What are the differences between a learning facilitator (trainer), speaker and process facilitator?

What are the differences between a learning facilitator (trainer), speaker and process facilitator?

What impact have you really made, if you’re talking at the front, to 500 people, beyond making your CV nicer?

I remember hearing this whilst attending a training once.

That was sobering. It forced me to think about the impact I made as a speaker.

I loved speaking. There was something about how 200 pairs of eyes were on you, listening to you share something.

But then I discovered process facilitation. I saw its potential to bring out the best of others, rather than the best of me. I saw how I was no longer the expert, but actually the person who brought out the expert in others.

I saw how I stopped trying to present new ideas and thoughts, and instead started hearing new ideas and thoughts.

In today’s article, I would like to share my perspectives on the differences between a learning facilitator (trainer), speaker, and process facilitator.

Why is this important?

Aren’t the differences obvious?

It’s not.

During my training on process facilitation, I saw how Janice and Prabu, the trainers for the day, made an intentional effort to signify whenever they were taking on the trainer role, and whenever they were being the process facilitator. They would physically signify it by miming the putting on and taking off a facilitator’s hat. It was not until later that I realised why they did that.

Without doing that, I wouldn’t know whether they were instructing me, or inspiring me to bring out more of what was within me.

It manages the client’s expectations

You may have felt the same. The roles of a process facilitator and a trainer may be mixed up in the eyes of clients. Sometimes, when clients ask for a ‘facilitation’, they may mistakenly believe that you will be bringing in the subject matter expertise, giving insights to solve their problem. They may not think that you will be coming in to enable them to solve their own problems.

It clarifies your own roles

Training, process facilitation and speaking are three separate roles, that can overlap at many times during the session. When you’re delivering a training session, there are times when you need to put on the hat of a process facilitator to facilitate a brainstorm for the group to give ideas to your questions. You may also end up needing to speak more than usual when approaching the end of your session, to inspire and motivate your audience.

Knowing what hat you wear, at each time, helps you to focus on the role that’s best suited to the client at that moment.

I confess. There are times when I’ve been asked to be a trainer, but have ended up delivering a motivational talk that is designed to encourage listeners to step up.

It’s not about you. I repeat this again. Because we often forget this.

It’s not about you.

Training, process facilitating or speaking is rarely about you. It’s about what the client needs, at that particular time. As much as you’re tempted to play to your strengths, it’s more important to note how to achieve the client’s goals.

That’s why it’s called a service business, because it serves the client.

Not you.

To guide this article, I will be drawing on Prabu and Janice’s book SPOT on FacilitationTM, where they introduce a useful framework to understand the differences.

A framework to understand the differences between training, speaking and facilitation (Taken from SPOT on FacilitationTM by Prabu Naidu and Janice Lua)

What are the differences between a learning facilitator (trainer), speaker and process facilitator?

What is the purpose?

Training Speaking Process Facilitation
What is the purpose? What to do: Equipping trainees with knowledge & skills Why you do:

Conveying messages

How to do:

Achieving meeting objectives

What is the focus? The Training & trainer’s expertise The speech content & the speaker’s style The engagement process
Whose content is it? Trainer’s Speaker’s Participants’
What is the end state? Learning by the trainees Inspired & motivated listeners You cannot pre-determine what the content would be but it would be content that would meet the objectives.

A table of differences for four different aspects

Speakers connect you to your why. Have you ever sat listening to a keynote speech, and felt so overcome with emotion during the keynote? You felt you were willing to traverse heaven and earth to overcome obstacles. There are generally two type of speeches – the inspirational and the motivational speech.

The inspirational speech is designed to set a vision. Whilst it doesn’t tell you clearly what to do to accomplish that vision, it builds in you an idea of hope. Think of these speeches as the likes of ‘I Have a Dream’, by Martin Luther King Jr. The motivational speech is designed to push you to take action. Usually, there are some steps laid out in the speech that you can take immediately after the speech.

