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How to manage your facilitation anxiety

Getting in flow as you facilitate relies on you to optimise your stress levels. Here's some techniques to prepare you to get in front of the room.

Managing yourself is one of those hidden prerequisites to being an awesome facilitator. I remember back to one of my first public speaking events. Inwardly I was so anxious I almost vomited but outwardly I looked reasonably ok. This is common. People fear public speaking so much its incredible, but as an agile practitioner we don’t have a choice but to build our competence and confidence to “get out in front of the room” and hold the space for collaborative conversations. It is part of our job and shouldn’t be avoided; quite the opposite in fact.

In this post I want to provide you some techniques to calm you down and manage anxiety as you facilitate an agile team (or other events).

· Know what your platform is then make sure it is in place

As a facilitator it is important to stand (metaphorically) on firm ground; I call this your platform. It is different things to different people. When I facilitate I prepare a slide pack as a means to collect my thoughts and create a runsheet for the session. Once I have my slide deck it serves as a “safety blanket” I can hold onto to make me feel safe. What is ironic is that once I prepare the pack I don’t really need it; but I know it is there for me to come back to if need be.

So what is your platform? It may be getting to know the room (or online tool), setting it up and having everything in place to walk in and start your workshop. Others like to over prepare speaking notes then curate them down to present. Find your platform and put it in place.

· Listen to your inner voice; separate fact from opinion

Everyone talks to themselves; self-talk is constant. As a facilitator sometimes the quiet voice is useful, other times not so much. Here is where I suggest you write down some of what you’re saying to yourself and list two columns. Label one column FACTS and the other OPINIONS. Once you start separating what is real from what you may have created through self-talk, you can then deal with what is in your control and let go of the things that are not.

· Self-coach on what is causing anxiety and then mitigate

If you know how to conduct coaching conversations using models such as GROW then I suggest you conduct a self-coaching session and make some commitments to yourself about how to navigate your way through any pre-workshop facilitation anxiety. I do this quite often as a means of unpacking what I am carrying in my head, get it out and work through my next steps of solving a complex anxiety-related issue.

· Check your self-talk then proactively change the conversation (with yourself)

Negative self-talk is the killer of confidence and will undermine your competence. Have a no tolerance policy with yourself on never talking yourself down. In fact I recommend the opposite and find a close friend/partner who will support you to be kind and gentle with yourself. The world is hard enough to deal with without you beating yourself up. Linked to this technique is writing out some “intent” cards/post-its for yourself. Essentially this is you being a cheer-leader for yourself using little hand written notes (I reserve this technique for really big events where I want to be on my best game).

· Prepare a definition of ready and stick to it

Writes down a list of “must-have” pre-requisites for you to be ready to facilitate. If you do not meet this list do not proceed; take it that seriously. If you do not do this you risk failure and poor outcomes whilst also putting your reputation at risk as an agile practitioner; think carefully before proceeding without everything checked off.

· Do not do everything in isolation then reveal it all on the day

Over the last few years the biggest lesson I’ve learned is to socialise early and often on my facilitation approach, runsheet and methods. Preparing in isolation is very risky and thinking you can have the best design and approach is a little arrogant; so do it with and through others is my recommendation (see next point).

· Co-design, co-create and socialise prior

Do not just show people your idea after it is well-formed, but get in front of a blank whiteboard with others and co-design, then co-create; it will always lead to a better outcome. I know this sounds dramatic but collaboration leads to diversity of thought. If you struggle with this idea I suggest this is a juicy line if self-enquire to pursue.

· Reduce fear of the unknowns as much as is practical

What scares you about facilitating? Often it is fear of the unknown; so go out and reduce these unknowns. i find it useful to learn more about my audience and their expectations as a great way to reduce my pre-workshop anxiety. Another useful practice is to rehearse your workshop using a “dry run” with friendlies.

· Ride the energy; you’re alive and making a difference!

Lastly I want to encourage you to “ride” the energy that facilitation and the associated anxiety generates. Big performers report they’re always nervous before a gig and facilitators SHOULD be a little anxious. This energy means you’re alive, stretching, growing and doing good in the work! So enjoy as much as one can whilst dealing with anxiety.


Anxiety means you care. Studies on stress indicate an optimal zone where stress is at a level that arouses you without being overwhelming; that’s where you aim to be.

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