I once witnessed a varsity facilitator in action. I’ve seen impressive facilitators before but I got to see a facilitator wield accountability and values like Michelangelo wielded a paintbrush. Pete Smithhisler (President and CEO of the North-American Interfraternity Conference) put on a facilitation clinic when he was leading the UIFI (Undergraduate Interfraternity institute) I facilitated at, and he didn’t even know it. Pete mentioned that we were in the varsity league now, we had to be our best facilitator selves for the students and I followed his lead. I took away 10 tips for varsity facilitation from the experience, blended up for your consumption:
- Energy. You, as the facilitator, should have high energy. Don’t walk into a room of half-asleep students and expect them to be chipper and ready to learn. Build them up. Play some music in the mornings, start some conversations during breakfast, then find a strong energizer (hopefully one that gets people moving – enough – and encourages giggling).
- Emotion. If you are emotional about a topic, don’t’ be afraid to show it. That DOESN’T mean to start crying hysterically or screaming at the top of your lungs. The mark of a varsity facilitator is one that can control his or her emotions. When a student says something infuriating, harness it, make sense of your anger, and then think “How can I ask the right questions to have the student rethink their statements.” Yelling solves nothing. It’s the same with sadness. Sobbing will only turn students away. It’s too much. However, don’t be afraid to be authentic and if your authentic self starts to well-up then let it. Just don’t let it take you over.
- Be unyielding. Just because participants don’t get a concept right away, don’t let up. Keep going. Be patient. Recognize and respect that participates don’t know what they don’t know. Don’t let them rob the answer from you. They’ll find the concept, just keep trying different angles.
- Meet them where they are. This means you might need to remove some of your formal lingo. It also means you have to take off your own “cool cap.” Get silly, be a little rambunctious, have fun with it, laugh at yourself. Spend downtime in the same spaces as the participants. Seek follow-up conversations. Be authentically quirky because we all are. The participates won’t be able to reach your message if you put it on a pedestal.
- Don’t let things slide. See a learning opportunity? Take it. Just because it’s not in a session doesn’t mean you shouldn’t educate.
- Use your status for good. Facilitators automatically have power and influence. The title of facilitator carries a great deal of status so control the program and lead the group. Use it. Influence students towards the outcomes. And if they push back? Great, perfect opportunity for conversation.
- Take the small wins. Recognize and respect that small wins may be the only thing you accomplish. Own that this work is not an exact science and you can only take students as far as they are willing to go.
- Repetition. Have a point you want to make? Repeat it over and over. Get the participants to repeat it over and over. With the amount of noise that college students deal with in their everyday lives you have to make sure your point is engrained. Choose wisely however, if you try to repeat everything then you’ve repeated nothing.
- You can say no. We all want to validate participants but sometimes their responses are just wrong. Don’t let your urge to be supportive veer the entire discussion away from the intended outcome. You don’t have to be rude but don’t be afraid to use No (or softer variations).
- The facilitators have needs too. Facilitation is challenging. Honest moment: It is way harder then I initially thought it would be. It takes a lot out of you and each day can offer the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. As a lead facilitator (if that is a role you aspire to in the future) it is a must to worry about your team. Every night bring them together to debrief, yes, but also to laugh, vent, and generally check-in. Give the facilitators an outlet or risk having a meltdown if (lets be real, when) things get challenging.
How will you raise your game to varsity level next time you facilitate?