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ATD Blog

Using Observation to Develop Your Authentic Facilitation Style

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Style is rooted in observation, and as poet Mary Oliver said, “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” Our endless work as trainers and facilitators is to develop our facilitation style, and one way to do that is through vigilant observation.

Observation, by its very nature, is not a passive exercise, but an active journey in experiencing the world around us. All the best practices, certifications, and training we've completed to ready us for the responsibility and honor of guiding others along their learning journeys paired with all our podcast listening, article reading, and overstuffed trainer toolkits of dos and don'ts can mire us in checklists and models, losing ourselves in the process.

How we see and experience the world around us informs our facilitation through stories, analogies, and examples that we integrate into the learning process to make the learning more human. But how do we translate what we observe into our own facilitation and training delivery?

Here are three steps to develop your authentic facilitation style through observation.

1. Define your how.

We know the importance of determining your why (personal and organizational) for facilitating and often a performance gap will dictate what you’re training to execute your why. In developing your style, think about the particular-to-you nuances of the how. How do you embrace your unique style while demonstrating facilitation skills that add up to a stellar evaluation: using varied questioning techniques, maintaining engagement, creating a positive learning climate, giving clear instructions, or linking content to performance?

I began my career in L&D more than a decade ago in the beauty industry, training hairstylists, salon managers, and salon owners on everything from business and merchandising strategy to product knowledge and decoding profit and loss statements. I had theories and models, best practices and mentors that prepared me for delivering the training programs. I observed other facilitators in action, asked how they’d approach a particular question or challenge, and paid attention to the tips and tricks that caught my attention most. I paid attention to what felt authentic to me.

Define what kind of faciltiator you want to be. Define how you want to show up. In my case, I wanted to show up as a facilitator that demonstrated empathy and practicality, while maintaining a people-centered and service-minded approach. Once I defined my how I was able to operationalize it into a specific facilitation style using various techniques I had observed over time.


2. Observe broadly and often.

Curate a list of podcasts, books, presentations, seminars, workshops, and training programs online or in person. Watch recordings and experience other facilitators not only as an observer or auditor, but as a learner. Study broadly to observe facilitation skills in action and consider each person’s style. What did you observe? Did you see something in action that you’d like to add to your approach? This practice helps identify a list of top facilitation skills that will be central to your style. Now, take the list you’ve created one step further and ask the question, “How do I make it authentic to me” for each item on your list.

The key in observation is to cast a wide net, observing experts in the virtual classroom, traditional educators in face-to-face classrooms, public speakers, linear thinkers, creative thinkers, actors in commercials, communicators that align with your thinking and especially those that don’t. Identifying authenticity inside and outside traditional facilitation settings expands your vision of how you can show up as a faciltiator.

3. Leverage feedback to hone your style.

Feedback is a gift. Take inventory of common feedback you receive from colleagues, learners, and observers of your facilitation. What words or phrases are consistently used to describe your facilitation?


Whenever I have an observer in my training programs, I ask for feedback generally but also ask specifically, “What are three words you would use to describe my facilitation style?” or “What about my facilitation approach did you notice learners engaging with most?” Asking for specific feedback provides you the opportunity to see what words and phrases are repeatedly used to describe your facilitation style. Then, you can determine what to develop and what to correct.

Similarly, evaluation feedback from your learners might call you humorous, practical, or approachable. Is that what you were aiming for? If the answer is yes, examine what specific facilitation skills contributed to that style so you can be sure to replicate them and continue honing them. And if the answer is no, figure out how you can get closer to the authentic facilitation style you desire.

Lastly, review audio and video recordings of your facilitation to help identify your style. Performing self-audits is a humbling and essential part of development and helps track your growth over time. Remember: How you see yourself directly impacts your confidence and your authenticity, in turn.

Why take time to develop your authentic facilitation style through observation? Knowing your unique value and articulating how you do what you do for your learners is a great way to build collaborative partnerships across your organization.

There isn't a systematic approach to authenticity—discovering or executing it. It's less about following the models and checklists and more about bringing a fresh perspective to discover your own way forward. Give yourself permission to show up as your most authentic self and the tools to examine and reexamine what authenticity means to you while considering a new way to surface that. Finding and developing an authentic facilitation style is not only a benefit to how we show up in our daily work but to how we connect with our learners and influence our organization.

For more ways to develop your style (along with your mindset) and practical stories, check out the book Facilitation in Action: Finding Your Authentic Training Style.

About the Author

Carrie Addington is the senior manager of learning experience and facilitator development at ATD and facilitates a variety of ATD Education programs. She is a talent development leader, facilitator, and people development coach with more than 12 years of experience in facilitating large-scale training and developing outcome-based learning experiences that aim to inform, involve, inspire, and impact. Carrie is passionate about using her love of language and the arts to work with individuals on establishing deeper connections with their daily work. Carrie has worked with a wide variety of business segments, including retail, beauty, education, and nonprofits, and has worked with C-level executives, directors, managers, and high potentials.

Carrie has delivered on topics ranging from energetic accountability, leadership, and great feedback to cross-generational communication, resolving conflict, and facilitation skills. She is a part of the coaching network with the prominent, global executive leadership and management company, the Mind Gym, and is a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach. As a certified ATD Master Trainer and ATD Master Instructional Designer, Carrie is knowledgeable about both the development and delivery of outcome-based learning programs.

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I like the focus on showing up authentically and continuing to hone our skills. Thank you for the excellent reminders.
Thank you for reading Donna!
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Anyone who quotes Mary Oliver in the first sentence has my FULL attention. Well Done!
Thank you Mary! Yet another Mary Oliver fan. Thank you for reading.
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Thanks we are preparing
Thank you for reading Auwal.
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