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Featuring TED-like Talks at Conferences and Workshops: What’s the Time Commitment?

  • Would you like your Keynote Speakers to do more than stand at a podium with their notes and read their prepared speeches? (perhaps even prepared by someone else?)
  • Would you prefer your speaker to share personal experience and examples – to speak from the heart?
  • Do you want high energy at the opening of your Workshop or Conference, with a kick off that is dynamic, and thought provoking?

If you said yes to these questions, and almost everyone does, then thinking carefully about the format of your conference or workshops’s high profile sessions can lead you into thinking about non-traditional inputs such as Pecha Kuchas, Ignites, and TED-like Talks.

I frequently recommend these formats to groups I work with, and people generally like the idea of this, but don’t always have the experience with the preparation stage. They often ask, “How much time will this take to prepare?” Watching a smooth, tight, powerful TED-Talk makes it look easy. However, compared to a traditional presentation that has a bullet-by-bullet PPT presentation to guide it or a paper to read –  a podium to stand behind, and a luxurious 30 minute time slot, these talks take more time commitment, for what’s ultimately a shorter input.

As Henry David Thoreau said in 1857: Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.

Ideally, you want your high profile speakers to take this time and create a great quality input in such prime real-estate in your conference programme as an opening session, or another key moment. You might want to video this input so that you can re-use it – put it on your website, include it as a part of the materials that come out of the event, or show it again on the screen in related events. So making the time investment in getting a polished Talk can be worth it.

We have written quite a bit on this blog about Pecha Kuchas and Ignites, so let me focus on the steps and timing we use to coach speakers towards using the TED-like format for their talks, and draw on our experience planning and hosting of numerous TEDx Events. There are lots of good blog posts about how to do TED-Talks, and TED’s Chris Anderson wrote a whole book on that this year if you want to go deeper into their process: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking.

This is just a short indicative idea of the steps and the timing we use for the speaker and for the coach to support her/him in developing a TED-like Talk:

What’s the Idea?

  1. For this first step, you, the event organizer, probably have the idea and have chosen a speaker who you want to deliver it. Try to put the idea down in a sentence. Try a number of attempts. (30 min)
  2. Talk to the speaker and get their commitment to using this approach and explain that it will take them more time than writing their speech on the plane and handing you a USB stick before they walk on stage. (see arguments above). (10 – 30 min)
  3. Schedule an initial call with host, speaker and coach to discuss how to approach and frame their “idea worth spreading”. Establish a timeframe for working on it, and agree on the length of the talk. (Note the 18 minute limit, and the fact that the talk should only be as long as needed to make the point, so less time is also fine). The coach will give some ideas on the call about how to approach the idea.  (30 mins to 1 hour call)
  4. The speaker should watch a number of TED Talks for storytelling tips  – they can watch for example pick some from the playlist of The Most Popular TED Talks of All Time. (1 hour+)

Write it down

  1. The speaker will write an initial draft as they would speak it. If they don’t feel ready to write it out verbatim, they can put down bullet points first for feedback, then write down the whole thing as they would speak it afterwards. (1-3 hours)
  2. If the speaker has initial thoughts on images these can be put into the draft script. (30 min)
  3. Send the draft script to the coach (and the host if they want to be involved in the process). The coach reads through the draft and makes comments on structure, storytelling approach, etc. and sends it back. (1-2 hours, depending on how much work it needs)

Prepare to revise

  1. Hold a second call to talk through edits etc. This might not be needed if there is not much to change, but traditionally this first draft needs some restructuring and editing, often to add the personal component, the “colour”, some drama, perhaps to flip the structure from a chronological story to one that plays with the timeframe to set up the big message better, etc. (30- 45 min)
  2. The speaker rewrites/edits the talk (1-3 hours)
  3. The coach reviews the script again for any further edits, and can start to suggest pauses for effect, hand gestures, body placement, props, images if possible at this stage. (Note this back and forth on the scripts can go on as needed and time permits) (1 hour)

Practice the Talk

  1. Third call: During this one the speaker reads the talk, this can be done with skype and video, so the coach can see the speaker, or it can be done only orally if video is not available.  The coach listens for pacing, pausing, vocal variety, etc. and makes some notes in the script while the speaker is speaking. There is a discussion about any body or hand gestures, etc. (Note, this step might also need iterations, or not) ( 1 hour)
  2. The Speaker works alone to memorize and practice their talk (2+ hours)
  3. Fourth call: Practice again the talk – the coach follows along with the script which includes notes on pauses, etc. and makes any further suggestions. At this stage the Speaker might want more people on the call to simulate the audience and get further feedback on the talk. This should be just tweaking, and any tricks if there are things that are harder to remember or pronounce, or nerves, etc.  (1 hour)
  4. Onsite: There should be a practice onsite the morning of the talk so that the speaker can get on and off the stage, knows where to stand and gets the feel for the room. (Will you have the big red circle carpet to help the person find their place on the stage? Can you borrow one from the local TEDx organizers?) Note this test run might be a bit of a disaster, as it feels very contrived to talk to an empty room, but generally the speaker does very well once there is a live audience with energy in the room!) (30 min)

This is the process, more or less, we have used with speakers and organizers who want to feature a TED-like talk at their workshop or conference. This kind of talk really feels different and is so refreshing for the audience – when they see the speaker come on, no notes, no podium, talking straight at them, telling a vibrant personal or person-based story that has a creative structure and a message with a punch. These are the talks that, in spite of being one in many, are often unforgettable (plus you have the video to help make this extra true!)

 

Expecting More, and Getting More, from Your Staff Meetings

What possibilities Staff Meetings have!

 

Staff Meetings, when the whole of a staff group are convened in one place (physical or virtual), are an important investment that a team makes on a regular basis. And they can be a significant investment – if you monetize the time that is used to convene this group, you can have a significant sum of money on the table – 70 staff members for an hour, at an average of 50 USD an hour, is 3500 USD per staff meeting! (BTW, that’s $182,000 a year for a weekly staff meeting…and 3,640 person hours of time…quite a contribution!)

These all-staff meetings are incredibly unique and valuable moments, and have a important set of purposes in a team setting. They can be used to:

  • Share information (among team members, among layers of the organizational hierarchy)
  • Collect information (get insights, opinions and ideas from the staff)
  • Encourage collaboration (from greater insights about what others are doing)
  • Build relationships (develop interpersonal connections among people)
  • Energise (get energy around an initiative or collaborative task)

With these good purposes, and the considerable investment that is made in achieving them – why then does feedback after a staff meeting sometimes include the following: “Not sure what the purpose was”, “Not relevant to me”, “Too long”, “Boring format”?

We have a couple of thoughts on this as facilitators and process designers! Let’s look a little deeper at these Staff Meeting purposes and how to achieve them:

Share Information

The traditional format for sharing information in a Staff Meeting is for someone to stand up and talk to an agenda point. Followed by another and another. They might have a limited time, and might be using a PPT slide to help, and some people can get away with this from sheer charisma and/or scintillating topic. However, after a few people doing this, and especially switching topics rapidly, it is both hard to follow, and chances are some of these speeches will not be entirely relevant to 100% of the team. Once you get a few with less than exciting delivery or content, people will gravitate to their phones or their minds will wander gently back to what they were doing before they joined the Staff Meeting. Busy people trying to optimise their time.

What are some other ways to share information?

  • Can you ask people to make a short 3-minute Screencast of their input using a free online tool like Screencast-o-matic, or the many other options. This is fast, and easy, and can seemlessly incoporate a wide range of media in the 3-minutes (webcam, web page, video, still photos, etc.). It also creates an artefact that people can refer back to later, and help those who couldn’t come stay up-to-date. (Warning, if your staff meeting format is only information push in the form of one presentation after another with no or limited interaction, you could serve this purpose by just sending around an email with the links to all the screencast updates. Consider adding some interaction to your staff meeting to make it more logical to be there in person.)
  • Can you cluster presentations in a logical way so that there is a clear flow to them, this will help people follow the thread. Share your logic with the group and show it on the agenda which is in the room on a flipchart, so people can follow along and see how far they are in the sequence (two presentations to go, nearly there!)
  • Can presenters be given a template to prepare their input in the form of a “teaser”. In addition to a strict time limit (3-5 minutes – use a bell or the timer on your smart phone and be strict and equitable), the teasers could include: key facts, why this is important to us all, how staff members can help the presenter or vica versa, and where to get/give more information. Have this template list on a flip chart in the room to remind the speaker. Make a job aid – like a credit card sized card – and give it to everyone at a staff meeting, so they always know how to prepare if they are giving an input at a future Staff Meeting.
  • If you have a longer update to share, can you provide it in the form of a Quiz? Draw out the key message and craft a 5 or 10 question fun multiple choice/true-false quiz (making quizzes fun is an art!) Have people take the quiz as a Table, and take time as you go through the answers to share the information you want to provide (always giving the group the opportunity to answer first). Give shareable prizes to the table that gets the most answers and be prepared for a multi-way tie. I would even say have enough of the prizes – wrapped small chocolates, etc – that everyone gets them or the winning table can share them with all.   (See this blog post for some ideas on how to use quizzes as learning opportunities: Want to Learn More? Take a Quiz )

Collect Information

  • Staff meetings are really mini-workshops. Why not use the multitude of workshop techniques to crowdsource ideas from your group? Perhaps start with a How to Have a Great Staff Meeting brainstorming exercise. Here’s one example of how to do this – we used storytelling to generate a discussion that provided us with ample ideas for how to improve staff meetings in one organization, see this blog post for a description: Using Storytelling to Generate Ideas: We just went to a great staff meeting – what happened?
  • If the information you want to collect is a little sensitive, why not use an online polling tool such as polleverywhere.com to ask the group questions, allow for anonymous responses and visualise on a screen in real time the collective answers from the group – from which type of end of year party we want, to which of these options for office rearrangement is preferable, you can ask these questions using this online polling software. All you need is for everyone to bring their phone with them – people will be very curious if the invitation to the Staff Meeting includes a line that says, Please bring your cell phone…

Encourage Collaboration

  • Using Open Space Technology as a technique in a staff meeting  can help satisfy the first two purposes above, as well as encourage collaboration. In its purest application, it allows the group to create the agenda on the spot, and allows people to choose what they are most interested in hearing more about and contributing to. Small parallel conversations are scheduled (you can also do this in advance if people are responsive), and marked tables (A,B,C) help people know where to go for which conversation – whether they want to hear more about the new Sustainability Policy, or about what that successful project in East Africa is learning. It also means that you can’t go to everything. Through 1-minute teasers before the start of the Open Space session, staff members can get a sense of what each table host will talk about and what they need from the group. This helps people choose where to spend their time, and enables them to follow-up with the person later if they couldn’t attend that conversation (or even if they did).
  • Of course, asking any speakers to explicitly note what kind of help or input they would like from their colleagues (see template information above) also opens doors to collaboration. Speakers in Staff Meetings tend to just share facts, encourage them to ask questions.

