Presentation or Facilitation


Presentation or Facilitation what’s the difference and when should you use these different styles of communication.

These are two different ways to lead people to new knowledge and new ways of thinking, in both cases you are leading the communication and need a clear idea of what you want to happen and where the conversation should be leading.

Let’s start by looking at the difference between giving a presentation and facilitating a meeting or discussion. 

When you are giving a presentation you will already have a clear idea of what you want your audience to do with the information you are presenting. You should have a clear and measurable objective so that you know if your presentation was a success. As a presenter you will probably  know more about the specific subject on which you are presenting than most of your audience, your role is to impart that knowledge and motivate your audience into taking a pre-defined action or series of actions, which will fulfil your objective for the presentation. Your overriding objective must be to gain agreement between the audience and your idea.

To be successful when giving a presentation a good presenter should be:

  • Confident
  • Knowledgeable (of subject, presentation structure and audience)
  • Enthusiastic
  • Humourous (possibly)
  • Able to speak clearly and passionately
  • Prepared and practised
  • empathetic with audience

When facilitating, rather than imposing your own ideas on to the group, the objective is to encourage the group to find their own solutions. In this role it is not your knowledge and opinions that matter but rather the knowledge and opinions of the rest of the group. The aim of facilitation should be to create understanding rather than purely generating agreement. 

A good facilitator should be:

  • humble
  • generous
  • patient
  • understanding
  • accepting
  • inclusive
  • an encourager
  • an enabler
  • affirming of everyone’s knowledge
  • sensitive to the needs of others
  • willing to learn from mistakes
  • dynamic, a motivator
  • a good listener
  • good at summarising others’ ideas
  • confident

Many presentations focus on providing solutions to a stated problem, with the presenter having already solved the problem in their own mind prior to the presentation. In facilitation the objective is to remain independent, rather than trying to gain approval for a predefined solution, and there by encourage discussion which leads the participants to find their own solution.

Why as a subject matter expert  would you want to run a facilitated session when you already have a good idea of how to solve a particular problem?

As an acknowledged expert you may feel it would be easier to give a presentation and tell people what the solution should be, however using facilitation techniques invariably increases the participation in the session and when done well the group will believe that they actually created the solution. This gives them the feeling of ownership, not just of the problem but of the solution as well. Which in turn makes it far more likely that they will follow through to implement the course of action that has been decided upon.

This is in line with my second rule for making a presentation memorable ( The “Just Do It” rule), which says if you want people to remember your presentation they need to be actively involved in the presentation. If your audience just sit and listen, nodding their heads occasionally, they will soon forget everything you have said.

Added to that,no matter how experienced an expert you might be, there are often extra dimensions to a problem or solution which are thrown up through an organised and well facilitated session.

So next time you have to give a presentation, as long as the content is not too technical, think about how you could turn it into a facilitated session where the audience do the work. You may still need a short presentation to set the ground work, get people thinking in the right direction and pose the open-ended question to stimulate discussion, but then with some guidance your audience may reach their own conclusions and surprise you by their commitment to their solution

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