Trainers help you with ‘what to do’.

What is the focus?

Process facilitators focus on the how. During process facilitation, it starts with a premise.

This is the problem.

These are the outcomes that we want from this meeting.

We don’t know what will happen along the way. But here’s how we might suggest getting there. The purpose is guiding you along finding the ‘how’.

  • How to build our strategy
  • How to resolve this issue

Training and speaking often focuses on the product, whilst process facilitation focuses on the process. In training and speaking, the product is the training course or the keynote speech that you’ve prepared.

Process facilitation focuses more on guiding participants through a process.

When I first trained as a process facilitator, it was hard for me to realise that the focus wasn’t on getting things perfect, but guiding the process. As I was initially trained as a speaker, rather than a facilitator, my focus as a speaker was on my performance. It would be about how the content was presented, whether the content was powerful, and whether I had a great performance.

But process facilitation was about the process. Observing more experienced process facilitators, I realised process facilitator behaved more like path-makers. They would be a step ahead of you, bringing you to the next link in the chain. I miss travel. Pardon me for using the analogy of a journey.

Process facilitators would be like tour guides.

They would point out to you where you were in the process. They functioned like signboards. Observing process facilitators, I found that those that were great, were those that were able to observe,

We are now still at the divergence phase, where we are generating more ideas

But I can sense that we are slowly converging towards a set of ideas in X, Y and Z.

The focus is on the process.

Speakers and trainers are different.

Tapping again on the analogy of the journey, speakers and trainers are more like drivers. We bring you to the destination, whether or not you’re ready for it. We sell others about knowing the way, rather than guiding the way. We aren’t only a step ahead. We know (or at least we think we know) the whole path! That’s why we are here to show you the path.

Whose content is it?

For speakers, most of the content is their own. It’s often a one-way delivery of content. It can be like drinking from a firehose.

Trainers tend to focus on co-creation of content. As a trainer, rather than delivering one-way, the better trainers tend to involve the student in the creation of the learning.

For example, there may be exercises in the class that encourage the student to use what has been taught to apply in their work situation.

But for process facilitators, the content is the participants’. Process facilitators focus on bringing out what’s within the participant to what’s outside, looking at how the participants can refine and shape their thoughts to accomplish the meeting outcomes.

Think of the process facilitator as an alchemist. They combine the elements of the group’s participants, to build something precious from the group.

What is the end state?

As speakers, the mark of success is the standing ovation. We hope you will be so inspired, and filled with energy that you will stand up, ready to conquer the world!

Can I share with you a secret?

Different speakers have had different training. But as a speaker, I was trained to craft every single word to elicit a certain response. Make no mistake. At every sentence, I had to write down what I wanted the audience to be feeling at that moment. I share this because I want you to know that nothing in a speech happens by chance. Every moment is deliberately crafted.

The end state for speakers is to help the audience to think, feel and therefore act differently.

Compare this with training, where you are co-creating learning with the student. Trainers focus on how you might start doing differently. The pedagogy is designed so that you will take most from the training.

Or with facilitation, where you don’t know the specific content you will have before facilitating a discussion (though you know the type of content you need to facilitate the team to produce) . Whilst you can guide the process, the beauty is that the content created may be different in different groups.


Training, process facilitation and speaking are all different. They are different superpowers, meant for varying occasions and purposes.

But despite the differences, one thing can never be forgotten. That whatever we do, whether it be as trainers, speakers, or facilitators, one thing remains constant.

What are the differences between a learning facilitator (trainer), speaker and process facilitator?

We serve the client.

Above all else.

Above yourself.


John is excited about helping young people to brave challenges of the 21st century and writes about how young people can flourish in work at liveyoungandwell.com.

If you desire to be a process facilitator, check out our SPOT on FacilitationTM and Virtual Facilitation WorkshopTM and contact us at admin@fns.sg for more information.