Friday, September 19, 2014

The Responsibilities of a Conference Facilitator

I have just returned from Let's Test Oz 2014, and like the CAST conferences, operates on a K-Card style facilitation format.

During the three day conference I saw the power a great facilitator can have. I got to experience first-hand the influence a good facilitator can have on the success of a talk, so I would like to offer my perspectives on what makes a good faciliator.


Serves the Speaker

The facilitator serves the speaker. A lot of speakers are nervous or otherwise distracted just before they are due to deliver a presentation. The facilitator can aid the speaker by checking that the room has been set up appropriately, the speaker has water, and that the A/V equipment is set up to the speaker's liking. Yes, most speakers can take of this themselves, and I would expect them to, but it eases the burden to know there is someone to support you if you need a runner to find a technician while you're booting up your laptop, for example. A speaker, especially an inexperienced one, can have so much running through their minds pre-presentation that it is a great comfort to know that someone else is taking care of the details allowing you to focus your mind on what's coming up.

Some things a facilitator could do to help a non-experienced speaker:
  • Ensure they have water, notepads, pens etc on their podium or table if they want it
  • Ensure the room is arranged how the presenter would like it, including equipment such as flipcharts, whiteboards, etc
  • Plug the A/V equipment in, and check the projector is working
  • Just be there as a support person to help with the nerves!


Sets the Tone

The first words of a presentation don't come from the speaker, but from the facilitator when they introduce the speaker. YES, this is part of the presentation, therefore, you have a responsibility to your speaker to make it count. Interview your speaker beforehand to ask them how they would like to be introduced. Your introduction is a mini-speech! It should be short, sharp and to the point. But it should also set the tone for the speaker and get the audience warmed up. It is much easier for a speaker to begin with a warm room, than a cold one.


Is a Time-Keeper

The facilitator is a time keeper. I recommend asking the speaker at what time stamps they wish to be notified and whether they want to be alerted to "Time-elapsed" or "Time-to-go".  Have a clear protocol on how you will communicate time to your speaker.


Leads the applause

After the introduction, lead the applause. The audience will take your cue and follow. They will. Trust me. If you do not lead the applause, the audience may kind of awkwardly look around, not sure if they should clap or not. Don't leave it ambiguous.

At the conclusion of the talk, lead the applause again.


Conducts Open Season

The facilitator is the conductor of open season, and, therefore, controls the rhythm and energy of open season. Don't leave the speaker hanging. Be responsive at the end of the talk and take control of the room. I have seen the speaker stop, then the facilitator, with his head down in his tablet say "hold on...". Please don't do that. Your speaker has probably worked hard to create a buzz, and you are now the custodian of that energy. Don't drop it.

A good conductor knows how to control the dynamics of a room. Knows when to crescendo, when to ease back. There are great posts on how to handle the mechanics of facilitation. Remember, you are facilitating your speaker too.  I had great rapport with my facilitator at Let's Test Oz, and picked up on a few subtle cues on when to stop addressing a question and let him move onto another yellow card.

In Conclusion

As a facilitator, you contribute to the success of your speaker by helping them set up, handing them an energised audience, and keeping the energy alive during the open season. This is a responsible, but fun and rewarding role to have.


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