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April 16, 2008

Want to increase your conferences' ROI? Get a professional facilitator on board

A key part of any meeting, event or conference is delivering a strong message, and then ensuring that those that have been listening to that message actually do something because of what they have learned. To do this you need to communicate effectively, so that they not only understand, but also remember what you have told them – and that means using a whole lot more than a PowerPoint presentation.

“Simply putting a speaker in front of your audience, even if their PowerPoint is very good, does not work,” says Elling Hamso of the European Event ROI Institute. “A few days later your audience remembers nothing. If you want to get your audience to learn then you have to engage with them and any new knowledge has to be used immediately after learning, just ask any schoolteacher. Confucius knew this more than two thousand years ago when he said: ‘Tell me and I will listen, show me and I will remember, involve me and I will learn.’"

Increasing learning and retention

A good facilitator knows how people learn and he has plenty of tools for creating a good learning environment. It’s these tools that can turn your event around, and Hamso believes that to make the most their talents you should involve your event facilitator from the very start. “If you involve a facilitator early in the planning process and design a good interactive learning environment, and then use that facilitator to manage the live learning process, you will probably increase learning and retention by an 10-fold, compared to a traditional speaker scenario,” he says.
With companies increasingly looking to guarantee return on investment (ROI) from their conferences and events, this is one sure-fire way of guaranteeing that you get those results, and Hamso doesn’t understand why companies don’t put more into it. “It is amazing how companies will sometimes spend huge amounts on entertainment, transportation, lavish dinners and exceptional venues, whereas the interaction with the audience and presentation of the message is not given the same attention,” he opines.
So, you’ve decided you want to use a facilitator, but where do you start? Chris Elmitt, director of Crystal Interactive and a former teacher, outlines some of the best choices. “It’s important to have a clear definition of the different types of external support available,” he says. “First, there’s the Master of Ceremonies – most commonly a newsreader/journalist or documentary programme presenter.  In these situations, someone well-known will add plenty of wow to your event, and they will be really effective at handling the Q&As and keeping the audience involved. However, what they won’t have is the depth of understanding of your industry.

Making the right choice

“Second, there’s the industry specialist – sometimes also a journalist or analyst who very often has a consultancy offering as well," Elmitt continues. "This type of person will offer independence and insight, you just need to be careful that they are not going to use the event as an opportunity to sell their own services.
“Finally, there are professional facilitators – usually a management or communications consultant perhaps specialising in your industry sector. The danger here is to remember that not all consultants are born facilitators, and their role may be limited if the event agenda is tight. But if your sponsor team is open to suggestions and new ideas, then a good facilitator could bring a really fresh approach.”

For Elmitt, the secret of a well-delivered conference is allowing the organisers to play to the individual’s strengths – their ability to ask the tough questions, their insights into the dynamics of the industry or their ability to involve the audience. “The reverse is also true: expecting a newsreader to advise on the fortunes of the organisation, requiring the industry analyst to involve the audience or asking a facilitator to take the chief executive to task,” he warns.

Get them involved

And this ties in perfectly with what Hamso says about getting the facilitator involved early on. By doing this you can build your event around them and not vice versa… after all, if you’re paying them to do a job, you may as well let them do it.

Of course, once you know what type you are after, you still need to find the right person for your event. “By definition, if they were not ‘good’ MCs, analysts or facilitators they would not be able to earn a living in events. But there is a big difference between someone being good, and someone being good for your event,” says Elmitt. Alternatively, there’s the International Association of Facilitators (www.iaf-world.org), which has a list of certified facilitators.

As Hamso concludes, facilitation is not just crucial to increased ROI, or even better learning, but it is also the key to ridding our presentations of the dreaded 'death by PowerPoint'. “A good facilitator will certainly know how an ill-conceived PowerPoint presentation can do more harm than good,” he says, “and his repertoire of interactive communication techniques leaves little room for this most lethal of conference killers.”


To read Chris Elmitt's full round-up of choosing a facilitator, click here

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