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Top 5 Tips for LARGE group facilitation.

By large, we're talking over 150 people, in person.

By facilitation, we're talking of guiding a group through a full day event, designed with certain outcomes in mind.

By tips, we're talking:

Tip number 1: Get involved in the event design

In order to sense what's working during the event, to understand what's needed in the moment, to use your intuition on what opportunities to follow and what distractions to let go of, you need to be part of the event design process as early as possible.

You need to have a (or be the) voice in the setting of the agenda, the running order of activities, the timings of each element.

You simply cannot be expected to turn up on the day and do an effective job of facilitating with the complexity involved with a group of this size.

Tip number 2: Have a way to get peoples attention

When a group of 100+ people are involved in an activity, or on a break, you need a way of getting their attention when you need to. Here's 4 commonly used options:

  • Mexican shhhh - a bit like a Mexican wave at a sports stadium, but with someone starting to make the shushing noise "ssshhhhhhhhh..." and as each person hears it they join in, until it has spread across the whole group. This option is my least favourite and least successful.

  • Raised hand - give the instruction at the start of the day that when anyone see's one of the facilitators raises their hand, they also finish their conversation and raise their hand (until everyone is standing quiet with their hands raised). This is the most simple option by far, I've used it often and it works, but it does feel a bit like being in school.

  • Rythmic clap - if a facilitator starts clapping with their hands in a short rhythm, then again you fall silent and join in until the facilitator stops (at which point everyone is looking at the facilitator)

  • Gong / Fog horn - you have a loud instrument that you can 'sound' at the relevant time to give people a jolt and draw their attention to you. This has a great novelty factor but, in my experience it only works the first couple of times, then people just start to ignore it.

Tip number 3: Don't facilitate alone

Might sound obvious, but don't try to be a hero. The most recent large group event (175 people) I supported had 2 comperes, 2 professional facilitators, 4 supporting facilitators, and 2 logistics people.

This may sound a lot (and expensive) but if an organisation is willing to have over 150 of their staff attend a 1 day event then they need to be willing to invest in it's success.

Tip number 4: Ensure variety

Different trumps same. A brain science principle I learnt from Sharon Bowman - Training from the Back of the Room, that states that we're hard wired to notice changes in the environment and ignore sensory data that remains consistent over time. (From original research of Eric Jensen - Brain Based Learning).

A full day event should include:

  • whole group activities

  • small group activities (25-30)

  • smaller group activities (10-12)

  • pairing activities (2-3)

  • different locations for different activities

  • an outside space

  • places to sit (with and without tables)

  • places to stand (with and without tables)

  • activities that touch different senses (seeing, hearing)

  • physical elements (talking / walking / dancing)

Tip number 5: Embrace the chaos

With this many people in one place something will happen at some point that you didn't expect. Don't freak out when it does. Go with it. Adapt. Be flexible and agile in how you approach it. Ask for help if you are struggling.

Personally these are my favourite moments. I've learnt to love these as beautiful windows for emergent innovation, and certainly as learning opportunity.


Where did these tips come from? First hand experience.

I've consider myself very lucky to have been invited to facilitate large groups of between 100 and 190 people both in person and online over the last 8 years.

If you want a conversation, need any help or guidance in your facilitation journey, or an experienced facilitator of large groups to support an upcoming event, please get in touch.

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