Don’t run without your facilitator(s), unless you like backfire effects

You have been thinking about this event, you know what you want to do with it and why, you have been convinced – and it’s a good thing – that you need a facilitator to help you with your event.

Dare to rely on your facilitator for collective success (Credits: G. Salokhe)

Dare to rely on your facilitator for collective success (Credits: G. Salokhe)

It sounds all good, and on paper you are all set for success… unless you follow any of the following traps, which could irremediably turn your event into a Murphy’s Law festival.

You have developed a precise agenda

This might be your first problem: as you couldn’t wait for the event to take shape and give you a concrete ‘feel’, you have drafted an agenda, day by day and to the minute. The problem with this is two-fold:

  1. You may not have thought carefully enough about the topics and objectives that should absolutely precede the (participation formats and) processes you will include in your event;
  2. As a result you may have widely unrealistic expectations – and not only that but you are now putting your facilitator in a difficult position because a) they will have to work backwards with you on all that preceded this agenda and b) you are strait-jacketing them into an agenda that may not reflect something they are comfortable facilitating…

Just leave this to your specialist in facilitation, it’s their job to help you get there by following a thorough design process that will make sure you have very clear objectives and an agenda that reflects this. Your facilitator is also not

Designing an event is also about reinventing at every step of the way (Credits: GapingVoid)

Designing an event is also about reinventing at every step of the way (Credits: GapingVoid)

You have shared the agenda with all participants

What can be worse than the previous scenario? Having developed the agenda and shared it with the participants, who now have their expectations higher up and may not like to hear that the plan has completely changed (after you’ve discussed it with your facilitator).

Again: resist the pressure of sending something too early, or send something quite vague that focuses mostly on the topics you will address. You have plenty of time and reason to work this out with your facilitator and do it properly.

You don’t really care about who comes and who should come

That is a big mistake! Your facilitator may not be a specialist of your industry, but you are (supposedly) and you should have a pretty good idea of who would be interested in the topics you want to address, who would be concerned by the objectives you’re setting for yourself and who should thus participate. Spend a bit more time thinking about who this event targets, who should be interested, who should come as resource persons (giving contributions) and who should come as audience…

Of course you could have a totally free and open registration, but there must be a few folks that should be on your radar screen… And think about ‘who would be typically missing’ from such an event, and take that extra effort to invite them, perhaps?

You have invited ‘resource persons’ to provide (too many/long inputs)

Contrary to the previous scenario, you may have a very good idea about who you want to see bring in some inputs, but you might have gotten too enthusiastic and basically invited them to:

  • Submit (for instance) presentations that are way too long (typically, above 10 minutes most people start switching off their concentration, so think twice about the length);
  • Submit too many inputs, to the extent that you will now have difficulty arranging a compelling agenda that presents all that information without boring participants or overwhelming them…

This is again an area where your facilitator can help you strike a balance between content and processes to absorb that content properly. There are various ways of dealing with a lot of content (from shorter and different inputs to parallel sessions, or agreeing that the event will be mostly type 1 – sharing information…) but again this should be part of a conversation you’re having with your facilitator(s).

Death or poisoning by Powerpoint is looming (Credits: Scott Adams)

Death or poisoning by Powerpoint is looming (Credits: Scott Adams)

You have booked a venue that you like – but may not be appropriate

Here is another typical mistake of running without your facilitator: you select a meeting venue that doesn’t lend itself to the objectives you (will) have set. It could be a place that has terrible acoustics, unmovable seats, large pillars or columns that prevent people from seeing parts of the room, no option for putting flip-chart sheets on the walls, or all of the above, and more… really not ideal! So go visit the venue with your facilitator or ask them for their list of requirements, and select a proper venue, accordingly…

So what is left for you to do?

In summary, if you’re bored but want to move on with your event, some of the useful things that you can do include:

  • Thinking about the topics you want to address, and the objectives you have
  • Thinking about your audience and some of the key resource persons you’d like to involve
  • Requesting venue requirements from your facilitator to do some scoping of good venues that comply with these requirements

…and plan a meeting with your facilitator, virtually or not, as soon as possible, to discuss some of the above and make progress to seeing your event as a real hit!

Combined with ‘10 advices to dramatically improve your un-facilitated meetings‘ following these tips above could be the difference between making and breaking your goal…

3 thoughts on “Don’t run without your facilitator(s), unless you like backfire effects

  1. Very sound advice! The part about working backwards resonates. If your goal is to have an effecient process and optimise the investments (time, money, energy) you and participants are making/about to make, it might seem counterintuitive to wait to talk to your facilitator, but that can avoid a lot of change and duplication of efforts as your facilitator is onboarded and applying the expertise you are hiring them to bring!


  2. Thank you Gillian for your reply (and on your blog Yes that’s actually a big pattern I see being misunderstood a lot. In fact, it’s a double dance with tempo: when to go for ‘quick and dirty’ (and I love that for many reasons too) and when to go for slow but thorough… It’s got to do with the depth of the issue, the amount of people and commitments concerned, the significance of the decision to make etc. A lot of people seem to not have a great intuition about it (and I’m not saying I do).

    Thank you for engaging!
    Would love to get an opportunity to meet some day. Some relatives of mine saw you at work and were really impressed!



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