How to facilitate extroverts

facilitation workshops Mar 07, 2019

We recently published an article on facilitating introverts. It wouldn't be fair to exclude our more outward colleagues, so here is a post about extroverts. 

Key points

  • Agree on a signal or mechanism to bring activity to a close and focus attention
  • Give clear instructions with tight timeframes
  • Make your workshops activity heavy. Less theory more doing!
  • Let them shine

At first glance, you may believe it's easier to facilitate extroverts. They're the ones who love activity, love sharing ideas and looooove drinking in the energy of those around them. This is true AND they can also tip the scales toward chaos if not given appropriate constraints and direction.

What do I mean? 

When you're facilitating and/or training, you have a run sheet and a LOT to get through in a day. Time and timing are always on your mind. There's a constant interplay between delivering the necessary content and allowing room for participants to find their own way and integrate what they're learning.

For introverts, this usually happens during the workshop while they quietly absorb everything. Listening is learning for them.

They're also very likely to spend time in deep reflection after the workshop where the content gets consolidated and embedded in their inner world. Whilst they may need more coaxing to participate during the workshop, you can be assured they're getting it and will apply it.

For extroverts, however, they like to work it all out in real time. Awesome! The only problem is when they're taking on something new and challenging, the "working it out" part can extend far beyond the time you've allotted for a given task or activity. For a facilitator or trainer, this means a rise in blood pressure and a scramble to adjust the rest of the day.

At Huddle, we value listening and holding space, so we often give people a lot of time to express themselves. This is wonderful for rapport building and also learning, because the musings of one often represent the musings of many. In other words, let someone share so we all benefit. 

This generosity means that we, as facilitators, are constantly having to juggle our content and it can sometimes be stressful. We know we have a lot of value to give and we want to ensure we give it ALL without it feeling rushed or incomplete. 

So what do you do? 

Similar to what we outlined in the introverts article, it's important to explicitly frame up how you plan to work at the start of the day. More importantly, once you've announced this, you need to gain agreement from participants. 

An example...

The courses we run at Huddle are very high energy and practical. We encourage participation, action and juicy conversation. Human-centred design demands it.

This means people get really into the activities and can lose themselves in the work. Once they're involved, they want to stay in whatever they're doing for as long as possible. Again, awesome, but we as facilitators know we need to move on.

A simple request we make at the beginning of each course is to agree that when one of the facilitators raises their hand, everyone else in the room raises their hand too. This is the signal to pause or stop what you're doing and bring all conversation to a close. I know it sounds very "schooly", but it's necessary if we're going to get through all the content. 

This technique works a treat...most of the time. I was recently facilitating a group who started out well, but then figured out they could raise their hands AND keep talking! I called them out on this and we had a laugh, but I then asked a designated person on each table to assist me in bringing their teams to silence. The people I chose were extroverts of course. It's best to find someone who can outtalk the others.  ;-)

Another technique we use is tight timeframes for activities. We frame it up at the start, saying something like...

"We are now going to do an end to end design activity. What usually takes 6 weeks to 6 months, we are going to complete in 60 minutes. It's going to be fast paced and each section will be timed. We will be strict with these times and we ask you to trust the process."

We then remind them of one of the the agreements we outlined at the start of the day which is "done, not perfect". This agreement is a lifesaver when facilitating. Well, it's a lifesaver for us. For the participants, it's a mixed bag. Some get it and adopt it right away. Others get frustrated because they always want more time than they're given. Overall though, it's an effective way to keep focus and ensure we maintain momentum. Plus it aligns with the type of iterative and exploratory work we do in human-centred design.

We included the below slide in the introverts article, but in case you haven't seen it, here it is. These are the agreements with which we open all our courses. 

Interestingly, the tight time constraints cause people to rise to the occasion, especially extroverts. Once they realise you mean business and that 4 minutes for an activity means 4 minutes for an activity, they learn to be more concise in conversation and also to listen more. I'm often amazed at how adaptable they are once they understand the rules of the game. 

The other thing extroverts need to know is that the facilitators and the rest of the group are on their side. A craving for external energy can also be a craving for external approval. You can make the most of this for yourself and for them by including them as part of the facilitation team. It can be as simple as asking them to handout worksheets or organise the workshop materials into a nice order. You can also ask them to lead an activity or present findings or pitch an idea.

Their need to connect will ensure they put their heart into it and make it enjoyable for everyone. That gives them a feeling of belonging and you a feeling of relief because you don't have to do everything! 

The final tip for facilitating extroverts is a seemingly obvious one: keep them active. As mentioned, we ensure our courses are heavily activity based. Certainly there is a need to deliver theory and conceptual information, but we alert our participants to this at the outset. We manage expectations by saying we will be doing theory for "x" amount of time and the rest will be activities. 

This is especially helpful for extroverts, because they can then manage their own energy. There's nothing worse for an extrovert than not knowing how long they have to sit still and be quiet. It's agonising for them and it's unfair for us to keep them in the dark. 

This extends to any other time during your workshop as well. If you sense people are getting restless, name it and give them a 5 minute break to stretch their legs, get a coffee and TALK! It's better to do that than force them to sit there because you have 10 more slides to get through. Being sensitive to the rhythms of others and being willing to work with them will engender appreciation and trust from your participants. 

Extroverts bring much needed energy and enthusiasm to a workshop or group experience. Give them clear instructions, healthy constraints and know when to let them run free. This sets you, and them, up for success. And if they feel good, they'll tell everyone they know. Marketing sorted!


Huddle offers a 2-day Human-Centred Facilitation course. Learn more here.

written by Ben McEwing


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