Build Relationships and Energise

  • The interactive techniques mentioned above can take you far into this social capital building territory for your staff meeting. Quizzes, prizes, small group focused discussions, creative screencasts, and more. What about having a featured person each Staff Meeting whose name is pulled from a hat and gets to answer the Proust Questionnaire on the spot? (See: Workshop Games Everywhere: Even from Proust and Vanity Fair) Even the cost of coffee and croissants seems minimal when you consider how much you are already investing in bringing team members together in the staff meeting!

These collective moments are incredibly valuable in the life of a team. They go far in setting the tone and sharing the values of the management and the team members. As we have seen, they cost a lot and can do a great deal. They are, as the bottom line, worth taking the time to prepare them beautifully and thoughtfully. This care demonstrates their value, and communicates the respect for the time and attention of the team members who are there and contributing to your collective work.

A final thought, staff meetings as a regular occurrence can also be programmed over time. Instead of seeing them as one-offs all the time, can you think of them as 10 one-hour mini-workshops over a 5-month period? Can you iteratively programme in something that the team is working on or contributing to over the whole period (this can complement the weekly updates or other work done in the Staff Meeting). This can be effective for change management or strategic planning goals, and as long as the team has visibility over the longer-term purpose and how the individual staff meetings fit together, they will be happy to contribute.

Wouldn’t you like your team to walk out of the room after an hour together saying, “I just went to a great staff meeting“?

 

(Just a note: One type of training course in the Bright Green Learning Academy focuses on design different kinds of meetings and workshops – there is a specific half-day course on designing Effective Staff Meetings, as well as Team Retreats, Strategic Planning, Multi-Stakeholder Dialogues, and Partnership Scoping workshops. Our course schedule is on our website, and we will be posting our new course calendar for Fall 2017 in the next few days!)

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Holiday Craft for Facilitators, Moderators and Speakers: DIY Speaking Cards

You are speaking, facilitating, moderating, or MCing at a BIG event.

You are in front of dozens, hundreds, a thousand people, and you are introducing people with big names and long titles.

The lights are bright, the video camera rolling, surrounded by a buzzing room full of eager participants. Can you remember all those names, important titles, their honours and awards, and in the right sequence up there on stage?

You need some notes! But you don’t want to hold those crinkly printed white papers, or a handful of index cards that might accidentally flutter down to the floor like snowflakes, mixing themselves gleefully all around your feet.

Here’s an easy DIY craft for the holidays (she said only partly kidding, because when you really need them you might not have the time or patience to make them, or the right materials, so think ahead!)

You need just a few simple supplies:

Materials:

  • Rectangular facilitation cards in the color of your choice – maybe a different colour every day, one that matches your clothes, or the branding of the event?
  • White paper to cut to size.
  • Scissors
  • Glue stick
  • Hole punch
  • Pen
  • Ring (that opens, I bought a pack of these in an office store)
Make your cards: 
  1. Cut the papers to size so they fit into the middle of the card and don’t leave too much extra space, but a nice frame (remember people will see this in your hands).
  2. With the glue stick, stick the white paper on the card on one side (leave the back blank OR put your logo or the event logo on the back.) I think a plain colour back looks less fussy.
  3. Punch a hole in the upper left hand corner – try to put the hole in the same place for every card so they aren’t uneven in your hands.
  4. Put the ring through. Click!
  5. Number the cards (still helpful so you know where you are.)
  6. Write your notes on one side of each of the cards.
  7. Feel happy that your notes look good, they won’t get out of order, and you will remember everything to make things run smoothly and give you peace of mind!

Happy Holidays and Happy Facilitating from Bright Green Learning!!

The Parachuted Presenter’s Promise

You have received an invitation to fly to another continent to deliver a one-hour training presentation within the context of a longer, carefully designed workshop, on an important subject that you know a great deal about.

You are a Parachuted Presenter, dropping in to share some wisdom that can be helpful, hopefully, to the group as they go forward with their project, programme or task.

Here is the Parachuted Presenter’s Promise – Please sign on the dotted line:

I will…

  • Be available in the weeks and days before hand to skype or connect with the organizers about my session.
  • Ask questions and inform myself about the wider agenda so that I can connect my content most effectively to what is going on and the specific objectives of the programme.
  • Send in my materials and equipment needs and any PPT or other presentation materials well in advance (and double check that they have been received). (Corollary: I will not send them in the morning of my session to someone who is in the session and won’t see them until the moment I go on.)
  • Come into the session before mine to listen in, get to know the participants a little, see how I can best connect my content to the overall discussion, and get a feel for the tone of the workshop.
  • Take a moment to talk to the main session facilitator to see, from her perspective and understanding of the overall flow, how I can best connect my content to what is going on around it.
  • Check in with the main facilitator prior to my session to see if timing has changed at all, whether it has shifted to another time, or changed in terms of length as I know that my intervention is connected to everything else that is going on in the workshop. I will be flexible.
  • Tell the main session facilitator how to introduce me and frame my intervention (if I have not been able to do that in advance.)
  • Come in early to see if the room is set up in the way I would like it, and check that my presentation materials have been loaded and tested.
  • Bring my own specialised materials if I need them.
  • Keep track of time during my session, and stay within my allocated time. I know that I am not the only presenter and that time is a common pool resource that we have to manage together, even if I have flown in from 3791 miles away.
Signed ______________________________ (Parachuted Presenter)
As the main session facilitator, I thank you very much for your understanding. I am doing a million other things and I really appreciate that you have checked your assumptions about what is and isn’t and that you take full responsibility for the success of your session, so that we all can be happy about contributing to a great meeting.
(…and when I am a Parachuted Presenter, I will do the same!)
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Too Good to Be True? Is Your Consultation Workshop Going Too Well?

I had the great honour and pleasure to be the process steward for a multi-stakeholder consultation recently around a complex new idea (which is exactly when you want and need a multi-stakeholder consultation) in the sustainable development field. The issue was one that had significant potential environmental, social, economic and political implications that people and their organizations felt very strongly about. In the room were representatives from a number of sectors – multi-national corporations, government officials, NGO and civil society actors, etc.-, and the potential for a good deal of power asymmetry to be expressed.

Pre-work for the consultation had shown a diversity of opinion on our topic. This 2-day face-to-face meeting needed to surface all the reactions, opposition, ideas, and suggestions from this diverse group of experts in order to make the idea more robust, more applicable and have more chance of success. Among our desired outcomes, we wanted to be able to anticipate and address the wants and needs of the sectors and organizations that could be implementing it in the future. We were clearly discussing a good idea with a lot of potential, thus the good turnout to the invitation to join, and the high level of attention and engagement of the people in the room.

The consultation process was designed to maximise the contribution that every individual participant could make, their opportunities to provide comments to each aspect of the idea, and the time they would have to explain the rationale behind their input. The focus for the committee presenting the idea was to listen deeply, be curious and ask good probing questions to further their understanding. At the foundation of this consultation was the firm belief that any question, input, challenge from the group could only make the idea better, more appropriate and more applicable in its second iteration. So we needed maximum authenticity and a safe space to share what might be opposing views.

This post isn’t actually about the process that we used to do this – that’s another article that I will write at some point. This post focuses on an observation that provided some powerful learning for me about the assumptions we all hold and bring into our processes and work with other people.

The first day of our consultation went very smoothly. The group was high-level, well prepared and worked together diligently to provide comments, document them – discussing, analysing and developing some very useful key messages from their small group analysis. There was laughter periodically in the room in spite of the seriousness of the topic, great questions were asked, the wall templates were filling up with colourful nuggets of incredibly useful and thoughtful contributions. Everything looked rosy.

I was getting very nice feedback from people at the end of the day and during our group dinner. And then the question came.  A member of the idea committee asked earnestly, are people being too nice?

Where’s the clash? Where’s the conflict? Are people giving their real opinions? This took me a little aback. I would say in a very useful way. It gave me the opportunity to think about assumptions (which I always enjoy) – all the different assumptions that people hold that are creating the reality we are sharing. Including me.

I could see that the assumption on the part of the person earnestly questioning if we were getting what we needed, was that difference in opinion in their experience was signaled by overt public disagreement, which can lead to passionate speeches, high emotion and possibly visible conflict in a face-to-face meeting of minds. This was clearly absent in our process so it caused a question mark to pop up for this person and then a desire to go around and check with people to see how they felt about the environment we had created to provide inputs. Hmmm, interesting.  I felt my face – was I wearing rose-coloured glasses?

