All the skills you need to facilitate a great workshop

In my last blog post, Why the workshop is your most powerful tool , I said one of the things that differentiates a workshop from a meeting or a presentation is that a workshop must have a skilled facilitator. I’m often asked whether it’s possible to train someone to be a great facilitator – the answer is an emphatic yes!

Almost every aspect of great facilitation is something that can be taught - becoming an expert at it is down to practice. Malcolm Gladwell says that for anybody to become an expert in their craft they need to spend 10,000 hours doing it. In 2007 I calculated I’d spent 365 full days of my life facilitating thousands of workshops in organisations around the world. I haven't recalculated since, but I reckon I must be pushing that 10,000 mark!

All of us at Curve have worked with some of the world’s master facilitators, helping incredible teams to produce amazing outcomes. With our collective experience we’ve developed the Workshop Workshop so that we can pass on our skills – we’ve used it to train hundreds of people to run really great workshops.


The skills you need to learn can be grouped into four broad categories; technical, human, communication, and personal. Here are some examples of the many skills that we cover in the Workshop Workshop:

Technical skills

Interpreting the brief

Make sure you have a thorough understanding of what the workshop is for. I always emphasise that a workshop is not for making decisions or getting people to accept a change they have no control over – it’s for creating the optimum conditions for your team to come up with something new; to bring about change themselves.


You’ll need to do lots of preparation and think about how to use the time you have to get the most out of your participants. And you’ll need great time-keeping skills!


Break the workshop down so that you maintain energy throughout the day (more about this in another post) and create the momentum for people to carry what they create in the workshop back to their jobs the next day and beyond.


Be prepared to flex the agenda in line with the needs and personalities of the group and switch to plan B activities and exercises as needed. It’s great to be able to spend more time on activities that are really working and whizz through ones where the results come quickly. There are many tools to help you with this, which I’ll talk about in my next post.

Human skills

Observe the room

If you’re skilled in interpreting body language, you can avoid the trap of relying purely on what people say. You can then help individuals contribute if needed, or curb their disruptive behaviour.


Beyond watching the room, you need to empathise with people to understand what they’re thinking and where they're coming from. Great facilitators can put people at ease, and the best workshops will make everybody comfortable enough to contribute.

Manage the conversation

Stimulate discussion, get to the heart of issues and help conversations to a valuable place. Techniques like asking provocative questions or using specific body language will help you with this.

Keep hierarchy out of the room

One of the barriers to contribution is a sense of hierarchy. Every person needs to contribute as an equal – you need to know how to remove status and get people to leave their job titles at the door.

Communication skills

Practise active listening

There are loads of great YouTube videos that show how you to do this, from the way you move your body, to the sounds and words you use to respond, to the way you make eye contact.

Give clear instructions

Your briefings need to be concise and easy to understand. Always ask at the end of an instruction, ‘does that make sense,’ or ‘is that clear?’

Replay and summarise

Replay what’s been said in a way that everybody can understand, and synthesise the different threads of the conversation into clear statements.

Be inclusive

Tailor your communication to the people in the room, for example to participants from other countries or cultures who don’t speak English as their first language.

Personal skills

Be aware of your own presence in the room

Whether you believe you need to show confidence or humility when you enter the room, everyone develops their own style through practice. This isn’t one to copy from someone else.

Be kind

Show that you care about the people in the room with you and be sensitive to their needs.

Enable others

Understand how to help other people have ideas. We can show you how to use tools and techniques that will encourage creative thinking and confidence in your participants.

In my next post, I’ll talk about the all-important facilitator’s toolkit and share some gems from the Curve toolbox. If you’d like to experience the magic for yourself, you can book a place on our Workshop Workshop – to receive details of forthcoming dates, sign up via our website. We also facilitate workshops designed for your team or organisation, either on-site or at a fantastic off-site venue. Drop us a line at and we can tell you more.

John Monks