11 tips for facilitators
The Old Vic works with a pool of brilliant freelance facilitators who help us deliver Education & Community and artistic development workshops to over 10,000 people every year. We asked our pool to share their top tips for anyone thinking about making their first steps into facilitation.
No matter how many workshops you run always remember what it’s like to be a participant. Theatre is a collaborative workplace. As a facilitator you should always be in control and in charge of the workshop, but my top tip would be to find the balance of leading and collaborating. Allowing participants to feel like you are collaborators by establishing ways of working but then authentically working with them as you would work in a rehearsal room. You can be in control of a room and treat participants as equals – as collaborators. In my experience, the finest work and response is created through this way of working.
2. Break the Ice
I think breaking the ice is so important whether it be through games or introductions. From the off, through receptivity and encouragement, the room needs to be a safe space where ideas are appreciated and accepted. I think most importantly though you need to be open minded – be ready to learn as much from the workshop as the participants.
3. Plan your Objective
Think about what your objective of the session is and use that as a thread to pull your session together. When planning your session always use your objectives and ask yourself why you are doing each thing and does it fit with the objective.
4. Be Flexible
The best advice I can give to fellow facilitators out there is to be flexible with their session plans. Sometimes we get frustrated if our sessions are not running as smoothly as we would like, or when participants are not engaging like we would expect them to. But that’s okay! We are working with people and people’s emotions and sometimes they are simply not in the right mood, or their energy is not vibing, or they are too tired, or they are worried about something… the list goes on! And we can’t anticipate or control those things. So don’t beat yourself up and go with the flow. Read the energy in the room and really listen to their needs. Even if that means going off track for a bit. It’s exciting and refreshing. It will keep you on your toes and, who knows, you might end up discovering or developing an amazing new game or a scene.
When it comes to planning and delivering a workshop to a group of different individuals based on their backgrounds and abilities, make sure you have a good awareness and can be adaptable so that every participant can access and are able to take part in all the activities, fairly and equally. Focus on the group’s progress but at the same time, look out for individuals’ needs so that everyone in the group can thrive as one.
6. Use Your Voice
Look after your voice, use it economically, and use the full range to your advantage. Sometimes you might want to inject energy into the room, or you might need to grab the attention of the room to give another instruction; make sure to use your diaphragm to support your voice so you don’t hurt your throat. And know you can speak softly sometimes to draw a group into really listening to you.
7. Energy and Atmosphere
Before you start the session, think about what energy or atmosphere would be most effective for each part of the session, and how you can go about creating it.
For example, you may want to start the session with a lot energy to draw the participants in, and can create this with upbeat music, a fun physical activity, and a clear open-space layout. You may later want a more reflective energy, and so can adjust your voice, play calming music, and ask participants to sit on the floor or find their own space as they write quietly. So long as you’re clear on what you want your participants to feel, switching things up will keep them interested, focused and help them get the most out of the session.
8. Check the Time
Keep your eye on the clock! It’s so easy to let the time runaway, particularly when you and the participants are enjoying the workshop, but it’s always good to leave enough time to wrap up properly at the end.
9. Make a Contract
If you are struggling to manage participants’ behaviour, a good start is to create a contract. A contract is an agreement between you and the participants on a list of actions that will make the workshop go smoothly without any disruptions. It’s like your own workshop rules that everyone agrees to follow to create a safe space and respect each other.
10. Revisit Games
Revisiting and developing things you’ve already worked on can be hugely rewarding. You don’t have to be creating new content constantly. Groups will enjoy revisiting old games and exercises and be able to take them to new levels with the skills they’ve learned since.
11. Take Part
Take part in workshops yourself. Watch other facilitators – what works, what doesn’t, what do you like, what don’t you like and weave that into your creative practice. Not only are you learning and developing your style, it is important to be able to relate to how a participant might feel in taking part. Also always write down every exercise/game you come across – it might be useful in the future.
Inspired to learn more about facilitation? Take a look at our Front Line Facilitators training programme and sign up to our Take Part newsletter to find out when applications for the programme will open.