For me, as the process steward and facilitator, my assumption was that people were happy because they were able to provide their viewpoints in a structured and constructive way. So the absence of open conflict was a sign that the process was providing them this opportunity, and so they were satisfied and comfortable, able to both provide their views and get to know each other and laugh from time to time. I actually very rarely have any kind of open conflict in my workshops and processes because I try to use different methodologies that aim to capture all inputs (rather than those of the loudest or most persistent), provide anonymity when needed, value inputs through multiple levels of discussion and analysis that allows people to work with ideas rather than refute them. I use Appreciative Inquiry to inform my question articulation and keep the pace moving and visually stimulating, and mostly out of long, open, unstructured plenary sessions where speechifying and checking your email is tempting, and the feeling that you are not making progress is tiring.

So the question made me usefully pause and notice again my assumptions and gave me an opportunity to check in with the group. This was a good idea for all – it would help me understand if the process was providing space to capture opposition to our central ideas (rather than being designed  for harmony at the cost of good input), it would help the person who feared that the lack of open and vociferous dissent meant that people were being too nice (and that nice meant no opposition); it would reinforce our principle for participants that all views were appreciated – the good, the bad and the ugly. We wanted them all!

I decided not to just ask the BIG question to the group in plenary at the beginning of Day 1, as that would be a risky format to do it and in that situation people might not feel comfortable to single themselves out and speak up in the awkward silence after such a question so early in the morning. So instead for the next set of discussions around the inputs, which were a little higher level and bigger picture, we asked for the “elephant in the room” (things that have not been spoken but need to be spoken) as well as key messages from their analysis and small group discussion.

The addition of that little question worked very well. It was an unexpected visual, amusing and energising question at that moment in the consultation (we were talking about biodiversity and had already spoken about elephants once in a more realistic context). Groups could identify one big elephant or a herd of small elephants. It invited everyone to think about what might be some of the underlying and potentially unspoken or softly spoken issues, at any level, of our consultation.

It also gave another way to analyse the patterns of the contributions, and it allowed us to see if there was anything new that we had not heard rumbling up before, or if the elephants identified now were more thought-through conceptualisations of things that had been emerging but perhaps not yet fully formed in all the different discussion activities as we went along. We found more of the latter which was heartening and also found it to be a valuable way, towards the end of our consultation, to help summarise and crystalise collectively the most important action areas for the idea moving forward.

It’s not often that you get a stop-and-think-question like, “Is this going too well?” that helps you test your assumptions (and those of others) while you still have everyone in the room. In the end, the consultation went well, the energy in the room was high, and we got those comments, ideas, gaps and elephants, with and without my rose-coloured glasses.

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Large Meeting Challenge: Call for Proposals Produces Too Many for Parallel Sessions? Take a Blended Approach

You put out a call for proposals for your large meeting coming up and your enthusiastic community responds with many ideas – way too many in fact for the traditional parallel break-out session format that was envisioned. What can you do about this? This is a good question and an issue for many large-scale gatherings.
Actually, this is a good problem to have as interactivity and community relationship building and networking are often why people come to these large events, but more often than not they get panel discussions and lines of speakers (see Duncan Green’s rant on this in Conference Rage and Why We Need a War on Panels).  So you are starting well, with many people attending interested in contributing and sharing their ideas. 
The traditional break-out room format is not necessarily bad, but it can be without good guidance, or if you are trying to fold too many things together. If they are endless, very large, anonymous and all have the same large panel and Q&A format, then people can “get lost” or skip these more easily if they are tired or use the time to squeeze in that last meeting before they leave.

Consider mixing it up, you can actually schedule all of these types of sessions into your large meeting:


  1. Parallel Session Breakouts:  Have the parallel session breakouts on one day with the strongest proposals and the most interesting proposed formats. Consider providing a template before the call for submissions that has questions that guide people into considering how to make it interesting and interactive and give Panels as one of many formats to consider, with some guidance on how to do these in the most interesting way (e.g. 2 or 3 panelists with juxtaposing views, rather than 9 people who just want to say their 3 minutes regardless of the topic.) These can be good with more complex topics that need time to develop and can have interesting methodologies included within if there are competent facilitators working with the organizers – crowdsourcing, storytelling, carousel discussions, etc. 
  2. Hold an Open Space Technologysession for one of the 2 hour blocks –  after lunch is a good time as people will move around a little and small, self-selected discussions can be more refreshing. And it gives the hosts a little more time to prepare.  I often modify the traditional format slightly. This could be in the main plenary room and could feature 15-20 parallel conversations with two rounds of 45 min each (I’ve also tried this with 30 minutes and more rounds, but it tends to feel too rushed and short then). These parallel table discussions with hosts are scheduled in advance with numbered tables and a “key messages” template to record any ideas and outputs from the conversations. These are good for brainstorming and getting feedback on ideas. 
  3. Hold an Open Mike time, or a Pecha Kucha (or an Ignite), or TED-like talk stage where people get a limited, set amount of time and are video’ed professionally. Hold it in a “studio” type room so that people/audience attending is good and a bonus, but peripheral. Pick the submissions for this that are more ‘show and tell’. You can do the filming over lunch each day and invite people to come and watch but tell them (truthfully) that there is limited space (that often encourages people more!)  Some of these talks could be featured in the formal plenary programme here and there as appropriate as they are short targeted interventions. In addition, as TED does, you can feature them throughout the year in your newsletters with a little blurb and add in video links to other communications. It is always nice to promote the work of members, and this is in their own words. 
  4.  Digital Poster Exhibition: You could also run a digital poster contest. Invite people with appropriate submissions to design an e-poster. Then have a number of large screens in busy places (the coffee area, lunch room, etc.) where the e-posters are displayed for 3-5 min each and change all the time, like a billboard. You can also feature these e-posters on the conference website, and archive them. Each one could have the photo of the person presenting it and inviting people to approach them for more information (face-to-face or by email).  The e-posters could have a custom e-template that people fill in, which could be a website template potentially and provide people with fields to complete with a title, text (e.g. 500 words), upload photos, add links, contact information, web URL, etc. Award prizes for the top 5 posters and announce them in the plenary and show them there. Let the audience vote on it for the prizes, or have the organizing team do that. 

And there are other formats that can also work, this is just a selection and to demonstrate what can be combined to showcase the different kinds of proposals you might receive. This blended format can also allow you to say “yes” to all of those who submitted proposals to share. The advantage of adding in points 3 and 4 above, is that in addition to an on-site F2F experience, they also give you video and image content to use later in your communications and learning and training materials, as case studies of what members are doing, etc. This adds additional value to participants as you are helping them disseminate their messages beyond who’s in the room at your large meeting. 

For each of these, produce good guidelines and templates. This is not to put square pegs into round holes, but to help guide people in their thinking about what good practice is for each of these formats. This takes a little more concerted effort to produce at the onset, and any follow up coaching you could provide is a bonus, but this can be welcome capacity development contribution back to your participants – as with highly active community members, your large scale event probably won’t be the only one they attend this year! (Try to make it one of their favorites)

(Want to learn more about our work? Sign up for our Bright Green Learning Academy Newsletter Collaboration by Design here.)

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Bring Your Workshops Alive with the Sound of Music: Creating a Sonic Landscape

I facilitated a big global workshop last week- some 190 people attended- where we used music in a number of different ways in the event. First, as it was a large group, we used it for crisp starts and stops to our sessions: the music stopping gave a subtle audio cue to people, signalling a transition from the informal networking time, to the formal start of our session (more elegant than me shouting in the microphone for everyone to sit down).  We used it just prior to the start of the after lunch sessions to give an energy boost after the hour spent enjoying the lunch buffet. And we used music at the end of the day to create the mood for reflection and to usher in a reception and other evening events. We also wanted local music to give people the feeling of being in the host country (because we spent a lot of our time indoors in a space that could have been located anywhere on the planet). It also filled the vast, high-ceiling-ed and rather anonymous ballroom with warmth making our conversations feel more intimate.

Music can be a wonderful and useful instrument (pun intended) for a process designer when planning the choreography of an event. But I find it is one seldom used. TED does a good job of selecting songs with messages in the lyrics to start coffee breaks, and then tends to end those breaks with short videos (that can again have the effect of forward attention getting and a crisp start.)  Other than that it seems that music is infrequently  considered in a deliberate fashion to help create the overall atmosphere for dialogue and learning.  

What it takes to put a workshop to music

There might be some reasons for this – adding music adds tasks to the long list of materials, equipment, roles and responsibilities for a workshop. You need audio equipment, speakers, a playlist, and someone paying close attention to cue and cut the music. More importantly, you need a special talent to create the playlist in the first place – someone with a good broad knowledge of music who can select just the right piece for the right mood and, if there are lyrics, appropriate ones. All this adds considerable time to what might already be a busy and finely tuned event.

Not as easy as it sounds

Recently at our Bright Green Learning Academy training (Module 8: Practicing Facilitation Approaches and Methodologies) one of our participants ran a brainstorming on this exact topic: which pieces of music fit where in a workshop design? Interestingly, although it seemed an easy task, we all found it incredibly difficult to do on the fly, and found that some of our individual great ideas were certainly a matter of taste. The big lesson: Creating the sonic fabric of the workshop takes encyclopedic musical knowledge, careful consideration and time, but it can have thrilling effects when done astutely.

It turned out that the person who ran the exercise in our Module is himself a music aficionado and he took the exercise a step further a couple of weeks ago. He took a set of criteria  given to him by the meeting facilitator and used his own vast musical knowledge to create a sound design for an evening workshop (a Toastmasters meeting).

Here is what he proposed, with at least two suggestions for each part of the meeting. The jazzy feel matched the demographic in attendance and the after-hours feel of the evening event. Read through his proposals below and see if you can feel the surge of the music as the event progresses and the deliberate sonic ebb and flow proposed. Notice his thinking behind the choices:

Entrance: Soft energy/welcoming
Entrance:   Stan Getz & the Oscar Peterson Trio  
Why? Easy and welcoming.
or 
Chet Baker 


Break:   Higher energy  
Break:    John Coltrane  – My Favourite Things  
Why? This piece is lively and gives a great jazz take on a known melody.  It’s also 13:30 minutes;  just right for the break period.

