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Mastering the Art of Facilitation: How It Differs from Chairing Meetings

Read time: 3 minutes

Many believe workshop facilitation is a lot like chairing a meeting. It’s not.

Facilitating a workshop demands a distinct set of skills and, more importantly, a fundamentally different attitude.

Unlike chairing a meeting, where control and decision-making rest firmly in your hands, effective facilitation requires you to relinquish control.

The essence of a great facilitator lies in the ability to let go.

The content and direction of the session are not your responsibility.

You’re not there to decide or direct; you’re there to guide and support.

This is why managers often struggle with facilitation.

The instinct to intervene and steer discussions is hard to suppress, especially when you’re used to making the final call.

Yet, as a facilitator, stepping back is crucial.

In this article, we’ll explore the stark contrasts between facilitating a workshop and chairing a meeting.

Understanding these differences will help you determine which role to adopt in various scenarios.

Let’s dive into the key distinctions that define these two approaches.

Role of the Facilitator vs Chairing a Meeting

Facilitator (workshop)

Guide and Support: A facilitator guides the process and supports participants in achieving the workshop's objectives.

Neutral Stance: A facilitator remains neutral, encouraging equal participation without influencing the outcomes. They focus on the process and leave the content to the participants.

Chair (meeting)

Leader and Decision-Maker: A chairperson leads the meeting, ensures it stays on track, and often makes the final decisions.

Directive: The chairperson may need to be more directive to achieve specific outcomes within a set timeframe.


Facilitator (workshop)

Collaboration and Creativity: Workshops often aim to generate ideas, solve problems, or develop plans through collaborative and creative activities.

Engagement and Participation: High levels of engagement and active participation are essential.

Chair (meeting)

Information Sharing and Decision-Making: Meetings typically focus on sharing information, discussing issues, and making decisions.

Efficiency: Ensuring the meeting runs efficiently and stays on schedule is crucial.

Structure and Flexibility

Facilitator (workshop)

Flexible Agenda: While there should always be a structured agenda, a facilitator must be adaptable and flexible, allowing for organic discussions and changes.

Interactive Activities: Facilitators have many interactive processes at their disposal, such as brainstorming, group analysis, planning, and other hands-on activities. You can buy mine here if you don’t have a library of tools and processes.

Chair (meeting)

Structured Agenda: Meetings generally have a fixed agenda with specific items to be covered in a set order.

Time Management: A chair looks to achieve strict adherence to the agenda and time allocations for each item.

Techniques and Tools

Facilitator (workshop)

Facilitation Techniques: To maintain energy and focus, employ various techniques, such as icebreakers, small group activities, and visual aids. Access my library here.

Visual Documentation: Use of flip charts, whiteboards, and sticky notes to visually capture ideas and progress.

Chair (meeting)

Formal Procedures: Use of formal procedures like minutes, motions, and voting.

Documentation: Clear and concise documentation of decisions, actions, and minutes.


Facilitator (workshop)

Active Listening: Encouraging and practising active listening so everyone can understand each other’s different perspectives.

Creating a Safe Space: Building a safe environment where participants feel comfortable sharing ideas.

Chair (meeting)

Focused Discussion: Ensuring discussions are focused and relevant to the agenda items.

Maintaining Order: Managing participation to maintain order and prevent domination by any one individual.

In Summary

The key behavioural differences between a facilitator and a chairperson are:


  • Encouraging Participation: One of your personal objectives as a facilitator is to actively encourage all participants to contribute.
  • Neutrality: Stay neutral and avoid steering the group towards a specific outcome.
  • Adaptability: Be prepared to change the direction based on group dynamics and feedback.


  • Decisiveness: Make decisions efficiently. The chair makes the final decision.
  • Authority: Exercise authority to keep the meeting on track and within time limits.
  • Formal Control: Maintain control over the meeting's proceedings, following formal protocols if necessary.

Understanding these differences helps in adopting the right approach for each role, ensuring the success of both workshops and meetings.

Well, that’s it for today. I hope it makes sense and you enjoyed it.

Until next time.

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About the Author

Nick Martin helps leaders & consultants improve team results with resources, advice & coaching through WorkshopBank.com