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Unlocking the Magic of Facilitation
11 Key Concepts You Didn't Know You Didn't Know

Have you ever been in a training and marveled at how quickly the time flew by? Genuinely enjoyed a meeting you were expecting to dread? Learned something powerful about a topic you thought wouldn't engage you? Experienced an intimate, vulnerable, transformative moment with a group of total strangers?

Then you've witnessed the magic of facilitation.

Like all magic tricks – though they seem to defy reason when you're spectating for the first time – once the secrets of facilitation are unveiled to you, you'll look back with a bland obviousness. Of course that's how it's done.

Sam Killermann
Meet the Co-Author

Sam Killermann, Unlocking the Magic of Facilitation Co-Author

Sam Killermann is a comedian and social justice facilitator who got his start in university orientation and first-year programs. His primary role in life now is Director of Creativity for hues, a global justice collective. Sam’s the co-creator of, where his favorite way to spend time is training facilitators, and he is the author of A Guide to Gender, which opened as the #1 best-seller in gender on Amazon. Sam earned his bachelor’s from Purdue and master’s from Bowling Green, and enjoys riding his bicycle around sunny Austin, TX, where he counts himself lucky to live.

Meg Bolger
Meet the Co-Author

Meg Bolger, Unlocking the Magic of Facilitation Co-Author

Meg Bolger is a social entrepreneur and facilitator passionate about the process of engaging in social justice work. She founded Pride for All, an organization that provides support for folks looking to start social justice conversations. She's the co-creator of, where she enjoys helping folks create sustainable gender and sexuality education programs. Meg graduated from Hamilton College with a B.A. and Bowling Green State University with a M.A. She enjoys flying around the U.S. to help develop facilitators at schools and organizations, all while getting asked if she's old enough to sit in the exit row.

Kind Words
From other Magicians

"Meg and Sam have taken an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a riddle wrapped in pure frustration--the art of facilitation--and made it a nugget of gold wrapped in chocolate wrapped in pure joy. A topic that can be at once boring and eluding has been explained in a simple way with an entertaining voice. Finally, a book that tells us what we've had to learn the hard way."

— Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin
Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Consultant

"Unlocking the Magic of Facilitation is more than just another book on group dynamics. There are no wasted pages; and yet, as packed full of valuable information as it is, it manages to feel less like a manual and more like a personal conversation with two people who are clearly knowledgeable and genuinely passionate about the topic. With no shortage of memorable analogies and helpful examples, the book is written with refreshing wit, humor, empathy and a compelling voice. "

— Erik Tyler
Mentor, Speaker, Facilitator and Author of The Best Advice So Far

The 11 Key Concepts
You Didn't Know You Didn't Know

In this book, co-authors and social justice facilitators Sam Killermann and Meg Bolger teach you how to perform the favorite tricks they keep up their sleeve. It's the learning they've accumulated from thousands of hours of facilitating, debriefing, challenging, and failing; it's the lessons from their mentors, channeled through their experience; it's the magician's secrets, revealed to the public, because it's about time folks have the privilege of looking behind the curtain of facilitation and thinking of course that's how it's done.

This book introduces and explains 11 key concepts every facilitator should know, that most facilitators don't even know they should know. They are sometimes-tiny things that show up huge in facilitation. It's a book for facilitators of all stripes, goals, backgrounds, and settings – and the digestible, enjoyable, actionable lessons would benefit anyone who is responsible for engaging a group of people in learning.

1. Understanding Facilitation as a Nuanced Skill. Facilitation is…well…both nuanced and a skill: two things we don’t give it enough credit for being. In this chapter we’ll talk about why facilitation is a skill, who gets to identify as a facilitator, and the need to practice facilitation.

2. Facilitation vs. Teaching vs. Lecturing. Facilitation is a different style of engagement from teaching or lecturing. What makes it different? Why is that difference so important? What are things that we are giving up and gaining by choosing to facilitate?

3. Being Neutral. This chapter could also be called “Neutrality is non-existent” or “Neutrality: That would be nice, and so would Santa Claus.” Being a facilitator is not about being neutral, but instead about being honest and open with your group about your goals together, and recognizing the implicit bias in those goals.

4. How to Read a Group. Start by listening. Get to know them before they get in the room as much as possible, and then pay attention to what they are expressing and sharing in order to know where to go next. Groups are writing a lot about what they need; you just need to start reading.

5. Both/And is Greater than But/Or. The power of replacing but with “and” is incredible. Find out why in facilitation it can change how your participants respond and react and how you respond and react to them. Pulling ourselves out of the duality of either/or, the almighty “and” helps us see multiple realities as feasible and present.

6. The “Yes, and…” Rule. One of the foundational rules of improv has become one of our foundational concepts of facilitation. By adding to someone’s reality rather than negating it, you can often learn much more about a person’s perspective, understanding, and ideas, than any “no” could ever bring you.

7. Asking Good Questions. Good questions are more than just “open-ended” questions. Good facilitators ask good questions; great facilitators know how to do that every time. We cover what makes a good question, what kind of questions are out there to be asked, and what kind is best in what scenario.

8. Safe Spaces for Vulnerability. Facilitating can be challenging; showing up and really being seen while you’re facilitating can be even harder. We explore the impact of vulnerability on facilitation, and how courageous compassion is required to make a space where folks can learn from vulnerability.

9. Triggers. Not all experiences within a training are pleasant or wanted, and sometimes they leave our blood boiling and our heart racing. To be an effective facilitator, it’s our responsibility to manage our triggers, and we give you a model for doing just that.

10. Learning from Emotions. Emotions happen. As facilitators, we have a choice of whether to invite emotions into our trainings and what to do when they show up. We’ll explore how to make the most of those emotional moments, and the types of powerful learning available when you get ready to wrestle with emotions.

11. Role Modeling Continuous Learning (or The Myth of the Expert). We ask a lot of our participants, but perhaps nothing more important than being open to new learning. As a facilitator, we must lean into our own request, own our journeys, and role model the importance of saying, “I don’t know.”

3 Ways to Get the Book

Amazon: A Guide to Gender

Buy on Amazon for about $15

For touchy-feely facilitators

Ebook: A Guide to Gender

Pay-what-you-want on Gumroad

For techy-wechy facilitators

Pay with a Tweet: A Guide to Gender

Pay with a Tweet
Yep. That's a real-life thing.

For social facilitators

Want to get in touch with the authors?

You can email Meg and Sam by using yo [at] the safe zone project [dawt] com (no spaces, and replace the words with the symbols — we are just trying to hide that email from web bots), or by vising their joint project Individually, you can find Sam on Facebook and Meg on Facebook.

They can answer questions about the book, give you pointers for how to use it in your own facilitator trainings, help you run a train-the-trainer, or help out in other ways if you need them. Just ask!

What's coming next?

This book is part of A Guide to Facilitation: The Social Justice Advocate's Handbook (the second part, to be specific), so you can look for that full book in the future. It's also by Sam and Meg, and includes sections on navigating power dynamics, the elements of a training, and finding your facilitation style.

Also, we are working on releasing lots of great supplemental materials for Unlocking the Magic on this site. Sign up below for an email to get updates when we release new lesson plans, facilitator guides, activities, and other bite-sized teachings.

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This project is part of hues, a global justice collective