John Coltrane  – My Favourite Things
or
Stan Getz & Bill Evans  (sax & piano) 
or 
John Coltrane  – A Love Supreme   (a bit livelier)
Exit:   Positive vibe for teamwork and a good send-off: 
Exit:    Uptown funk (sax cover)  followed by Blue Train
Why? As the meeting ends, cue up this tune (Uptown Funk) and play it right after that final gavel hits the President’s desk.  There is a punctuated start to the piece which gives way to the funky sax solo.  It’s an attention grabber.  It’s says ‘Hey look here!’  and conveys a positive feeling for the exit. The piece however, is only 4 minutes long!   Bear this in mind because it is good enough as a punctuation mark to the evening but not long enough to keep things flowing for the 30-minute cleanup.Therefore, follow it up with Blue Train which will easily carry you through the length of the clean-up process. Just mind the time of the first track.  You’ll need to make a smooth transition after the first song ends without there being a gap of silence which lasts too long. This confuses the listeners and puts a glitch in the sonic fabric (and we don’t want that!) 

Uptown Funk:   Sax cover of Bruno Mars’ Uptown funk.   (Lively funky sax send-off)
or
Play that funky music:  Sax cover
followed by:  
John Coltrane  – Blue Train
Sounds technical…
The technology to add music to your meeting or workshop doesn’t have to be complicated,  For smaller meetings you can connect to the songs on YouTube from your telephone or iPad and broadcast them on a speaker via a Bluetooth connection.  For larger events like my conference, you need a sound system, but if you are showing any videos during the event you will probably have already amplifiers  hooked up and available
Bringing your workshops alive with the sound of music definitely takes some careful work, but using music strategically in your event can add real richness and energy to the learning landscape, connecting with people on a different level, and might help take your collaboration and results to new heights. 
(A big thanks to Christian Kranicke for his excellent soundscaping and for being willing to share it!)
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The Many Benefits of a Beautiful and Peaceful Place to Work

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This is not a holiday snapshot, it’s actually a photograph from the balcony of one of my recent workshop venues – the Bellagio Center, in Bellagio, Italy, on the shores of Lake Como.

I had long heard of this venue, but my first visit was only recently, for a scoping meeting of an interesting new social enterprise initiative called Sphaera (the subject of a future blog post).

Some groups hold their workshops a short walk down the hall from their offices. Some go a little off site to a nearby hotel or conference centre, not wanting to have to go too far to gather their participants together but wanting something a little different for a change of context. And yet others put a lot of effort into finding just the right gathering spot that will help participants bring their best and most relaxed and creative selves to the task at hand. Even if it means a little extra time and travel to get there.

Environment definitely affects people’s ability to work effectively and creatively. I have been to many workshops held in square, grey institutional rooms looking out at parking lots (if they had windows) that took a heroic effort on everyone’s part to get inspired and energised for a hard working session to develop their new partnership, strategic plan, or vision. When the food is so-so, and the bed rooms are so-so, added to weather or logistics hassles, no matter how well structured your event is, you are starting on the back foot with your people.

Now come with me to Bellagio, Italy for a moment – a visual feast every moment of the day (even in the rain), with cozy villa rooms to sleep and work in, served meals that always start with drinks in the drawing room or on the balcony. Winding lanes, vast gardens and olive trees to walk and talk, 24-hour coffee nooks, and bikes to borrow to follow signs to the swimming gate for before or after-hours exercise. Far from any large, noisy urban area (although gelati within a short walk) there is not a sound at night that can disturb deep sleep. What’s not to love?

I pulled out three immediately obvious benefits from working in a peaceful and beautiful place:

  • Presence: It is often hard for busy people working 150+ percent to stop the noise in their brains long enough to focus on your agenda and goals, even if they have a vested interest. If they are close to home or their offices, they tend to disappear from time to time, or try in all the breaks keep up as much as possible with their full-time work load. Give them a magical place to work and shorten that transition time from crazy busy to creative. They will be present not only physically, but mentally because where they are with you for work is better than almost anywhere else they could be. They will still try to keep up on email in the evenings at least for the first day or so, but there will be a lot to get and keep their attention here.
  • Pace: Sequestered as we were in villas that were over 500 years old, watching sailboats o the lake float by, walking up and down the hill to our meetings and meals, hearing the lazy buzz of bees on banks of flowers, a beautiful ruin of a castle reminding you of the slow march of time  – things slow down dramatically in a place like this. With your focus on the one thing you are there to do together, your pace slows down dramatically  – from the full throttle dash to keep up or catch up through frenetic full-time multi-tasking, to a measured, considered and thoughtful cadence (aah, so this is what life should be like).
  • People: So now with your head up (rather than on your screen) and in an awe-inspiring environment, you begin to notice those people around you, also attending your meeting. You have time for them, and wonderful places to get to know them. You enjoy the beauty of the place together, you sit in the garden for your small group discussion with your shoes off and your bare feet on the grass, the sun just starting to set over the top of the villa. You remember that drinks are being served in 30 minutes on the terrace and you finish your discussion on creative ways to bring more learning into the process under discussion. 

People are comfortable in this venue, they smile and laugh easily and before your very eyes, people are connecting, relationships are being built, and there is a desire to collaborate and co-create. Nice! (I just got a big rush of peaceful and productivity just looking at these photos and remembering my week at Bellagio.)

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    Encouraging and Evaluating Impacts from MEGA-Conferences

    Colloque BIOFILMS 5 à Paris.

    They cost millions to put on and convene the best and brightest of a community – how can you channel that collective strength for collective impact and, in the end, how can you tell?

    I just returned from 7th World Water Forum in Korea, where numbers of attendees were reported at 41,000 people. I also worked at the 6th World Water Forum in 2012, with 35,000 people. That’s a lot of talent in one place.

    Is there an Expectation of Learning and Impact?

    It is interesting to think about the cost-benefit for individuals and organizations for participation in such an event. If you were on the Learning Team for such an event (do these events have learning teams – maybe that is Suggestion #1!), what might be some of the ways to first, identify desired learning (organizational and individual level), foster that learning through design and format, help record outcomes for monitoring and sharing, and see what changes people are making based on their learning and participation?

    I’ve seen and worked with some different approaches and, taken together, they make for an interesting thought exercise and potentially an opportunity. Here are a few ideas for consideration.

    1) Use a Facilitation Team to ensure interactive learning in Conference Sessions

    Conference don’t have to be panel after panel of 9 speakers giving their ideas from a podium of behind a table and a short Q&A (IF the speakers don’t go over their time) for those bold enough to stand up in front of hundreds, or lucky enough to get the attention of the person with the roving microphone.

    Interactive learning is possible even for very large groups, and even in theatre set up (although round tables are MUCH better – this can work for 400-600 people in a ballroom, at least it has for us in the preparatory meetings for the 6th and 7th World Water Forum.) I have written a blog post about facilitating large groups (When Numbers Soar: Facilitating Large Groups) and it is certainly possible with good design and professional and confident execution. It might take a moment to flip your audience from passive half-listening/texting observers to active contributors, but once you have their attention the opportunity engage and crowdsource ideas, suggestions, solutions, etc. from such a large group is incredible.

    A good facilitation team can also help create consistency and support reflective practice throughout the event, when these questions and practices are built consistently into the agenda of events. With the whole facilitation team introducing this in all parallel events.

    2) Introduce a Conference Activity Handbook

    At another large conference I facilitated recently, we created an Activity Handbook that was put into each conference pack, and had a couple of different purposes. First, it guided participants through the conference, each session had an entry that engaged the participant in some way, from a place to write their goals for the event (Session 1), to places to record answers to specific technical questions, a self-assessment that started one session, a quiz to warm up on another, an action planning template for the final Session (to record follow-up to the conference of people, ideas) etc.

    The resulting Handbook once completed, was a take-home artifact from the conference that reminded the participant of his or her learning, thoughts, ideas, and actions. It also included other key information – contact information, URLs of resources, etc. all in one place. But unlike any Conference brochure, this participants interacted with daily and became a living record of THEIR event.

    Even in a larger event where people are moving around to different activities all the time, such an Activity Handbook could be helpful to guide people through their experience and structure reflection. If there are facilitators, they could start and end their sessions with a reflection question recorded in the workbook (“Open your Activity Handbook to page 16 and take a minute to reflect on what you want to learn today – make a few notes for yourself and I will give you a couple of minutes to share this with the person sitting next to you”,or “What was the most important key message from the sessions you attended today”, “What is one thing you might do to follow up on something you learned today?” etc.)

    If people need an added incentive to complete their Activity Handbook, offer a completion gift to those who complete their book, such as a mug or water bottle with the conference logo, available in the exhibition area at Stand X – ask people to come towards the end and show their completed booklet for this gift. (There was such a gift at the recent World Water Forum, although you only needed to answer a few questions to get it, but almost all people I spoke to found their way to the exhibition hall stand with their voucher to collect it). As people get these items in their conference bags anyways, why not give them a little homework to get it?

    3) Ask Organizers to Develop and Participants to Contribute to Next Action Plans

    One of the features of the World Water Forum process was the expected output of an Implementation Roadmap (IR) from the different thematic streams of the conference (every conference seems to have an organizing principle of some sort – often thematic). The organizers’ reporting templates from the different thematic sessions were made consistent with this and individual session organizers were asked to collect ideas from participants in their sessions that could be integrated into a thematic IR.
    The idea of this Implementation Roadmap was to capture in one place all the ideas and actions that stakeholders attending identified and felt are helping achieve some desired change in their subject area, so that they can be executed after the conference and this execution monitored. Each IR had one or more coordinating organizations who volunteered for this role (because it is central to their work), and participants in their sessions could indicate how these Implementation Roadmaps could improve, if they wanted to be involved in follow up, and what they could contribute.

