacting to fellow actors and gaining points along the way. Given your meeting performance will be “live”, it is important to be ready for comments, reactions and situations that don’t go according to plan.

Who wants to come to an already scripted live show when you signed up for improv? If you are unable to go off script and improv, your participants will realize they are attending a meeting that is already set instone, no input needed, it’s a pre-determined event, where they will feel less likely to engage and participate. Facilitating a meeting will require a lot of improv moments.

Intentions by scene via a prepared agenda

Just like in acting, as an actor focuses on a specific intention during a scene, facilitation does too. For example, Act 1, scene 7, in Macbeth, he reveals his true intentions for murder. Once you prepare your agenda, you will likely have several agenda points to address during the meeting. It is important to have a well thought out intention or outcome goal for each one. Not only should your personal facilitator agenda state the intention of the theme/agenda point, but should have an idea/activity on how to get to your intended outcome. Also, having an estimated time to spend on the agenda point is very wise to keep to time and move the meeting along.

How many times have you developed a quick agenda like this for yourself?

  1. Issues/challenges

  2. Solutions

  3. Next steps

  4. AOB

WHAT?! Unless this is a very quick follow up session to something all the participants are well-aware of the topic, this agenda will be insufficient. Even then, I still prefer a more thorough preparation for the agenda and meeting in general, otherwise we are wasting time and not fully committed to engaging our participants.

Think it through, what do we intend to get out of each of the above? What’s the most optimal way to do this, considering time and the participants. Lastly, how much time, realistically, can we allocate for each point and still reach our intended goal? It will take more time to prepare the agenda, but I assure you, your meeting will be much more successful and your participants will note and appreciate your efforts.

Feeling the reactions

On stage, there is a buzz when the audience reacts to a specific moment of a scene, whether it be laughing at the comical monologue or sobbing with tears during the dramatic tension. During my community theater days in Rome, I remember playing the role of a sister preparing for her brother’s funeral and having to burst into tears. Some nights I noted the sadness and sniffles in the crowd, while other nights nothing.

Being fully aware of the meeting participants’ reactions and engaging is key. Of course, you will have an agenda with an overarching goal of attaining meeting objectives, which guide your meeting intention (see above) however, it is vital you listen, watch and feel the reactions and allow for appropriate adjustments. Completely dismissing or ignoring strong feelings or gestures could be detrimental to your meeting. Remember, conflict is not always bad.

There you have a brief summary on how to improve your facilitation for your next gig while honing the inner actor within.

Any facilitators or actors out there to share your experiences? Facilitation can be applied beyond meetings, where else have you facilitated? What worked for you?

Learn more about Tony Robbins at