A group facilitator can make or break a gathering. We've all been in a group where the facilitator thought she was the teacher and talked ad nauseam, and we've also been witness to the run-away train where they take such a back-seat role that the conversation just blows with the wind.
But hopefully we've also been in groups where we feel supported, guided, and nurtured as part of one big awesome conversation. There are few events more powerful and energizing than being in a group of women engaged in deep conversation and connection!
To that end, when I wrote up a book club guide (which we loving refer to as BookCircles) for my newest book Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness I also included some tips for anyone who wants to host one.
If you feel so inspired--be sure to download the Frientimacy gift pack on my website which not only walks you through 1-4 evenings of connecting but also guides you in figuring out who to invite and how to plan. The only thing better than inviting a group of women over to connect with each other is also having them talk and learn about friendship at the same time!
Tips for Facilitating:
Whether you're leading a BookCircle for Frientimacy or find yourself hosting a gathering or circle some other time, may these tips inspire you to remember what matters most.
- Your Focus: Always remember that the focus isn’t to impress those who come or to have a “perfect” party; but rather it is to help facilitate love and connection. I always say a prayer before everyone arrives “Help everyone who comes through that door to feel loved and seen.” Exhale any worry about how others perceive you and instead focus on making sure everyone leaves feeling your warmth. People won’t remember what was said or how you looked—they’ll remember how they felt.
- Timing: I think it’s respectful to start and end on time so I always plan out my evening starting from the end time. If I want to end by x time then I to be starting the goodbyes and announcements 7 minutes before then, which means asking the final question, 10 minutes before that, etc. I write in little suggested times throughout my itinerary so that at any given point I can quickly assess if I have extra time or am short on time—allowing me to make decisions about what to prioritize with the given time. Similarly, we need to think through how much time we want to allot for certain sections: For example, if you have 6 women all introducing themselves for 3 min each then it will take about 20 minutes to do introductions. Do you need to model a shorter introduction so it only takes 15 minutes?
- Modeling: Our role as facilitators is not to teach and monopolize the conversation but to help facilitate everyone else’s sharing. Many people process the concepts as they talk and listen so we want to encourage the diversity of sharing from as many voices as possible. However, when it comes to going around the circle, I always share first to buy everyone time to think and to model vulnerability and timing. We want to keep our answer as short as we want everyone else’s to be. We also want to answer with as much authenticity as possible as that gives permission to everyone else to answer with honesty as well. We are setting the tone: what you put out is what will get duplicated.
- Format Variety: You’ll notice I mix up many different ways of facilitating, including: group discussion where anyone can talk or not, go around the circle where each person shares once, partners where two people share with each other, and small groups where the group is split into 2 or more smaller groups. This helps ensure that the talkative people don’t monopolize the evening and that everyone gets chances to share and talk, it keeps everyone more engaged and prevents boredom, and helps people bond with different people. Follow my suggestions or experiment on your own as timing limitations and group personalities inspire you.
- Beginning and Ending: It’s important to begin and end every group with circle sharing—everyone going around the circle to check-in and be seen. Be diligent about starting and ending well—with warmth, vision, and an invitation for everyone to enter and exit the circle with love and grace. The questions can change depending on the event or how well everyone knows each other-- but they can be as simple as "What interested you most about coming tonight?" as a way of each person introducing themselves; and ending with a version of "What is one thing you're taking away with you tonight?"
- Names: Nothing worse for bonding than not remembering each others names. Erase any fear anyone might have of not remembering someone’s names by always reminding women to state their name when they talk if there is any chance that someone in the group may not remember or know everyone. I’d rather error on the side of saying names one too many times, than not enough times. When people are nervous it’s harder for them to recall names. Consider using name tags every week if it’s a group of people who haven’t all met before.
- Responding to Sharing: One pitfall of many groups is that they chase rabbits—one thought reminds someone of a story which triggers someone else to remember what they read once which gets someone else going on a rant. What we want to do is try to keep the focus on whoever’s turn it is to talk (gently give the floor back to them if/after someone hijacks it—i.e. “Danielle... was there anything else you wanted to say about what you were sharing?) and try to keep the sharing on the question at hand (i.e. “oh that sounds so interesting... but in trying to answer this question specifically, what would you say?"). I implement a “thank you for sharing” rule in most of my groups which means we are mindful that our collective jobs aren’t to give advice, interrupt, or recall stories after someone’s share but rather we all say “Thank you for sharing!” before going to the next person so we can acknowledge we heard them without having to respond to all the details they shared. (Especially helpful in a “go around the circle” or “partner” format.)
- Affirming: One of the best gifts we can give is affirming our guests through the evening—reminding them we value them and see them. It can be as easy as saying “oh great thought!” after they share or as intentional as telling them what we appreciated about their involvement before they leave.
- Logistics and Roles: One of the most important roles we play as a facilitator is providing the container for the experience. The container includes overseeing logistics—location, reminders, clear instructions, etc. But it doesn’t mean we have to do everything—provide food/drink or facilitate every time. It just means we’ll make sure it happens. In fact, attendance is improved when people have a role—even if it’s just to bring napkins. We are more likely to show up if we think our presence will be missed; so more important than impressing everyone with doing it all is often our willingness to let go and let others. Maybe see if anyone else wants to facilitate different weeks (and share this guide with them!) or have everyone volunteer to bring different food items, or be in charge of different tasks (posting photos, starting a Facebook group page, or sending out reminders).
And I welcome you adding to the list by suggesting other tips that matter to you either as the facilitator or as one of the attendees-- what do you most appreciate?
May we continue to find ourselves gathered in meaningful ways....