    Of course this only works if there is engagement and good coordination prior to the conference, real interactivity in the sessions (see Facilitation above) and if there are resources made available (time, energy and potentially funds) for this follow-up. The organizers must take this seriously and support it. More information on the IR process can be found on the 7th World Water Forum website. As this event is each 3 years, Coordinating organizations can be asked to report on progress and results from their Implementation Roadmap work. Central coordination over the interim period to keep momentum is an important additional role for the main organizer. Without this, probably only a small percentage of these would produce results, based on the sheer will and investment of the thematic coordinators.

    4) Follow Selected Individuals for a Conference Impact Study

    We did a Curriculum Impact Study at LEAD International when I was the Director of Capacity Development there and this was a really interesting and effective way to see how a learning experience impacted individuals participating in the programme. This could be an interesting addition to a large conference M&E and learning process, and help answer the questions – what changed? and was it worth it?

    In the LEAD process, we identified a select cross-section of participants (different countries and different sectors – we had 18 in total), and invited them to participate in our study. This process took some time, so they had to be aware of that and committed (in the case of a conference, could they get a reduction on their conference fee by participating?) We started prior to the formal learning events, and went on for a designated period afterwards.

    The study started and ended with an interview that we administered. The initial Orientation Interview included key questions that established a base-line of the individual and their organization, and identified an issue or issues that they and their organization would be dealing with over the next two years where they might apply their learning, etc. After the initial interview (also to explain the process), the exercise was journal-based (there were three Journals) with key reflection questions at periodic points that were triggered by dates, reminders, and email. The journals were collected and analysed (and returned) and case studies following the learning and learning application process of the individuals were written (not using the original names and organizational names).

    This impact study provided a more detailed way to understand the impact of the programme on their professional and personal lives. Based on your overall goal of a conference (such as more conservation impact on the ground), such a study could help understand what participants do to prepare, engage during and integrate into their practice afterwards. It also helps identify places where the organizers can support participants more – maybe the preparation needs to be more directed and different, maybe the sessions need to be more interactive and engaging – as people spent most of their time in the exhibition hall (or maybe more needs to be programmed there), or more support in identifying or using the learning, etc. This kind of impact study of individual’s experience with your mega event can give insight into this.

    5) Design a More Deliberate Learning Programme

    All of the above need good design, preparation, coordination, guidance, consistency across a complex event with many moving parts. Lessons? This needs coordination, guidance, and consistency, and a central team with an overview of the learning goals and enough advance time to prepare the different elements so that the experience is reinforced throughout the conference.

    Of course, this also costs money, but then you just invested millions to get everyone there. Doesn’t it make sense to invest a little more to make sure you get as much impact out of the conference as possible?

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    Working with Values and Frames: Practical Lessons for Process Designers and Facilitators


    With thanks to Guest blogger: Cristina Apetrei 
    Back in January my friend Gillian and I were planning to go together to a Common Cause workshop, but we both cancelled last minute due to work obligations. When six months later I did manage to attend a similar event, she was very eager to hear what I learned and kindly invited me to write a guest blog post to share my experience with all of you.

    Common Cause is an initiative started in 2009 by several NGOs in the UK who wanted to engage in a broader conversation about the values at the core of our society and what is needed in order to get more public engagement around various global (sustainability) issues. In an initial report – Common Cause: The Case for Working with our Cultural Values (September 2010) – they looked at social psychology and cognitive science to investigate the relationship between values and behaviour. Later some of these findings were summarized in the Common Cause Handbook – which I recommend as a quick introduction to this discussion, although the full report is much richer.

    The main practical conclusion is quite simple: An organization might well be striving for a certain idealistic goal, but it will not be very effective as long as it communicates in a language that enhances values which conflict with that goal. Therefore, we should always pay attention to how we frame and contextualize our messages, and be on the lookout for the implicit values that are being reinforced

    Common Cause also says that some values are held more easily together by the same individual. To give an example, a campaign that frames the installation of solar panels as a way to save money on the energy bill reinforces the so-called “extrinsic value” of “wealth”. This value however is in conflict with values such as “protecting the environment” or “equality” that would be required for deeper engagement with the issue of climate change.

    But value communication goes beyond the text of a campaign or the copywriting of a website; it also includes the context of an event or the overall culture of an organization. No communication is value-neutral, the Common Cause report argues, so try to nurture intrinsic values (self-transcendence, see Figures 2 and 3 How Values Work) rather than extrinsic ones (self-enhancement) if you want to see behaviours aligned with bigger-than-self goals.

    Of course, one may read between the lines an implicit moral dimension here, suggesting that some values would be preferable to others, and this remains an open point for critique and debate. Nevertheless, I believe that the Common Cause approach at the very least makes us aware that not only are our behaviours determined by our values, but also that our actions shape the cultural value landscape that we are part of. As activists or sustainability workers, we are reminded that change does not happen in a vacuum, but requires a certain set of conditions to be met in our environment.

    This has implications also for the work of a process designer and a facilitator, whose art is precisely about creating a space that is favourable to a positive outcome. I try to give a few lessons below:

    1.      1. Think about the implicit frames and values of the participants
    a.   Understand existing frames: Consider not only what each participant sees as the problem and the solution, but also the cultural frames that they may be employing in their evaluation. What stories do they have about the issue at hand, who is to blame in their view, who should take responsibility and why?
    b.   Understand values: What underlying values do these frames elicit? Are these values compatible? Is the spectrum of values represented around the table very broad and what could be common ground for a solution?
    2.       2. There may be more space for agreement than it appears
    One of the findings of the Common Cause report is that people are not selfish, but value intrinsic goals more than their own interest. Also, appealing to people’s intrinsic values will over time reinforce them, while appealing to conflicting values will create confusion. If we take such insights as premises, how could the problems (or the difficult points) be reframed in a way that allows participants to more easily see the common ground?

    3.       3. The context of the facilitation session  and dialogue matters
    The space in which an event takes place also embeds certain values. To the extent to which you can influence the choice of the space and its setup, consider the following questions: Where does the session take place? Is it in a sumptuous room or is it on neutral ground, in an environment that makes everyone feel equal? What about group dynamics: who are the actors organizing the event and what is their relationship to the rest? Is there a speaker dominating the room or are hierarchies being reduced?


    Whether you are working as a researcher, consultant, activist or facilitator, I hope this post will make you a bit more aware of the subjective fabric behind words and inspire you to think of your own role in promoting some values over others.

    (From Gillian: Thanks so much to Cristina – also a Fellow Balaton Group Member –  for her intriguing post and report back from the Common Cause workshop – it sounds highly relevant, particularly to the communication and convening work that we all do continually in the sustainability community. Next time I will try to attend myself!)
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    Constructing Multi-stakeholder Processes: Paying Attention in the Blueprint Stage

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    Most multi-stakeholder processes convene a diversity of opinion around complex issues. They do so with the express mandate of surfacing these different perspectives and working with them – maybe even transforming them – to become the building blocks with which to construct an agreed and robust solution for an important challenge that the parties care about and would like to see change. Big!

    In addition, often the goal is to build something together that not one of the organizations could build successfully alone. Sometimes they need help. A neutral facilitator in the role of Chief Process Designer can work with the parties to help lay the foundation for a long lasting, stable outcome. This construction process takes authentic consultation and building a way forward together as the only real solution. And the intention to construct this solution together needs to be held strongly by all sides.

    However the gulf in the landscape between the organizations involved in a multi-stakeholder dialogue can be wide and strewn with obstacles that need to be cleared away before a new shared “structure” (project, programme, idea) can be created.

    This clearing and the co-creation process that follows doesn’t just start in the workshop room of the multi-stakeholder dialogue event. It starts from the first conversation that breaks ground for this new thing you are building together  – in the preparatory meetings, the calls, and the emails, that are the design discussions for the overall process.

    These initial design discussions offer a wonderful opportunity to build trust, to try to understand these different perspectives and to work together to create an agenda or a concept note – effectively the “blue prints” for the process –  that all parties can be happy with. If you are not watching closely however, this preparatory stage can also become an environment which may model what you don’t want to happen in the workshop room of your consultation process.

    How can you see the preparation stage as a virtual “hard hat zone”, where everyone needs to be careful and notice potential pitfalls and other possible obstacles that might make your work together less smooth or according to plan? You need to make sure that the pattern and tone of the preparatory dialogue and exchange is what you seek overall in your process. Everyone needs to watch that the attitudes and opinions (even at this initial stage of concept notes, budgets and agendas) are being expressed, shared and received in a way that assures creativity and co-creation instead of precipitating reactions that are more positional (because it is easy to take a position in an environment of so much difference.)

    One important thing to look out for is your own stance as a facilitator. Even the facilitator can become a party to this. For example, the facilitator might be tempted to flash their “Chief Process Engineer” badge, and dig in their heels on the process design when suggestions for changes coming in don’t seem to work from their own expert frame. If they don’t notice their own positional stance, this can further exacerbate a fragile situation, or if they can be aware enough to notice it, name it and change it, it can be enormously helpful to group learning in the process.

    We want people in the end of our design process to be happy with the blueprints we’re drafting together, whatever they end up being. Just the same as at the end of our consultation process we want people to be happy with their collaborative work and proud of the beautiful new thing that they built together.

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    Do You Really Want Results?

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    As facilitators (and human beings) we make all kinds of assumptions about what people want out of the workshops and processes we help them run. Some of these assumptions might be around getting results, or at least the sheer volume of results we can help a group of people generate over a day or two.

    It is typical at the end of our workshops that the walls are covered
    with flipcharts, completed templates, prioritised ideas, timelines, and next action sheets. We regularly put groups to work on key questions and then
    after reporting seek from the group their observations about the
    results  – what patterns do they see? What additional meaning can they
    derive when you put all this work together? We ask for reflections and take away messages. We might capture these nuggets of insight on cards or paper,  and quickly we have mountains of data that we facilitators
    assume are equally and fantastically valuable to the hosts of the event.

