In a few weeks, I will be in Washington, DC, to facilitate my workshop “ ’Good Girls Don’t Have Sex’: How Do Religion and the Media Influence Young Women’s Sexuality?” during the annual Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit. I’ve facilitated this workshop several times in the past, and as I started to prep for Summit this week (completely out of character for someone who loves to procrastinate), I began thinking of the usual: workshop flow and how to improve my workshop based on past feedback. But I also started to think about me as a workshop facilitator, how I relate to my workshop participants, and my personality in general.
I’m an introvert, and workshop facilitation (and other forms of public speaking) seems like an odd choice for someone who is more inclined to draw energy from within. Though I’m not really one to be in the spotlight when it comes to my personal life, when it’s time to raise my voice for women and girls of color in a professional or activist setting, I’m “on”.
“On” for me doesn’t mean I get this sudden burst of extroverted flair. It means that I’m well prepared and I know what I’m talking about. I utilize my ability to engage my participants while also knowing when to stop talking and get out of the way.
If you’re just starting out in workshop facilitation, or if you’ve facilitated before but feel your introversion hinders your ability to engage your participants, let me tell you this: With over 10 years of workshop facilitation experience behind me, I’ve discovered along the way that you can be an engaging facilitator, have fun while doing it, and keep your introversion in tact. Here is my advice on being an engaging, fun, and introverted workshop facilitator:
Introversion isn’t something you need to “overcome”: Introversion and extroversion are simple ways in which we choose to draw energy from the world. Some people feel invigorated in the middle of a crowd, while others prefer the company of one other person. In a world that prides people on being social and outgoing, it sure feels like we introverts are always getting the short end of the stick. With amazing introverts like Susan Cain, people are starting to see the power of the introvert and what great leaders we really are. Let go of the belief that your introversion prevents you from getting your message across. Workshop participants focus more on the content of the material you present, how drawn they are to your presence, and the manner in which you make them feel heard.
Start with a co-facilitator: One of the very first workshops I ever co-facilitated included five facilitators. My primary role was to inform the participants about the organization we were representing, and to assist the other facilitators where needed. While I wouldn’t recommend trying to facilitate a workshop with five people, I do recommend facilitating with one or two others as a way to get your feet wet. If you’re getting started in workshop facilitation, try taking on smaller roles—such as recording what is being said on flip chart paper or leading the icebreaker or the closing—until you feel comfortable taking on a larger role. Another reason co-facilitation works well is that it gives you the opportunity to observe your co-facilitator’s style and how they connected with the participants. You can test-drive certain elements of their facilitation style, but you will eventually grow into your own as a facilitator, developing a style that works for you. Another great thing about having a co-facilitator is the ability to take turns leading and taking a break.
Allow your participants to contribute in a way that makes them feel comfortable: One thing that’s very frustrating for me is being asked to speak when I don’t want to. It’s more frustrating in a workshop setting of people you don’t know. As facilitators, we have this false notion that everyone present needs to say something at some point. As an introvert, I understand that some participants don’t want to speak openly. That may sound like a huge downer when you’re told that people talking during workshops is the thing to strive for, but there are a variety of factors that can cause for someone to not want to have that type of engagement in your workshop. Some do better when engaging in pairs rather than speaking in front of the entire group. Some participants prefer to reflect on what’s being said as opposed to doing too much talking. There are a variety of ways that participants can be engaged during a workshop.
Nervousness is OK: I was completely nervous during my first workshop co-facilitation, and there were over 50 participants! Even now—whether it’s a group of 10 participants or 100—I always feel nervous before a workshop begins. You’ll always have those moments where you feel you’ve over-prepared or didn’t prepare enough. That’s natural to everyone, not just introverts. Your participants are here because you have information they want to share with others. That sounds like a huge feat, and can make you feel more nervous. Instead, take that and use it to be as prepared as possible with the information you’re presenting. You can also take that nervousness and channel it into something that will put the spotlight back on your participants. I’ve found that my nervousness tends to disappear at some point during participant introductions and the icebreaker. Here’s another fun fact: Your participants may be just as nervous as you!
Do nothing: Nothing feels better than sending your participants off to do a 10-15 minute group or pair activity while you sit and…do nothing. Use this time to gather your thoughts and prepare for the next part of the workshop. Observe how the participants are interacting by walking to each group and listening in on the conversation and taking mental notes for later. (I try not to linger for too long, as some participants can feel uncomfortable.)
While workshop facilitation requires a great deal of interaction, you don’t have to ditch your introverted personality and be something you’re not, and it doesn’t need to be something you overcome in order to be good at workshop facilitation. It’s who you are. Keep this advice in mind as you prepare for your next workshop.