Not long ago I was engaging in some small talk at one of those awkward social events, when I was asked that infamous question: “So, what do you do?”

I gave the answer I have given many times before: “I am a facilitator.”

My small-talk friend smiled and said, “Oh, you are a trainer.”

“No, not really…” I attempted to clarify, but quickly I was interrupted with “I know, like a presenter, right?” I began feeling a little like a player in an Abbott and Costello routine of Who’s on First. I restrained myself from sharing what was on my mind: “You really don’t have a clue.”

Facilitator, trainer, presenter. Is there really a difference between these three things?

Gina Miller facilitator
Gina Miller, VP Brand Reputation at Mitchell, facilitating a DiSC session

The answer is a resounding yes. These three roles are not the same thing.

The presenter

The presenter is a person delivering a message across to the “other side.” For example, this person is giving the latest sales numbers in a business meeting or letting members of the band boosters know the details of the upcoming candy fundraiser.

The trainer

The trainer is one form of a presenter. However, a presenter is not always a trainer. The key feature is that the “other side” comes to the occasion prepared or expecting to learn. In addition, a trainer typically has more knowledge than the audience on the given topic. For example, someone who teaches an advanced Excel class should have more skill than those who come to class to learn.

The facilitator

The definition of facilitate is “to make easy” or “ease a process.” The facilitator is not the same as presenter or trainer.

    • Unlike the presenter, the facilitator is not a one-sided delivery of a pre-arranged speech.
    • Unlike a trainer, the facilitator does not necessarily know more than the “other side.”

There is an interesting saying about the trainer and the facilitator:

“A trainer brings the participants from unknown to known. A facilitator brings the participants from known to unknown.”

The role of the facilitator

What a facilitator does is plan, guide and manage a group event to ensure that the group’s objectives are effectively met, with clear thinking, good participation and full buy-in from everyone involved.

Think about it this way: Trainers tend to focus on the subject matter. Facilitators focus on both the subject matter and the process and how it should be taught from a learner-centered perspective.

Have you used a facilitator for an effective meeting? Tell us about your experience in the comments below, or tweet your responses using the hashtag #mcgblog.