For years the only type of tests I’ve needed to take have involved my eyes, and after the first one of those, I figured out that I didn’t really need to study much to pass them.

But this past weekend I was in Atlanta, participating in the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) assessment process to earn the Certified Professional Facilitator (CPF) designation. The CPF certification process is rigorous, challenging and anything but a slam-dunk.

In advance of the assessment, I looked on-line for other facilitators’ accounts of their experiences with the process. One term kept coming up: nerve-racking.

Now, I’ve been told many a time that I’m unflappable, and to a large extent that’s true. Through 25 years as an event producer and communications professional I’ve learned to stay grounded no matter what’s happening — it’s essential. But the experience of being officially “tested” for this designation was indeed nerve-racking.

The certification process requires applicants to first submit an application that demonstrates a comprehensive set of facilitation competencies, then, if accepted, attend the assessment day. The assessment day consists of an opening interview with two senior facilitator/assessors, the delivery of a 30-minute mock facilitation (with other applicants serving as participants), followed by an end of day interview with your assessors.

There were 11 candidates participating in assessment day, all of whom have been working in the field for quite some time, successfully facilitating meetings, helping groups meet their objectives and delivering positive outcomes. So, if we’re already working in the field, why bother attaining certification?

The CPF designation is about upping our professional game and earning a designation that recognizes excellence. It gives us enhanced credibility and evidence to clients that we really, really know our stuff.

It was an intense environment. The room was filled with nervous energy, anticipation and performance anxiety. Anyone who has had to do “their thing” in front of their peers knows it’s the most stressful environment in which to work. Presenting to clients, conference groups or general audiences — that’s easy. Presenting to colleagues who know every technique and trick you do — that’s hard.

Which is why it was so great. The 11 candidates weren’t competing with each other; we were all being assessed on our own merit. So everyone was supportive and attentive as each candidate facilitated the group. We helped one another with set up, offered tools and kind words of confidence.

And even though there was little time to get to know each other, we all shared the same nerve-racking experience. And that created a strong connection. We all wanted to go home having passed the assessment and we all wanted each other to succeed.

At the end of the day, as each candidate went through their final interview, many of us waited to hear each other’s outcome. We shared our anxious anticipation as assessors deliberated then shared relief and high-fives at our successful results.

And then three Canadians, a Washington DCer and an Atlantan went for a beer. We laughed, we talked shop and we committed to staying in touch. And we all knew we were better off for having taken the risk of this “nerve-racking” experience. Because it was less about testing our skills than it was about testing ourselves.

Our work, our projects and our clients may test us at times, but there’s nothing quite like testing ourselves. And that’s a test worth taking more often.

~ Maureen Douglas, CPF-IAF

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