Trainer / Facilitator Role
ATD Blog

The Facilitation Advantage: 10 Key Skills to Strengthen Any Leader

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

My daughter has spent the last year as the editor-in-chief of her university’s newspaper. Navigating such a position at any time requires significant levels of equanimity, courage, organizational strategy, and people skills. In a year when campuses across the county have been roiled by demonstrations and political polarization, the job has sometimes seemed impossible. But she has succeeded.

As an organizational consultant, I have watched her leadership with amazement and admiration. What is her superpower? Her facilitation skills. She has been called upon to mediate conflict, build esprit de corps, manage change, and provide feedback and coaching. She has been committed to making it easier for others to work, to clearing the way for diverse perspectives, and to removing obstacles to efficient work.

What is facilitation? It simply means making things easier. Facilitation is often considered a specialized skill. But I believe that facilitation skills lie at the heart of great leadership, and that all of us benefit from acquiring and exercising these skills.

Facilitation looks like:

  • The subject matter expert tailoring their message to make it easier for their audience to understand it
  • The project manager transforming meetings from mundane to meaningful
  • The solutions architect guiding the team through an unexpected challenge
  • The senior leader creating the conditions for people to be candid, show vulnerability, and feel included
  • The nonprofit leader engaging volunteers and donors in a meaningful way

What are the specific facilitation skills that we can develop?

Here are ten key skills, which I call contributions.

The figure reviews three elements of the facilitation advantage. Mindset: manager yourself, model values and beliefs. Content: share subject matter, sure the content. Process: support development, balance risk and safety, serve the purpose, listen, engage with story, establish presence.
1. Manage Yourself

Before we can engage effectively with others, we must be able to handle ourselves effectively. Manage your body, recognize your triggers and biases, and manage your self-talk so you can stay focused on your goal.

2. Model Values and Beliefs

Leaders hold privileged positions, handling high-stakes conversations and guiding groups. To be effective and get the results we want, we must demonstrate our values, not just profess them.

3. Share Subject Matter


When people look to us as a credible source of information and expertise, we can provide relevant knowledge and skills that inform the interaction. Even when others have the expertise, a baseline understanding helps us know what is important and relevant.

4. Suit the Context

Every group operates in an environment that’s uniquely theirs. It’s the facilitator’s job to understand content in relation to context and create a tailored experience.

5. Establish Presence

We trust and follow those who project confidence and credibility. Presence includes speaking and moving with authority, holding space for others, and giving and taking focus intentionally.

6. Engage With Story

Story is the oldest and most robust of communication and learning tools. Using storytelling skills deliberately can enliven a presentation, deepen understanding, increase retention, and build credibility.

7. Listen


We crave leaders who listen. It’s the foundation for all human connection. When people feel seen, heard, and understood, they are more likely to engage.

8. Serve the Purpose

The clock on the wall says you are 15 minutes behind on the agenda, but the conversation is lively and engaged. Do you stick to the plan or improvise? Beyond mere time management, “Serve the Purpose” is about knowing your goals and expanding your options in order to reach them best.

9. Balance Risk and Safety

Without a little push, without being presented with a challenge, we can remain stuck in our comfort zones, and opportunities can be missed. Hitting the sweet spot between risk and safety increases engagement and results.

10. Support Development

The value we offer to others goes beyond simply leading meetings or giving presentations well. In every interaction, we also have the opportunity to support others’ development. Great facilitators know how to offer feedback and coaching to move individuals and groups forward.

Consider these contributions and ask yourself:

  • Which do I feel strong in?
  • Where might I want to grow?
  • What specific context might benefit from my applying one or more of these skills?

When leaders have an understanding of these contributions, they can intentionally make choices that lead to better outcomes. Remember the foundational premise:
Anyone who leads can benefit from upping their facilitation game.

To learn more, join the session The Facilitation Advantage: Increasing Your People’s Communication and Connection Skills at the ATD International Conference & EXPO in New Orleans, Louisiana, on May 19–22, 2024.

About the Author

Kat Koppett is the founder and president of Koppett, a consulting and training company specializing in the use of improvisation and storytelling to enhance workplace effectiveness. Kat has worked with organizations as diverse as Apple, Prezi, GE, Havas Health, the URJ, and the Clinton Global Initiative. Kat is the author of Training to Imagine: Practical Improvisational Theatre Techniques to Enhance Creativity, Teamwork, Leadership, and Learning, considered a seminal work in the field of applied improvisation. Kat has taught and spoken at RPI’s Lally School of Business Stanford and UC Berkeley, as well as ATD, ISPI, the YPA, NASAGA, AIN, and many other organizations. She has given two TEDx talks on the use of improv to enhance nontheatrical performance. Kat is co-director of the Mopco Improv Theatre and the creator of the full-length musical improv format “spontaneous Broadway,” for which  Theatreweek Magazine named her an Unsung Hero of the Year.

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Shout out to co-creator, co-presenter at our ATD International session, and co-author of our upcoming book on this topic, The Facilitation Advantage, Therese Miclot!
Therese is a facilitation skills consultant and the Director of Facilitation Excellence at Proteus International. She works with organizations to improve the impact and quality of facilitated experiences. She’s an expert at catalyzing learning, deepening conversations, and getting better results when working with groups.
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What a great short read with many helpful tips for better leadership and facilitation! I'm sharing this with my team.
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Thank you! I will remember these pointers.
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