    While these ideas and summaries look like gold to us, we might instead
    encounter a programme manager who looks at the wealth of raw data and
    asks at the end of the workshop, “What am I supposed to do with all this?”

    Well, unless the process needs to be minuted for transparency or
    accountability reasons (and sometimes this might actually be the case), I see no reason why every single post-it note or flipchart needs to be typed
    up and put into a long, dry verbatim report, that potentially no one will use. Sometimes a simple photo report (like the ones I make in Penultimate – see blog post Fast and Easy Workshop Reports with Penultimate) will do as the archive of raw outputs. This can then be crystalized into a more useful and meaningful short report, with decisions and next actions concisely summarised.

    We all need to remember that workshop activities can serve different purposes. Some might produce concrete written results, but some might be designed to produce softer, more intangible results, such as team development, warming up for a creative brainstorming, or helping to shift mindsets or attitudes. These latter activities might come and go with no written trace, with results only to be experienced in a more harmonious working atmosphere or a particularly innovative outcome later on.

    Some discussions might be most useful for peer learning, so people might take their own notes of what is most useful to them. If the group has a central repository for group learning, this could be still be archived for on-demand learning in the future. In which case perhaps only highlights, contact /persons and places to go for more information need be captured in a searchable format (sent by email and/or uploaded on an online platform).

    Sometimes the results produced are for the participants and sometimes they are just for you. For the latter, it might be most useful to let “results” pass in an ephemeral way, or with some discreet note taking on a notepad by the facilitator or project manager. Such as the answers to the following questions: How easy was it for you to contribute to this exercise? What did you enjoy about the day, what would you like to be different tomorrow? No need to capture these things on a flipchart. Unless of course you want to refer back to it again at the end of the next day to see how you did, but that seems heavy handed unless the process of the day was a train wreck (and hopefully that would NEVER be the case).

    So as facilitators we might sometimes get a little carried away with
    writing things down and capturing everything.

    And our host organisations might get carried away too. It might be the case some times that our counterparts  think they want to know something but really they don’t have the latitude to make the changes that might arise from a highly generative exercise. Or they might be working with a different timeframe (short term vs. long term) or they might have other parameters, such as budget or human resources, that pose boundaries that need to be carefully explained to a group before it starts its work. As without careful consideration of these, the results are rendered almost useless.

    So the discussion of results forms an important part of the
    consultation stage of a facilitation design process. It needs to happen at the overall workshop level, but also for each session and activity. Facilitators much check their assumptions –  this conversation is a time
    where the facilitator listens deeply, and asks good questions. For
    example, for a session that aims to share “best practice”: Where will the good practice lessons generated go after the session? Is it for individual participants’ learning or should it be captured and archived? If the latter, then where will it be archived and in what format? Who will use this later? How will the results be fed back into the process in the future? And so on.

    I think we should always be very clear what results we want from a
    workshop discussion, an exercise, from group work, etc. Every session conducted should have a purpose, and the answers/outputs/results are in some way useful for the process.  Without this the whole exercise can become very expensive  busy work. Whether results are captured for long term use, or whether the discussion just helps move the group mentally from A to B, this should be crystal clear to both the facilitator and the workshop host.

    Whenever you are convening people you should always want results; whether they are written down or not doesn’t always matter.

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    TEDGlobal 2013: Think Again – What’s Going On Around the Talks?

    I am here at the TEDextravaganza which is TEDGlobal, featuring a week of over 80 TEDTalks on the main stage, including musicians, and 16 shorter talks at TED University, which is when the audience takes the TED stage.  But that’s not all (if that wasn’t enough!)  BTW, the TED Blog is a great place to get descriptions of the great talks we are hearing.

    Around the fantastic TED talks that are delivered is an interesting set of activities, demonstrations and thoughtful details that make for a full week of fascinating, if a bit extreme, sensory input for TED participants. I wanted to take a little pause here in the action to note some of the great ideas on the event design aspect that I think are interesting and might be inspiration of other’s learning events. This is taking a heroic effort at self discipline to write this as there is not a nanosecond of down time for reflection programmed into the schedule.

    For learning event organizers, it is very tempting to focus all energy on the content of a workshop or conference- and primarily on what happens on the stage. But learning and interaction can happen everywhere, and although participants might spend some 20+ hours sitting in the audience, as we are this week, another 2-4 hours per day find them in the venue at breaks, meals, waiting for sessions to start and chatting about them once they are over, etc. That can add another 20 hours of programmable time to your agenda, which you could either ignore and leave to serendipity, or cleverly use to integrate more learning activities and opportunities. And to be noted – with these latter you don’t have the design constraints of seated participants all sitting side-by-side looking forward in a dark room.

    What has TEDGlobal come up with this year to help people deepen their experience with the topics of the talks, get to know one another better, and feed their brains and bodies? Here are a few things I am doing:

    Play Pong with Drones: I spent a break with an impromptu team holding a green panel and coordinating directional messages to our drone (a quadrirotor, or Quad) to win a game of Pong. This game was being played by three flying drones from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (introduced to us by speaker RaffaelloD’Andrea). We had a whole session on “those flying things” which featured speakers exploring the use of electric autonomous flying vehicles for everything from environmental monitoring (Lian Pin Koh), delivering medicines to hard to reach villages (Andreas Raptopoulos) to the real possibility from lethal autonomy of these flying machines of a robot war (Daniel Suarez).  You clearly get the good with the bad with this technology.

    Take a Ride in an Electric Car: I booked at the TEDDrive desk a pick-up in an electric car to go to a TEDx dinner last night. All week, TED offers rides in electric city cars to participants with a little lesson on how they work (fast charge- 30 minutes, or overnight, and these five passenger cars can make it up to 70 miles on one charge in good conditions – cold weather uses the battery faster, so do various features like aircon, heater, windshield wipers etc.) I didn’t know the display was so easy to understand and helpful regarding how long you have left to drive on your existing charge. Tempting…

    Start a Fortune Cookie Conversation: At the breaks and lunch, brightly wrapped packets of fortune cookies are temptingly set out on all the tables. In each cookie is not a fortune, but a good conversation starter question to get things going with the new people you are perching with at the table.

    Go Talk to An Author: I spent another break at the TED Bookstore with Sandra Aamodt, neuroscientist, TEDGlobal speaker and author of “Welcome to your Brain”, feebly and rather desperately trying to inquire if her years of conclusive research on the tenacity of weight set points might possibly be wrong (unsuccessfully as you can imagine). I wanted to speak to her because I have been feeling very smug at recent weight loss and was rather distraught at her talk’s message that I would simply gain it back to my body’s set point unless I was prepared to stay on the diet for the rest of my life. Apparently weight set points can go up, but rarely go down (I can still hope I am one of those rare cases). She is advocating mindful eating as an alternative to dieting, which sounds like another year of learning and effort. She also encouraged me at the end of our chat to get a standing desk, as new research is showing that sitting down is also killing us.

    Eat Sensibly: Well I had to put this next. TEDGlobal is great at providing interesting and healthy snacks and meals. Little signs tell you that, with this snack, you are getting IRON or VITAMIN D, etc. No doubt so you can practice more mindful eating. We even got a “map” of the Grand Opening Party food offerings with titles of food stations such as Convey (Sharpes Express 1900 Sweet Potato Cakes) , Explode (Exploding bitter dark chocolate with granite shots), Honeycomb (Lapsong  Souchong Tea Smoked chicken) and Distinguished Doughnut (Savory rocket pesto doughnuts).


    Print an Iconic Image: Getty Images is here with their digital archive and you can spend as long as you want to find a photo you like, after which the team prints it in A3 and you pick it up at the end of the day. I found a terrific BW photo of the terrifying, highest-roller-coaster-in-the-world, which is at Cedar Point in Ohio, which I faintly think I have been on but must have blocked it out. Or maybe not – we did learn from speaker Elizabeth Loftus that there is no evidence that we repress memories and banish them from our memory. We are however susceptible to false memories which can be introduced and adopted; so maybe I didn’t go on it, but my parents wanted me to think I did and was too scared to repeat, so they didn’t have to queue up for it.

    Talk to Unusual People: With the help of the largest name tag imaginable, which includes: photo, name in 44 font, your title and location, and a line that says “Talk to me about:” followed by three words of your choice, you see lots of people standing in line for the designer coffees and teas holding up their name tags for people to read, or to photograph in order to get back to them on something or other they were discussing. This keeps happening even on Day 4 – 600+ people from over 66 countries, and you continually meet new people even up to the last day. The TEDConnect app is also very helpful to find and talk to people and, in addition to the daily schedule, includes your TED Top 10 – ten participants generated by the “secret” TED algorithm which should be of particular interest to you.
    There is no opportunity to be bored, and even very little opportunity to reflect in between the tsunami of ideas and conversation that wash over your brain at any given moment. Whether you seek it – like when I went to join a little chat with American photographer Mary Ellen Mark, who is showing her photos from a recent project in a Kenyan hospital ward – or if it comes to you  – like the fascinating discussion I found myself in with a quiet Taiwanese dancer who explores cultural identity with her body – the TEDGlobal experience is not just sitting in those comfy seats in a dark room for many hours over five days.
    Hmmm, maybe in the future we could have the healthy option of standing in the auditorium too. I might suggest that – the TEDGlobal organizers seem to be delightfully open to everything.

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    Tips for New Facilitators: What If No One Answers My Question?


    Q: What if no one answers my question? 

    You’re facilitating a group discussion, you throw out a zippy stimulating question and expectantly wait for an answer – but there’s no reply, nothing, only an awkward waning silence and no one making eye contact with you. One facilitator I heard recently who was confronted with this, paused and said, “I hear tumbleweed…”

    What do you do?
    a) Say, “OK, never mind” and go on:
    b) Start to babble incessantly to fill the void:
    c) Pick on people by name to answer;
    d) Wait.

