The Somewhat Accidental Facilitator – Episode 1

In this episode, Beth shares a little about who she is, why she started the Facilitating on Purpose podcast, who it’s for, and what you can expect from it. Listen in to learn more about:

  • How Beth became somewhat of an accidental facilitator
  • How falling into training and facilitation is often very common for others too (especially if they were trained in another field first)
  • Why its beneficial to turn to communities of practice as a facilitator
  • How this podcast is for people who are very new to facilitating learning as well as those who’ve been doing it for a long time

Connect with Beth

Connect with the Facilitating on Purpose Podcast

Podcast cover art by Emily Johnston of Artio Design Co.
Podcast production services by Mary Chan of Organized Sound Productions

Show Transcript

Welcome, to Facilitating on Purpose, where we explore ideas together about designing and facilitating learning. Join me to get inspired on your journey to becoming and being a great facilitator wherever you work. I’m your host, Beth Cougler Blom.

Hi, welcome. I’m glad you’re here to dive in with me to this podcast about becoming and being a great facilitator of learning. So, what is this podcast about? Maybe you’re teaching workshops or courses, could be in person, could be online. You might not call yourself a facilitator, but if you’re standing up and leading a group to try to help them learn something, you are facilitating learning and this podcast is for you. You might call yourself a trainer, an instructor, a faculty member, professor…there are lots of words for what we do when we try to help a group learn something. I tend to say facilitator and I tend to say facilitating learning. If you use other terms, that is just fine. And this is still the place for you.

You might work in a nonprofit, corporation, healthcare, post secondary, you might be self employed, you might work in retail. I’m sure I’ve missed some environments where facilitators work. Basically all over the world we have facilitators helping groups learn things and these are the folks I want to bring into this podcast and tap into their brains, tap into their knowledge about how to do facilitation well. How to facilitate learning really well in the contexts where they work. And maybe I’ll share a few things that I know too!

When we start to facilitate, I think one of the normal things we tend to do is – because normally we’ve sort of fallen into the role – is we look around and we learn from examples of people around us. I know I did. Can you think of people that you’ve learned from as a facilitator? Maybe great trainers that you’ve had, at some point, and you thought, yeah, I want to do that. That looks good, I’m going to be like that.

So we kind of start to look around and learn from other people. So there’s this benefit to connecting with others who do this work. Basically, essentially, joining facilitation communities. And that’s what I want to have here with this podcast. I want us to be like a facilitation community of practice, where we can all share something, and we can all get something from the conversations that I’m going to have. So this is what I’m hoping to have here. A place for us all to turn to, to keep learning about how to do this thing called facilitation better, more effectively, keep learning as we do the work.

My goal is for you to see yourself in our conversations here, no matter whether you’re at the beginning of your path to becoming a facilitator or you’re decades of years into it. I know from my work with facilitators that new facilitators have a lot to teach and share. And so do people that have been doing it for a long time, so I’m hoping to talk with many different types of people. And so if you’re new, or if you’re decades of years into it, you will have something to learn no matter where you are in your journey. Because we all do. This is the wonderful thing about this field. We never stop learning about how to be great facilitators of learning. Especially because a lot of us fall into the work. Like a lot of us don’t actually go and get training to become a facilitator and then do the facilitation. We sort of fall into it first. And then, you know, do some professional development later.

Not many of us when we were young said, oh, I want to be a facilitator when I grow up. That’s not really a thing! The guidance counsellors did not say, you are really suited to becoming a facilitator, or a learning designer, or whatever the field is, right, that’s kind of related to facilitating learning. That didn’t happen. So a lot of us fell into this work kind of like I did accidentally. And then we’re just figuring it out as we go along, and we take some training, we take some workshops, and we talk with people and we figure out how to do it. Maybe you read a book or whatever. So I didn’t say that to myself when I was young, oh, I want to be a facilitator. But somehow I found myself here anyway, accidentally. But even if you’ve planned your entire career out to get to where you are today, and you knew you were going to be a facilitator from when you were really little, you’re still going to feel at home here. It doesn’t matter how you got here. If you’re facilitating learning in some way, shape, or form, this podcast is for you.

So you might be wondering why I decided to start a podcast. I mean, it’s a big thing, right? It’s not easy to just start a podcast, there’s a lot to go into this. Well, for me, it’s worth it because I want to keep learning and giving myself the opportunity to learn more about facilitation as the years go on. And then I thought you would too, and so we can all do this together. Specifically, in the last couple of years, I’ve published a book called Design to Engage. It’s a “how to” book about how to design and facilitate workshops and courses. Writing the book was amazing, the process of writing it was fantastic. It actually was wonderful and – I didn’t see this coming – but it gave me the opportunity to look back over my career and kind of figure out how I got to where I am today.

I saw this arc of kind of starting out as a presenter, going into being a trainer then becoming a facilitator. I realized that while writing the book, and I’ll tell you more about that in a bit. But one of the things I did when I wrote Design to Engage was interview 30 facilitators across Canada about what they thought about facilitating learning. And I really loved those interviews. I have this binder that is like two inches thick of double sided typewritten notes, from all of the interviews. It just was hours and hours and hours of great conversations about facilitation. And I enjoyed that so much, I got thinking about it going, how do I get more of that? You know, how do I create more of that learning for myself, and then turn that around and give it to others? And of course, the podcast was a natural thing to think about. And that’s why we are here today, and you’re listening to me about starting the podcast with this first episode. So it’s one way for me to keep learning and to bring that learning to you as well.

