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Joy of the Dance: Working With a Co-Facilitator

Working with a co-facilitator can be challenging. When you present alone, you are actively in control of the flow, timing, and dynamics of the presentation. When you co-facilitate, you also must be reactive to what your dance partner, your co-facilitator, says and does.
The situation is like what "Dancing with the Stars" contestants’ experience. You may be able to move quite effectively on your own, but unless you can work in partnership, your team will not win.

Professional football player Rashad Jennings certainly experienced this with his dance partner Emma Slater. Jennings won the 24th season of "Dancing with the Stars" but could not have done so without an intense partnership with Slater.

Here are seven tips to help you “dance” with any co-facilitator."

Decide who leads

When dancing, one person must lead and the other must follow. They key is to agree on roles before the dance begins. Without this agreement, the dance devolves into chaos.

The same is true of facilitation. Both facilitators cannot simultaneously lead. Prior to your program, meet with your partner and identify subject areas each one of you prefer to teach. Divide the content so that you both will be the lead for an approximately equal amount of time.

Share the spotlight

When it is time for one dancer to solo, the partner’s job is to watch, support, and enjoy the soloist’s dance moves.

When your co-facilitator is the lead, surrender the stage and move to the back of the room. You may have valuable stories and key points you would like to make, or would make differently than your co-facilitator, but it isn’t your turn to solo. Two simultaneous solos would confuse your participants. They certainly don’t need a dance off. Even if your partner’s story is not as good as yours, it’s not your stage.

Follow the steps

A failure by one dance partner is a failure for both. The dancer who is not soloing is always there to catch the partner who falls.

When it isn’t your turn to solo, pay apt attention. If your co-facilitator gets distracted and loses his place, jump in to assist. Work out a private code in advance to signal for help. Your partner could, for instance, ask if you have anything to add. That would be your cue to help get the conversation back on track.

Hide missteps


In the excitement of the dance, partners sometimes make unexpected moves and step on each other’s feet. A great partner never lets their discomfort and annoyance show. Missteps are treated as a part of the show. They are then discussed and corrected backstage.
A co-facilitator might say something you disagree with. Resist the urge to jump in and correct the misstep. If you interrupt, you will confuse the participants and look unprofessional. Wait, instead, for a break and private time to discuss the issue with your partner. If the point is so critical that you must interrupt, say something like, “Yes, and…” or, “Another way you can approach the problem is to….”

Plan logistics

Dances often include costume changes and props. To avoid last-minute chaos, the logistics of those costume changes and prop placement, pickup, and disposal must be planned well in advance.

Co-facilitators also face logistical issues with projection equipment and classroom materials. During your preplanning, identify the logistical issues of the program and determine which partner will handle what logistics and the point in time during which those items will be handled.

Build rapport

Dancers who do not get along cannot deliver an effective team performance. In my Disney entertainment career, I observed people who had nothing in common work as effective partners on stage. For the sake of the show, all entertainers, including dancers, focus on the dance and not their own personal likes and dislikes in people. 

Before, during, and after the program, compliment your co-facilitator. Your partner is likely as uncomfortable with co-facilitation as you are. Use sincere compliments to build rapport. If, however, you have a problem with something your partner does, say so with open, honest, nonjudgmental feedback.

Accept and react

Finally, dancers learn to accept anything that happens as a gift. Instead of being an intrusion on the performance, surprises are viewed as opportunities. Those surprises become the starting point for the next move.

The same is true during co-facilitation. You never know what will happen. And often, what happens is better than what you planned. Accept whatever happens as a gift and continue on. You may be surprised at what new things you discover and how much better your own facilitation becomes as a result.

Co-facilitators can deliver a wonderful and winning dance. When they do, it’s magic for the audience. For you, it’s the joy of having a partner who looks out for you and provides additional expertise. All you need to do is to learn when to lead and when to follow.
© 2017 ATD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.

About the Author
Lenn Millbower is a Disney speaker, presentation skills trainer, and author. He received his bachelor’s degree from Berklee College of Music and his master’s from Webster University. Millbower was honored by the Walt Disney Company with the prestigious Partner’s In Excellence lifetime achievement award. This internal employee award was granted in recognition of his training and leadership accomplishments as a member of the opening training team for Disney’s Animal Kingdom. He is a national board member of the International Alliance for Learning and the Contract Trainer’s Association, and a member of the National Speaker’s Association and ASTD.
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