Building Rapport: 7 Top Tips for Facilitators

You’re about to kick off the workshop. You’ve planned it meticulously. You’re in a cool venue. You’ve designed a dynamic, creative workshop process. As a facilitator, the key thing now is to focus on building a rapport with the expectant faces looking at you. You need to create a close, harmonious relationship with everyone in the room.

With rapport you can direct the session exactly how you want. Without rapport, you’ll find people are unwilling to join in. They’ll respond in a lacklustre way and operate at half-speed. They’ll start rebelling. They'll start playing with their phones or will get lost on their way back from the coffee break.

So, how does a facilitator build rapport in workshops?

1 It starts before the workshop begins

During the planning phase, get to understand the people who are attending. You’ll then get a feel for what’s in store. Ask the session owner for the low down on them. As you send emails detailing their pre-work, take the opportunity to introduce yourself. Explain what’s in store and re-assure them that it’s going to fun and engaging. Give everyone an opportunity to call you. By the time everyone arrives, they’ll at least know who you are and feel primed and ready to go.

2 Introduce yourself upfront

The participants need to know you are. As people drift into the meeting room I always try and say hello and make them feel comfortable. Direct them towards the coffee, point out the bathrooms, show them where to sit. And as you kick off the day, say something about yourself. Nothing too long or boastful. Just enough for them to get a sense of who you are. It’s easy to forget to do this in your eagerness to make a fast start. Make sure you don’t. It’s important.

2. Name people

There’s a lovely quote from Dale Carnegie.

“A person's name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

He’s right. Taking the time to memorise and call out people’s names is so important. It signals you’re listening, that you care about what they have to say. It also allows you to direct people more overtly and ask questions more pointedly. Memorising names is something I find difficult and it takes a real effort. Here are some further tips on how to do it. Even if you can’t remember everyone, especially if it’s a big group, do your best to remember at least a few.

3 Involve everybody

Make sure you’ve built a rapport with everyone in the room, not just the more senior or extrovert characters. There’s a risk you’ll spend your time connecting with the familiar, friendly faces. If you notice there’s a few quieter characters, try and draw them in. Early in the session, check that every individual has made a meaningful contribution. If not, encourage this to happen. Ask them some direct questions. Encourage them to present their ideas.

4 Stay present and engaged throughout

It’s tempting when people are working on exercises to take a bit of time out. To check your emails, look out the window, have a chat with your fellow facilitator. Make sure you avoid this. People will notice if you’ve checked out of the session and will feel a bit let down. ‘I’m working really hard here and the facilitator doesn’t care’, they’ll think. Instead, stay attentive. Don’t interrupt people but make sure you keep an eye on everyone and ensure you’re available for them. When people are presenting back their ideas/thoughts, stay focused. Listen closely and acknowledge what they’ve said.

5 Keep it playful

People enjoy playing more than working. Maintaining a relaxed playful tone is essential, no matter how serious the topic. Set the tone early with a nice warm-up exercise. Take time for the odd energiser. Encourage humour and don’t be afraid to join in. It needs to feel spontaneous. You don’t want to labelled as the boring one at the front of the room. However, beware of trying to be funny at someone else’s expense. It’s a surefire way of damaging your any rapport you’ve created.

6 Provide constructive feedback

When people present ideas and thoughts, listen - really listen. Then provide constructive feedback, ie ‘friendly evaluation’. Say what you like about what you’ve heard. Add something that you feel is helpful. If you don’t feel qualified to pass judgement, then ask other people, making sure they add value to the discussion.

7 Respond to the energy in the room

Always be aware of how people are feeling. If everything’s going well, then go with the flow. If people are flagging or you sense a dip, then do something about it. Don’t ignore it. Call a quick break, even if it’s unscheduled. Encourage people to get some fresh air. Do something physical to get people back on track.

To sum up. Building rapport should be your first priority when you begin a workshop. Get to know everyone straight away and don’t forget to keep working on it throughout. Use these tips to help you. Once people know you and trust you they’ll be willing and able to do their best work.

The Art of Persuasion. Lessons From Aristotle

The Art of Persuasion. Lessons From Aristotle

Persuasion is an essential business skill. Whether we’re convincing our team to adopt a new strategy, or selling a new product, we’re always attempting to bring others round to our point of view. So how do we become more persuasive? What tools and techniques can we can draw upon? Luckily, the work of the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle is a source of inspiration. His work is as relevant today as it’s ever been.

How to Start and Finish Presentations

One of the best bits of advice Chris Anderson’s gives in TED’s excellent ‘Official Guide to Public Speaking’ is to Start Strong and End with Power. When we’re delivering presentations we often forget this. We’re so busy trying to remember what’s on the slides, and getting through the deck without mishap. We don’t focus on the most important aspect - how to kick them off and how to wrap them up.


Research highlights that people are excellent at recalling the beginning of a presentation and how it ends. The bits in between, not so much. Neuroscientists call this the serial position effect. So, when we design a presentation we need to give an extra focus on these elements.


Here’s how


How to Start Strong


Firstly, what not to do. Attention is short. Don’t spend those priceless first minutes droning on about yourself. No-one’s interested in your brilliant career and why you’ve been asked to present. Don’t fiddle around with all the technical stuff such as microphones and your slides. Don't do your sound checks ‘can you hear me at the back’. It’s a surefire way to get people diving for their phones. Get it sorted in advance. And of course - we all know you’re honoured and humbled to be here. No need to explain.