I couldn’t have predicted what my career has ended up looking like. But let me share just a little bit of it with you so that you know a little bit about who I am and how I got to where I am currently, as a facilitator and a learning designer, as a self employed person in this field. The very short story hopefully, is that, you know, I was growing up and my parents were teachers and so I wanted to be a teacher. I think that probably happens to a lot of teachers’ kids. And when I started university, I was thinking, yeah, I’m going to be a teacher. And I ended up doing a history degree with a business minor.

The weird thing is that I actually got derailed from the plan to be a teacher somewhere along the way. My mom had a couple of little small health issues that they attributed to stress from her teaching job. And she’s fine now but there was something, as I look back on it, I think around that illness that made me think, oh, being a teacher is actually stressful. And so I wasn’t conscious of it but I decided not to go that route. And when I graduated from university I just sort of fell into administrative type jobs. I worked at The University of British Columbia for a while and other jobs in nonprofit and so on. The first thing that someone asked me to do was be on a panel and you know, make a presentation as part of a panel, you can picture it, right? Like we sit at those six foot tables, and there’s kind of me and three other people. And I got a tiny little taste of teaching, I guess, through this panel presentation.

Somehow over the years in the various jobs that I had, I worked in a nonprofit environment, I worked in a municipal government environment, and I kind of just fell into getting up and training people in different types of things. Eventually, when I got to the volunteer centre, I worked at Volunteer Victoria here in Victoria BC, for a number of years, I became a coordinator of other people training. I used to hire trainers in that role. And over the years I was there I became a trainer myself, and volunteer management became my topic. And one of the things that is sort of funny that I did, I started a master’s degree and finished a master’s degree in adult education. Basically when I started, I didn’t really know what I was going to teach. I just was interested in the field of education, but I had no content area for a while. And so when I worked at the volunteer centre, and I’d been there for a few years, I started teaching volunteer management. And that became my content for a number of years. I taught volunteer management for 10 years. But eventually I realized no, it’s not volunteer management that I really want to keep teaching, although I super believe in that field, and I am so appreciative of all the people that do. I was really interested in, in teaching about education type topics. And so that became my content area, is everything to do with designing and facilitating learning.

I did end up becoming an instructional designer in a nonprofit, [and] at Royal Roads University for a while, and I held that job at Royal Roads for a number of years, while I was starting my business and my business was growing. But for the last several years, I’ve been self employed as a facilitator and a learning designer. So I am the lucky person who gets to work with clients across all sectors, helping them design and facilitate things in person and online and, and just have a wide variety of work in and around teaching and learning. And then I decided to write the book, Design to Engage. So I had this kind of arc of being a presenter, and then being a trainer and then being a facilitator, and then teaching others about facilitating. And so it’s been a wonderful ride, and I want to keep going in my work.

So you might have fallen into this line of work as well. You might have gotten trained in something else and then somebody said, hey, you know about this topic, you are an expert in this content area, so why don’t you try training other people in it? This is very, very common. And actually it was the case for a lot of the faculty members that I worked with in the university environment that, they’re good at their content area and so they are being asked to facilitate learning for students. And then they’re just trying to figure out how to do that well. And that’s what happens to a lot of us. And so that’s why we’re here, isn’t it? We’ve somehow gotten the bug of being interested in facilitating, facilitating learning with other people, with groups. And we’re just trying to figure out how to keep doing it better.

So I hope you can tell I’m totally inspired by the field. One of the great things about it is that there is always something new to learn. And that’s why we’re here. That’s why I’m starting a podcast, we learn from each other. I love this sort of abundance mindset that…can we all just support each other to get better? That’s what we should do. We can share and learn always, and not hold knowledge tight, but to share it and release it freely with others. You have your own path that you’re on, no matter what you call yourself, facilitator or not. If you are doing the work that we’ve been talking about, standing up and helping groups learn something, this place is for you. Maybe I can support you in this work in one way through this podcast. I think you’re going to need a place to turn to keep getting ideas and to stay inspired in the work.

We all need this, I need this, you need this. And I think we can do this together. So, my intent for us is to continue on this journey as we keep learning how to expand our facilitation practice. I invite you in to this community to take what works for you and to share it with others and to get that inspiration and to keep spreading it around. Because boy, if we are inspired as facilitators, our groups are really going to benefit from that. We are going to benefit from that and our groups are going to benefit from that. I think facilitators can change the world! I don’t know, that is just me with a really big global vision of what facilitators of learning can do! And you are in it with me together now. Thanks for being here.

Thank you for listening to Facilitating on Purpose. If you were inspired by something in this episode, please share it with a friend or a colleague to help them expand their facilitation practice too. To find the show notes, give me feedback, or submit ideas for future episodes visit Special thanks to Mary Chan at Organized Sound Productions for producing this episode. Happy facilitating!

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