• J.D. Solomon

Fabulous Facilitation: How Do Engaging Exercises Create Remarkable Results?

Facilitating session with three participants using polling and ranking tools to prioritize
Engaging Exercises Deliver Collaboration & Agreement

Think about the three best-facilitated sessions you have ever attended. I will bet the facilitator used some type of activity that you remember. The exercise was unexpected, exciting, and effective.

Now consider the worst facilitated session you attended. If there were any, the exercises were as boring and uninteresting as the rest of the facilitation effort. My bet is that standard PowerPoint presentations and a traditional sticky dot exercise were part of the worst sessions.

Engaging Exercises Defined

Engaging exercises are that draw favorable attention or interest. Some synonyms for engaging make the point better: alluring, appealing, captivating, charismatic, enchanting, entrancing, fascinating, glamorous, magnetic, and seductive. From experience, a facilitated session has a good chance to achieve its outcomes if its exercises rise to the level of 'engaging.'

If you place ‘non-‘ in front of the words in the previous paragraph you will have a good description of the boring, unremarkable stuff.

Engaging exercises are strongly associated with effective facilitation because of the structure, discipline, and detail that goes into their preparation. In other words, your facilitator is taking care of all of the details if they are taking care of this one. It is similar to safety and reliability being indicative of each other.

Five Types of Engaging Exercises

1. Audience Response Systems

An Audience Response System (ARS) is an example of an engaging tool that is now readily affordable and available. Many engaging exercises can be generated with an ARS, including anonymous polling, participant competitions, and icebreakers to build team cohesion or introduce new topics. In terms of feedback, an ARS assures a nominative approach where all participant opinions are equally captured.

2. Preference Ballots

Preference ballots and associated forced ranking systems also produce engaging exercises. Forced ranking is especially opportunistic where quick prioritization is needed to evaluate consensus points or where more discussion is appropriate. Most Audience Response Systems include some form of ranking capability. Three management science-based evaluation approaches – plurality, Borda count, and pairwise comparison – can be easily programmed into visual spreadsheet tools for quick and economical application live within the facilitated session.

3. Live Demonstrations

Live demonstrations of analytical tools using pre-developed tools such as Monte Carlo analysis, decision trees, storyboarding, or mind mapping visualization allow participants to perform sensitivity analysis and bounded problem frames in relatively short order.

4. Educational Exercises

Exercises that engage participants ensure that all participants understand the session content are important for getting good input. Numerous exercises for concepts such as math or probability are available at education supply stores. Other exercises, such as interactive demonstrations with tools such as a thermography camera or a vibration meter, help focus participant thinking on data types and accuracy. Edward Deming's Red Bead Experiment is a good example of an exercise to help participants understand variability and should be in most facilitator tool bags.

5. Props

Props are an important component of every facilitation tool bag because they bolster participant understanding and thereby support better input and results. Props also serve as neutral objects to which debate and argument can be directed rather than at fellow participants or the facilitator.

Some common props include a ball valve, gate valve, and a water meter. When on an industrial site and discussing equipment, spare equipment can be brought into the facilitated session to make sure everyone understands how the equipment works and ways it can fail. Props can vary widely and should be determined based on the subject matter and facilitator preference. The main point is to use props to create engaging exercises.

What to Do

  1. Take PowerPoint presentations and sticky dot exercises off the table.

  2. Do your research on more engaging replacement exercises.

  3. Map potential exercises to the four categories in this article.

  4. Select one or two exercises for each of the categories.

  5. Purchase the tools and equipment now.

  6. Practice delivering the engaging exercises in mock facilitated sessions.

  7. Evaluate the engaging exercise after each real facilitated session.

  8. Re-evaluate the role of PowerPoint presentations and sticky dot exercises.

Engaging Exercises

Engaging exercises are strongly associated with effective facilitation because of the structure, discipline, and detail that goes into their preparation. The world is full of affordable tools and approaches. Do what it takes to make your sessions memorable. No one wants to waste their time.


JD Solomon Inc provides facilitation at the nexus of facilities, infrastructure, and the environment. Contact us for more information about facilitation services ranging from Strategic Plans and Board Retreats to Criticality Analysis, Root Cause Analysis, and Capital Program Development.