    Well, of course, any of the above (except perhaps “b”) can be appropriate in some context. If it’s not the right time for a question and there’s no energy for it (like when you are 30 minutes late for lunch) then “a” works, and you can come back to your question after lunch. If you know the group and they are familiar with each other (whether they work together or have been together a few days) then answer “c” might work. In many situations answer “d” could work – a nice big pause and perhaps a rephrasing of your question.

    But for new facilitators this on-the-spot decision making among these options can be terrifying.

    I just had a young facilitator about to run a session earnestly ask me this question, and here was my advice (note that all of these things you can do in the design and preparation stage BEFORE you ask the question):

    1. Design away from it: Don’t ask that question for a plenary response in the first place. Instead ask the question and ask people to discuss it at their tables or in a pair/trio first and then ask the pairs or table for their answer. It is easier to answer on behalf of others – it takes the risk out of it. Also, with the buzz in the room first, people get used to their own voices in the room instead of yours and re-appropriate the workshop space for themselves.
    2. Build in a moment to think: Tell people in advance that you will give them a minute to think first, and then will ask for a few responses. This helps people who are thinkers or “processors” in the room to refine their ideas and not shoot from the hip (which they feel comfortable doing). It might also get you more thoughtful and better quality responses.
    3. Recruit allies: Tell a few people in advance about your question and ask them if they can answer if there is total silence in the room. Have them hold back for a moment to see if anyone answers and then give them a meaningful look if not.
    4. Write it down: Put the question up on the screen or flip chart – sometimes people don’t answer because they didn’t quite catch the question,  its too complex or long to remember, or they were sneezing (or heaven forbid checking their email) when you asked it. 
    5. Quality check it: Make sure it is a great question BEFORE you ask it. Test it with someone else – is it clear? Easy to answer? Appropriate? The right question at the right time? 
    Also, the better your question is, the more useful it might be to use some of the above options, as big pauses particularly occur when your question is one of those great, positively disruptive questions that might challenge the group’s current paradigm and really provide food for thought. So be prepared  If you can do some of these things, you are much less likely to hear that tumbleweed after asking your question. 
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    Workshop Games Everywhere: Even from Proust and Vanity Fair

    I was working with an intact team (e.g. working in the same office space) recently on a retreat, the third that I had run with them over the years. Now, working with the same group on a long term basis is wonderful for a facilitator as it absolutely demands creativity and innovation; you cannot fall back on your favourite workshop activities over and over again (like you may be tempted to do when you work with new groups each time).

    For this retreat, as for many, further strengthening relationships among team members was one of the soft outcomes desired – getting to know one another better, helping people look behind the office every day and delve a little deeper into what makes people tick.

    One of the opening activities for any workshop is some kind of introductions at the onset of the day. Now with an intact team, this might be more of a “check-in” as everyone knows each others name, position in the organisation, etc. For this particular team, which in some cases knew each other from years of co-work, I decided to go a little deeper than usual and still keep it relatively light in the dynamic.

    I am a fan of Vanity Fair magazine and one feature of the magazine is an interview, called the Proust Questionnaire (after the French novelist, critic and thinker Marcel Proust) on the last page that has a set of intriguing questions – things like:

    • What is your idea of perfect happiness? 
    • Who are your heroes in real life? 
    • What is your motto?
    • Which historical figure do you most identify with?
    • What is your favourite journey?
    • Which talent would you most like to have?
    • What is your most treasured possession?
    …and so on. I took out some of the strongest ones, like “What would you regard as the lowest depth of misery?” and “How would you like to die” etc. because that was not the feeling that I was going for at 09:00 in the morning. You can see some samples of the Proust Questionnaire on the Vanity Fair website.
    In the end I had a good number of questions that I liked, but in total that was less than the number of people, so I used the questions twice.
    Preparation: 
    1. First I numbered the questions 1-14 (that is how many questions from the Proust Questionnaire that I ended up using), I liked the progression in the Vanity Fair interviews, so I used that order more or less.
    2. Typed them into a matrix that fit on an A4 sheet and printed it out.
    3. Copied it twice on coloured paper – yellow- I did this as it is just a little more visually interesting than the white paper that is laying all over workshop tables.
    4. I cut up the matrix, both sheets, so that I had 28 little squares, numbered, each with one of the Proust Questionnaire questions on it. 
    5. I put all the little squares of paper in an envelope.
    Running the activity: 
    1. After I briefed the activity, I asked everyone to pick a square of paper from the envelope, while I walked around with the envelope.
    2. I told them that some questions would be doubled up.
    3. I gave people 2-3 minutes to think about their answers. As they picked slips and read the questions I heard some nervous laughter. ( I let someone who wanted to change their question, although the second one was not much “easier” than the first)
    4. Then I called the numbers one at a time and asked people to stand, read their question and share their response. 
    5. We did this until all were read out and everyone had answered.
    What worked

    The random nature of the question selection (picking from an envelope), the diversity of questions (they were all different except for the few pairs- I read out the questions that were not selected, as even in themselves they are thought-provoking questions), and the unknown ordering (not knowing who would be next) all added some surprise and a little drama to the exercise. And the provocative nature of the Proust Questionnaire questions really made people think. It was still challenge by choice – people could change their question if they wanted, but there really are no easy questions, and they could choose how they wanted to answer it. 
    As the facilitator I could also choose the easier or the more provocative questions from the Proust Questionnaire depending on what I knew about the group and their interest in pushing the envelope together. As I mentioned, this was a group of people who know each other pretty well, but in most cases, these kinds of topics had not come up in their every day work discussions, so people listened and were deeply curious about their colleagues’ responses.
    Outcomes?
    The answers were conversation starters all of them, they added something different to what colleagues already knew about their fellow team members, and it was a fun way to start the day. And in this case, the game was NEW (they were the first group to ever play that particular “game”). 
    You might need a new activity or game from time to time when you work with groups frequently. Look around you – you can find game and activity elements everywhere, even inspired by Proust or your favorite magazine! 
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    Lights, Camera, Action! Tips for Speaking and Facilitating on Big Stages

    Last week I had the great honour to join Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society as a main stage facilitator and moderator. My session, one of the opening plenaries, was set as a brainstorming session with 600+ participants on Women’s Visions for 360 degree Growth. My role was to moderate and facilitate meaningful interactivity with the participants, and to moderate a panel of interesting women leaders working in this field. 

    This blog post is not so much about the content of the session, which was fascinating (challenging GDP as the growth indicator, especially when growth is being more expansively defined in terms of well-being,  equity and more; looking at the opportunities (and challenges) to international cooperation towards developing a new paradigm for growth, and the role of social media like Facebook in new forms of governance and democracy – fascinating stuff!) If you have the patience to watch a 90 minute video, or part of it, you can watch the session and the panelists here: Video of 360 Degree Growth Session

    What I wanted to write about here was a list of the best tips I received from a number of great speaking coaches while I was writing and preparing for this session. As I am devoted to reusable learning,  I wanted to document them so that I don’t forget them, can use them next time, and who knows, they might be useful t others too! I have broken these tips down into three areas:

    Tips for TV Interviews, Public Speaking and Panel Moderating

    Giving Great TV Interviews

    • Don’t take an impromptu interview – never! Ask for the question(s) or topic, and re-schedule even if it is only 15 or 30 minutes later. Then prepare your answers. According to a French coach, interviews are like a “seduction”, they want you so they will wait.
    • Give short answers. The interviewer wants to ask you questions and move the conversation along in some direction. TV interviews are not speeches, they are a back and forth with the interviewer. This is also much more dynamic for the viewers.
    • Be concrete. Say something concrete in every answer ( include data, a number, a short case example.)
    • Be prepared to give an example for everything. A favourite question for interviewers is, “can you give an example of that?” This always makes the story more interesting and concrete.
    • Pause. For thinking and/or effect – silence is your friend.
    • Smile! It makes you appear more comfortable and connects with the interviewer and audience more easily.


    Speaking in Public – Part I: Preparation
    • Practice for HOURS not minutes
    • Memorize your overall sequence, or arc of the session – where is it going, and what are the main parts. If you can, repeat this to the audience before you start.  
    • Prepare your notes in three parts (this is my own advice): 1) Create a detailed agenda (I have a template for this, which includes timing, transitions, and all the information on how to run interactive components);  2) Based on this write our a verbatim script; 3) Then write memory prompts on cards. For the cards I cut small rectangles out of black paper and write on them with a white pen. The cards need to be the right size to hold in palm of your hand. Number them, because at some point you will be shuffling them and will lose your place if you don’t do that! In the end you might not use them, but you will have them just in case.
    Speaking in Public – Part II: Delivery
    • Use short sentences at beginning. This makes it easier to remember those opening lines and helps to manage nerves and breathing.
    • Emphasize one word in every sentence. This may sound strange but try it (don’t overdo this though). It can be any word. This helps to vary the cadence. You can also experiment with having sentences end high or low (as in pitch – I am probably butchering the musical references here, but I know what I mean!)
    • Speak more slowly than you think is normal. Pause in between sentences so people can follow. This is especially important with an international audience. People need to get used to your accent. As someone from the Midwest of US, I always think that I don’t have an accent, but I am assured that this is not true!
    • Use the physical space on stage. Walk up down, side to side, back and front – I even walked up and down the steps into the audience several times. (But don’t PACE obviously.)
    • Use your hands, use your face, use everything. This will be much more interesting. Of course, use them for emphasis so it is not weirdly distracting.
    • Don’t wear anything too busy by your face (e.g .necklace or scarf) if there is simultaneous video (e.g. if there is a big screen behind you, and for web streaming) it looks overwhelming.
    • Boost your confidence. Get your hair styled and make up done professionally, wear something that makes you feel fabulous, talk to a good friend right before, or any other thing you can think of!

