Five Fatal Facilitation Errors Even a Seasoned Pro Can Commit

I recently had the opportunity to observe a very seasoned professional speaker present a powerful keynote that included facilitated interaction with a very large audience. Even though this person was obviously a pro, I noticed five fatal behaviors that nearly destroyed the power of the interaction. See if you might be guilty of any of these Five Fatal Errors:

PresentationSkills-Microphone#1: Failure to use a microphone for participant comments. This speaker did a great job of roaming through the audience of about 200 people, asking for feedback to questions; however, there was no microphone available to capture what the responses were. As a result, only the speaker and those sitting around the participant giving feedback were able to hear what was said. Everyone else gradually lost interest and began having side conversations at their tables.

Learning Point: If you are planning to involve audience comments, either have a handheld microphone with you to capture what they are saying; have runners with handheld mics to go to the individuals who are speaking; have microphones stationed at various places, where audience members can walk when they want to speak; or, for those who are really out-of-the-box, use Catchbox, the microphones in a cube which can be tossed among audience members. And as a Master Facilitator, take responsibility to ensure the speaker does not begin until the mic is available, and holds the mic close to their mouth so they can be heard! Be in control!



#2: Failure to repeat questions from audience members when it is obvious others did not hear it. This is closely related to #1, but slightly different. Even with the best of planning, there will be times when someone asks a question without the benefit of a microphone. This speaker did what so many do: simply responded to the question. But the problem is, no one else in the room knew the question!

Learning Point: Always repeat a question that is asked before you answer it. In addition to ensuring everyone heard it, this also gives you a moment of thinking time to plan your response. You can also paraphrase the question if necessary, for clarity.


#3: Responding only to the individual who asked a question. This is definitely a common error that ends up creating an on-going conversation between the speaker and audience member, excluding everyone else in the room. Often it turns into a debate between the two, while the rest of the participants find a variety of ways to kill the time by checking email, getting coffee, or chatting with neighbors.

Learning Point: This is a Master Facilitation trick! Give complete eye contact and attention to the individual while they are asking the question. Then, as you begin responding, move away for the individual and include the entire group in your eye contact. Chances are, more than one person had the same question, and this allows you to include everyone in the answer. It also prevents the individual from asking follow-up questions that become a distraction from your presentation. (And one other thing: Do not end your response by asking the individual if that answered their question! If it did, leave well enough alone! If it did not, no worries — he or she will probably find a way to get a follow-up question back to you!)


#4: Over-sharing additional ideas before the groups have had an opportunity to share their responses. This one really bothers me! The speaker went to extreme effort to create a very intensive interaction exercise, followed by an opportunity for each group to share their ideas. However, when a group presented their first idea, the speaker began elaborating on it and offering other ideas — many of which were ideas the groups had come up with and were excited to share. The speaker essentially stole their thunder and left them feeling deflated and struggling to come up with other ideas.

Learning Point: If you are creating an opportunity for group work which provides time for group sharing of results, allow the groups to fully present their ideas first — then expand on what they have created. This is a time for audience members to feel involved, creative, and proud of their accomplishments. Let them be the heroes, not you!


#5: Offering incomplete and confusing directions for a group activity. This is one of my biggest pet peeves about facilitators! The individual I observed had done a masterful job of preparing the key points and content of the speech, but had not planned the presentation of the directions for the group activities at all! As a result, the directions did not match the PowerPoint slide that was showing, and audience members were totally confused about what they were supposed to be doing. A lot of time was wasted going to individual groups to help them get started on the activity, and the results were not nearly as powerful as they could have been.

Learning Point: The directions are a critical part of the success of your program! You should rehearse giving directions as carefully as you rehearse any other part of the program — and you need to be certain your directions are presented in easily-understood, step-by-step statements. Watch for body language to be sure people truly understand what it is you are asking them to do. Extra time spent up front with precise directions will save you tons of time throughout the activity, and yield incredible results!


Bonus Error: Making a big deal about getting back from break on time, then failing to tell the group how long the break would be. While this seems like a small matter, it is actually one of those little things that makes a huge impact. It leaves everyone feeling guilty for something they haven’t done yet (because of the big deal about getting back on time), then left without any way to do what is expected.

Learning Point: Be very clear about the timing of breaks. I like to say, “Everyone look at your watch or phone — however you keep track of the time. Notice what time it says now … add 15 minutes to it. That’s when we will start up again!”


I was amazed at how many rookie mistakes this seasoned speaker made in offering an interactive keynote — and it reminded me that there is a huge difference between keynoting and facilitating. By bringing the two skills together, you have the potential to create a dynamic experience … but only if you know how to do both effectively!

Learn more about how I can help you become an Extraordinary Presenter. Visit our website!

©2016 Cher Holton,

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