Facilitating a Seminar: Avoiding the Common Mistakes (Part 2)

See previous part here

As the facilitator hushes the discussion and start summing up the main points of the seminar, you realize your assigned seminar slot is next. You glance over your notes a final time to make sure they are in the proper order, your mind gradually filtering out anything that’s going on up front. Your palms are getting slightly sweaty in spite of yourself – you don’t feel that nervous, but you still start worrying about everything about your presentation.

Are the slides going to work the way they are supposed to?
Will the participants find your jokes funny?
What if no one is interested in discussing your topic?
What if they won’t agree with your conclusions?

As your seminar is beginning, your insecurities give way to focus on the task at hand. Somewhat grateful for having something push those thoughts out of your head, you still hope everyone will get it and feel like they have learned something by the end of it. Opening the file from your USB stick, you take one final glance at your papers before standing up straight and smile at the crowd.


Facilitating a seminar is not an easy thing to do. In the last article, I brought up some of the common mistakes facilitators do when planning and preparing for a seminar. There are also a couple of mistakes that come up every now and then during a seminar and they are not that easy to know if you haven’t done it a few times. Judges are usually not professional speakers, but the conferences are one of our greatest resources for growth and community building, an asset that helps our group of non-professionals become better at making our hobby as awesome as it deserves to be.
Like the last article, the point is not for this to be a comprehensive guide to be followed when preparing a seminar, but rather an aid in watching out for the common pitfalls. Be patient with yourself when facilitating a seminar. During your actual seminar, you will most likely find things that did not go as well as you hoped. Don’t beat yourself up over it, but like you would at an event, make sure to remember and learn from it.

Being approachable

The first of these common mistakes is an important one and one that bleeds into most of the others. This is about the presenter that is so occupied with thinking, they lose the ability to improvise and adapt. If your mind is somewhere else, whether you are thinking about the next slide, your posture or what’s for lunch, you won’t be able to nuance your points or consider how you can work a participant’s question into your presentation smoothly. Pay attention to how the participants are reacting to what you’re saying. If someone looks confused or seems like they are disagreeing, ask them about it.

There are several things that can cause you to adapt your seminar’s direction, such as the energy of the crowd, how well they seem to grasp the topic or their opinions on the matter. The point here is not to list them all, but to highlight the fact that if you are too focused on other things, you’ll have a hard time noticing anything at all. If you are focusing on your performance, your tools or your notes, you cannot focus on the reason for your seminar – the other participants.

Handling Questions

Questions are tricky. People asking questions during a presentation can disrupt your train of thought, they can make you go off on tangents that eat up your time and they can steal the points you have planned to make on your next slide. This is downright disruptive if you have a more strict speech prepared, but can be hard to handle smoothly even if that’s not the case.

Decide in advance how you want to handle questions. It’s absolutely fine to ask your participants to hold off questions to specific points during the seminar where they will not risk derailing the discussion or presentation. It might even be recommended, as it allows you to better manage your time (e.g. by setting off a specific window of time for questions at certain points of your seminar) and not be nervous about getting questions that might interrupt in the middle of an explanation.

Another important part of being able to handle questions well is preparing for the questions that might come up. Once you’re happy with your plan for the seminar, try to go through it and at every point you’re making, think about what could be asked by participants – both experienced and inexperienced ones. Write those questions down. This doesn’t just mean you’re prepared to answer those questions clearly and effectively, it also lets you ask yourself a crucial question in advance: Why isn’t your seminar already answering those questions? You might notice issues you didn’t realize were there, or see how you could explain basics or concepts more clearly to begin with.

Keeping on Schedule

If you’ve been to a couple of conferences, you’ve probably seen seminars with time management issues. That one seminar that just drags on, the facilitator getting more and more stressed as the participants start glancing at their watches, shifting in their seats and focus less and less on the actual topic. You probably can’t help but feel both empathy for the poor stressed out facilitator and annoyance about the fact that they are costing you your coffee break.

Making mistakes with time management feels really bad. It can destroy all the excellent preparation you’ve done for your seminar, force you to rush parts you’d rather explain more clearly and or skip some parts entirely. This is especially rough as it is so easily avoided. By simply doing practice runs of your seminar, using a timer, you get an idea of how long it takes and allow you to set up checkpoints that will help you keep track of how far along you ought to have come as a certain part of the seminar is done. If you have a 45 minute time slot, you should plan for your seminar to take 30-35 minutes. It gives you some leeway to allow the participants to ask questions and lets you expand upon an explanation if you feel the need to do so.

Wrapping Up

This is part of planning your time properly. Make sure you have a strong ending, summing up the points you and the other participants made, and leaving everyone wanting more. Repeating the main points does a lot for the retention of the participants, and gives everyone time to think about everything that was brought up one last time. Spend at least five minutes to sum everything up yourself, and then leave about ten or fifteen minutes for questions and a final discussion. If you have a slide for this final part, this might be the point where you can actually add a bit more text to the slide. Having a slide that sums everything up is helpful for the participants and reminds them of the questions they might have thought of during the seminar.


In the end, making great seminars won’t happen overnight. It takes practice and preparation to really get the hang of it and even then, there are a lot of ways to improve or add variation to your seminars. This is a pretty basic look at some of the things that you’d want to keep in mind, but with that said, don’t stress out over it too much. The best way to get into it is just trying it out. Your first seminar doesn’t have to be the best ever.

Going forward, more articles are coming up, addressing the finer points of seminars and going into more detail about the different parts of seminars and conferences written by some of the finest facilitators in the judge program. Don’t miss out on those.
If you’re interested in facilitating a seminar, talk to your RC about taking on a seminar at your next regional conference and don’t be afraid to ask for advice from the people you’ve seen do seminars at the conferences you’ve been to. There are a lot of judges that are always willing to be helpful, so don’t hesitate to ask for ideas and feedback. Good luck!