Earlier this month I had the pleasure of co-teaching a course at the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), which is an old stomping ground of mine. It was great to be back and teamed up Libby Bingham to present “Facilitation Essentials: Effectively Managing Conversations.” We had an exceptional group of folks, and they were great about staying with us as we moved between information sharing, exercises and small group discussions. I thoroughly enjoyed our time together and learned as much from them as I hope they learned from us.
We talked about the skills needed to be a strong facilitator, and one of my favorites is often overlooked. It’s common to talk about active listening, the ability to draw people into a conversation, and how to manage conflict in a group. While all these skills are critical, there is one that can help with any situation: the ability to improvise. For anyone who has ever been at the front of the room in any sort of capacity, you know the only thing you can count on is the unexpected. Despite all our preparations and best intentions, there is always something that catches us off guard — technology woes, a rowdy audience member or an extensive question in 7 parts. Improvisation is something created without preparation, typically a piece of music, drama, etc. I would absolutely argue that facilitation done well is an art form all its own, and there will always be opportunities to create an experience, a lesson or a memory without preparation. So the next time you’re presented with the unexpected, you can view it as a pain or take advantage of the opportunity to practice your improv skills. You never know when or how those moments will present themselves, and the more comfortable you are simply going with the flow, the better the chances are that your improv will leave them laughing and wanting more.