Facilitation Friday #31: Strive for Presence, Not Perfection


Practice makes perfect.  

Kids hear this mantra many a time during their involvement with various sports, clubs, and activities. On the surface it really seems to make sense … repeated effort should yield better results. And in many cases, it does.

As a youth, tennis was my sport. Practicing the grip, groundstrokes, and movement to the ball that I learned in my lessons undoubtedly helped me become a fairly solid player. Hours of hitting serve after serve and crosscourt shot after crosscourt shot allowed my body to subtly memorize proper form and footwork. In match play situations, I could recall that form almost without thinking. I became a winner.

But practice rarely makes perfect, particularly when facilitating. Practice definitely makes different, and in many cases that different may be better. But too much practice can actually inhibit any chance of reaching the desired results when the moment of truth arrives.

In junior high and high school, I spent much of time performing … in theater, in musical groups, and on the speech team. Practice was certainly important in each of those activities. But too much practice sometimes resulted in machine-like performances devoid of emotion and character. They became mere recitations of the lines, steps of the choreography … done in accordance with the script or the blocking, but not delivered with the humanness that would evoke the desired reaction from the audience. That’s hardly perfection.

Further, too much practice often increased my anxiety on performance days as I wondered if I could remember everything we had covered in practice. When you try to ingrain certain thinking into your DNA with too much rigor and precision and it escapes you during an actual performance, your ability to adapt “in the moment” can be paralyzed.

Too much emphasis on perfection and can postpone ever actually getting into the game: “Oh, I’d love to play, but I’m not good enough yet. I need to practice.”   The only way to become a better facilitator is to clock more hours actually facilitating, to encounter unfamiliar situations in real-time and to apply whatever knowledge and skills you've accumulated to trying to help a group advance.  

Practice can never adequately replicate what the real game, the real performance, the real day at work is like. One of the most important contributions we make as facilitation is being present, helping manage the moments in real-time in an authentic and human way, not getting all the i's dotted and t's crossed in a robotic fashion honed from hours and hours of practice.

Sure, let’s practice our facilitation skills as much as we deem necessary. But let’s get into the action as soon as we can. We can't role play our way into reality.

Every Friday in 2012, I post information and insights about effective facilitation, sharing some of the content and thinking I provide in the one-day and half-day facilitation workshops that groups often engage me to present.  You can find previous posts by searching for the tag: facilitationfriday.

I'll be leading an open registration full-day course on The Art of Facilitation: How to Maximize Individuals' Contributions and Commitments on Tuesday, August 21, in Washington, DC, for the American Society of Association Executives.  Learn more/register here.