You need to spark curiosity and create a sense of intrigue. Here are three techniques.


1) A startling fact. Share something intriguing and surprising. Something that will set the tone for the whole talk. This is how Jamie Oliver kicked off his famous TED Talk entitled Teach Every Child About Food in 2009.


‘Sadly in the next 18 minutes when I do our chat 4 Americans that are alive will be dead through the food that they eat’


Now, we’re all keen to know more.


2) A personal anecdote or story. It’s a great way to show your vulnerability. Reveal something about yourself and get the audience on your side. Evoking empathy is so important to delivering a powerful presentation. It could be funny. The master of this is Ken Robinson. His opening salvo in Do schools kill creativity is full of anecdotes.. It could be surprising. Zak Embrahim in Ted 2014, kicked off with a story that has an amazing revelation. His father was a convicted terrorist.


We’re immediately on the side of the speaker.


3) A challenging question. Another way to immediately engage the audience ask them a provocative question. It could be on a controversial topic that divides the audience. You could even ask for a show of hands.


Now we're part of the presentation and engaged in it’s outcomes


Choose whatever approach works for you. The key goal is to hook them in and get the audience on your side. If you want to see a true master at kicking off a presentation, watch Hans Rosling. His presentation ‘The Magic Washing Machine is full of anecdote, humour and intrigue.


How to End with Power


Ok, so now the end is near. Don’t end with a whimper. For example, never end with a video. Tempting, but a bit of a cop-out. Don’t waste time thanking everyone. Only do this as an afterthought, once you’ve closed ‘properly’. Don’t say ‘sorry that’s all I’ve got time for’ It implies you’ve cut it short / planned badly. Use your time wisely.


You need to end properly. Here are 3 suggestions.


1) A call to action The whole point of a presentation is to change the audience’s beliefs or behaviour. To hammer this home, make sure you’re clear about what your ‘ask’ is. In Amy Cuddy’s famous presentation on body language, there are two calls to action. Firstly, to practice ‘power posing’ to increase your confidence. Secondly, to share the science so others can learn. It could be your own personal action. The commitment you’re give back to the audience.


2) Bring it back to the start. A great presentation needs to have symmetry. If you’ve asked a question at the beginning, answer it at the end. If you’ve set up a series of goals upfront explain how you’ve addressed them at the end. Make sure there are no loose ends.


3) A vision of success. Show people the big picture, the consequences or impact of the message you’re conveying. Leave them inspired. Show that if they’re willing to follow your advice/recommendation you’ll take them to a much better place.


So to summarise.


The start and finish of presentations are incredibly important. We often underestimate their impact. Spend a disproportion amount of timing thinking about and preparing these elements. Make sure you’ve practiced and prepared. There are lots of ways you can make sure you start strong and end with power. Choose the approach you feel most comfortable with. And finally, make sure it’s something memorable. You want to make sure your presentation has made a lasting impression.

Judging Creative Work. The 5 Questions to Ask Yourself

Judging Creative Work. The 5 Questions to Ask Yourself

Back in 2007 I was running a 2 day training programme with the Cadbury’s UK marketing team in one of the usual off-site locations. At the end the Marketing Director said to me, ‘do you mind if I show the team a new Dairy Milk ad that we’re thinking of running’. He put his CD into my laptop and played it on the big screen. It featured a man in a gorilla suit playing along to the Phil Collins song ‘In the Air Tonight’. And that was basically it. Then he turned to the room and asked ‘What do you think? Shall we run this?’’

How to Structure an Idea Generation Workshop

How to Structure an Idea Generation Workshop

Idea generation sessions are the workshops I enjoy the most. I love the buzz, the energy and it’s so satisfying to go through the journey of inventing something new. If you were to simply walk into an idea generation session, it may appear chaotic with post-its, magazines, random products and objects strewn all over the place. However, the best sessions are really well organised. Of course they need to be planned properly, but once this is done, this is how you structure them.

How to Spot Flaws in Arguments

How to Spot Flaws in Arguments

Every day we’re bombarded with information via our twitter feeds, news sites and in-boxes. Being able to discern truth from fiction is a constant battle. To help us write persuasive reports, make informed decisions and to clarify our points of view on the world, an ability to spot flaws in arguments is essential. This is what to look out for.

How to Plan Amazing Workshops

How to Plan Amazing Workshops

The most successful workshops I’ve been involved in are a result of great planning.. The more time and effort you put into this, the better the session will be. Detailed planning allows you to really understand the brief, design a fabulous process and create a truly bespoke event. By the time the workshop day comes around you’ll be full of confidence and able to adapt, improvise and have fun.

How to Pitch Your Idea, Pixar-style

How to Pitch Your Idea, Pixar-style

I recently read Daniel H Pink’s book ‘To Sell is Human’. It was written in 2013, but I’ve only just discovered it. One of the many things I really enjoyed about the book is the section on how to pitch ideas. It’s something we all have to do, no matter what our role, so it’s important that we master how to do it well.

How to Make Your Presentations More Emotional

How to Make Your Presentations More Emotional

Recently I saw a fascinating TED talk by David JP Philips called ‘The Magical Science of Storytelling’, where he explains how certain chemicals in your brain are triggered when we hear a great story. He refers to these chemicals - oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins as ‘The Angel’s Cocktail’, the emotions we all crave when we hear a great story. With practice we can all trigger these emotions when writing or delivering presentations. Here’s how.