    Moderating a Panel Discussion on Stage

    Note: For moderation, the difference between good and bad is mostly about preparation – I had so many audience members note that most moderators did not seem to know their speakers, so could not really draw out the most relevant facts for the audience.
    • Make a notebook with a divider for each of the panelists. In each section, create a collection of their CV and narrative bio, a photo, their writing, articles on the web when they have been interviewed. Notice what they have been asked and how they answered. Ask them what they recommend you read that is iconic of their work. Read all of these inputs across the different speakers to spot patterns that can provide you with some red threads that can help knit together their inputs into a coherent discussion.
    • Google the speakers. See if they are on Twitter, watch their videos on YouTube, read their comments on other people’s work.  Make notes of most interesting parts and some interesting facts or  good quotes you might want to use.
    • Memorise their names, titles, places of work so you can say them without hesitation (or notes )
    • Draft and memorise a leading question for each of them that reminds the audience who they are = even if they were introduced before (e.g. Marilyn, you are a Professor of Economics and…)
    My session at the Women’s Forum combined quite a few of these different methodologies as it was interactive and had several distinct parts that I needed to weave together into a coherent whole for the audience that gave them an interesting, interactive and meaningful experience. I tried to take my own advice! If you have the patience to watch a 90 minute video, or part of it, you can watch the session ( Video of 360 Degree Growth Session ) and judge for yourself – you might have some other great tips that I can add to the list. 

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    Why We’re Using Ignites in our Conference Workshop

    I’m currently working with a team on a number of 2-hour workshops that will be held at an upcoming international conservation congress in September. For one of the workshops we will feature 6 speakers sharing different approaches to working with their supply chains.

    We will be using the Ignite format for their presentations and every presenter I have spoken with so far has been keen to try this, although they realise that the format is a little more challenging for them than the traditional PPT slide set that you control yourself.

    I was asked by one presenter to share why we thought this format was a good choice, so I wrote up the following short description and rationale for why Ignites are great for conference presentations:

    Ignites started in 2006 in Seattle, Washington, supported by O’Reilly media, and focused in those early days on helping the technology industry speakers “ignite” their audiences with new ideas, but in 5 minutes bursts. With the slogan “enlighten me, but make it quick” it rapidly caught the imagination of other conference and event organizers (both within the tech industry and beyond) as a way to feature many people, and thus many ideas, in a reliably short period of time.

    The format of an Ignite is 20 slides auto-timed at 15 seconds each, which is similar to the Pecha Kucha format (which is 20 slides auto-timed at 20 seconds each). Pecha Kucha’s also came out of industry, launched as it was by presenters from the design industry in Japan, earlier in 2003.

    These are powerful formats for conference settings as:

    1. They focus the speakers on a strong narrative line and key messages (avoiding going off message and in different directions during their talk);
    2. The format keeps the speaker to time, as the slides are auto-timed in advance meaning they change automatically during the presentation. This also means that all speakers have the same time allocation, and the last speaker doesn’t get squeezed by the time transgressions of the first speakers (we’ve all seen it happen).
    3. It means you can have, with confidence, more speakers and ideas, which allows for greater information exchange, as the talks are guaranteed to be short (after the last slide shows the screen goes black and its obviously over);
    4. It sets up a reliable pace for the audience, so they can relax into the 5-minute segments (even with many speakers) knowing that the presenter will stick to time and the essential points. They also know that if one presentation is bad, then it is only bad for 5 minutes and not for an ideterminable time period. This goes a long way in conferences to enhance audience enjoyment and engagement.

    These are just some of the reasons we will be using Ignites in our conference sessions, and why this format is a strong choice for this!

    I have written some other blog posts on using both Pecha Kuchas and Ignites, and what makes them good. If you’re interested:
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    18 Presentations in a Row? What Can You Do?

    I recently facilitated a workshop where 18 country teams participated and needed to present their progress and work for the year. They felt they needed to do this to foster peer learning among the countries and to gain an overview of what was happening globally. However, it is hard to imagine any one person listening actively to that many presentations in a row, although for pattern spotting, for good practice ideas and to see who are your resources in the group, it would behoove every one to listen without falling asleep.

    So here is what we did…

    Preparation:

    1. Expectation Management: We gave each country 7 minutes for their presentation, we told them we would time them; 
    2. Making Inputs Parallel and Comparable: We gave everyone a PPT template of the key questions to fill in which was made up of 6 slides with headings (Frankly I think 4 would have been easier for them to stay in time);
    3. Split Them Up:  I created four sessions over 2 days to spread them out, continuity was created using other tracking and memory tools (below).

    Delivery:

    1. Time Keeping: I timed each presentation with my Iphone using the Doorbell sound to signal time up. I also gave 2 minute warnings with two fingers and walked around the room until I could catch the speaker’s eye (if they were strategically avoiding me). Everyone but one speaker stopped within 30 seconds of hearing that doorbell ring twice into my hand held microphone (note that if you have interpreters, then don’t put the phone right up to the microphone, it apparently drives them crazy, which I can well understand);
    2. Keep it Equal: Why the Iphone is great is that no one imagines that you are judging the time yourself subjectively, the time is up when the timer goes off. This was accepted by the speakers, only one person challenged me, but then I let her watch my phone for the following speaker and that was that.

    Listeners as Learners:

    1. Helping Learners Stay Concentrated: Find as many ways as possible to help the people listening to stay engaged: I did three things:
    2. Use the Bell to Set Pace: Once the crisp pace is set, then people can endure presentations that might not be as strong as others, because they know it is for exactly 7 minutes.
    3. Count Down Visually: I created a flipchart checklist (above) at the front of the room of the 18 country presentations in alphabetical order and made a big flourish when checking them off as a presentation was completed. This helped people keep track of who was on and who was next, but also how many presentations there were to go:
    4. Make a Job Aid: As we didn’t have time to have a discussion or even take questions between the 18 presentations,  I created a Job Aid (handout) that asked the listener a couple of questions about each presentation – first to reflect on the presentation and identify, “What ideas did I appreciate most from the presentation?” – that was a appreciative frame that assumes that you will get ideas and appreciate them! At least it gets people listening to them to see if they can identify this. The second question asked for “Ideas to follow up on with the team members” – e.g. further questions. By capturing these in real time, they could go find the speaker in the coffee break and follow up on their questions (or ask them in plenary if time). This Job Aid had the benefit of tracking progress too for the individual, and letting them customise their follow up one-on-one with the presenters during coffee/lunch/evenings, rather than having one or two people hijack the plenary after each.

    After the Presentations:

    1. Pattern Spotting: Rather than rushing on into the next thing, we built in a good amount of time to discuss the meta-level findings from all the presentations once they were completed – what similarities did participants hear and what diversity? Were there any messages or learning points coming through loud and clear in many of them?  As people used the Job Aid to capture their thoughts and organize them, when it came to the pattern spotting, it was easier for people to thoughtfully contribute.

    In the end, we did it – people made it through all of them – both presenters and listeners, and identified some fascinating interconnections and good practice. And although it seemed easy, it took quite a bit of work to design it so that, in spite of 18 presentations, people can stay engaged and learning throughout the whole event.

    What facilitation and learning tips do you have when dealing with a slew of presentations?

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    Building Peer Learning Into Mega-Events and Conferences

    When Conferences focus on plenary speakers and traditional panel sessions these days, some of us might feel that our experience could be better if we wait until they are available on YouTube. Any ticks or flubs are edited out, and the video camera inevitably has a better seat and vantage point than we do in the audience. And you know exactly how long each intervention will be -and we can pause, repeat or even skip those that are not quite what we’re looking for (of course we need to be open to surprises too).

    But when Conferences have exciting peer learning and interactivity built in, then no longer are you are just one person watching a string of speeches from a relatively uncomfortable chair, knowing that you are shoulder to shoulder with probably some of the most interesting people in the world in your field – although due to this format there’s no way to know it. What if you were a part of the Conference? Or even, you were the Conference!

    Running World Cafe’s, Open Space Technology Sessions, Peer Assists and Carousel Discussions, and Fishbowls are some of the activities we recently ran at a large conference of some 16,000 people. Those took facilitation. However, there are lots of things you can do that don’t take that kind of support and still build up the peer-learning opportunities at a large-scale event.

    So, what are some of the ways that big events help feature and build its participants into the Conference?

    What if you ask people to pick a button that somehow illustrates how they are feeling at the moment?

    Not only is that a conversation starter amongst participants wearing them, but imagine that the button dispensers are tubes that create a physical bar graph of how the whole body of participants (or at least those taking the cool buttons, which seemed to be everyone) feels?

    What if there is a tablet built into the wall where particpiants can take a photo of themselves and write on a message about a commitment they will make?

    and then use the images to make a wall of these…

    What about a simple graffiti wall and lots of coloured chalk?

    Or if there are a number of different thematic streams to the conference, what about producing different colour ribbons for each and letting people choose and wear them around their wrists or bags, so that in the thousands of participants, you might more easily bump into and recognize someone who is interested in the same theme as you are?

    And then how can you know if you can actually speak that person’s language at a large international event? What about language buttons that people can choose and display on their lanyards (we wrote about doing this at a conference of 8000 people – very popular initiative to support communication, and be surprised at what languages people speak – How to Start Conversations Among 8,000 people.)

    What interesting interactive elements have you seen at Conferences that use their fascinating participants as a part of the overall learning experience?

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    The Cost of Being Late

    I have observed in an organization where I frequently give training that 25% of the people in the course are on time regularly. The rest of the people come later, and usually by 15 minutes after the start time of the course, everyone is there and we can begin.

    In this organization, meetings are the main space for collaborative work, and people can have up to 4 or more meetings a day.

    In this case, for the 25% of the people who are on time to meetings (which start 15 minutes late), they lose 1 hour a day of waiting around for people to arrive and for their meetings to start.

    If your staff is 200 people, then 50 people are losing 1 hour a day to late starts. If 50 person hours of work per day is being lost, that makes 250 hours a week lost in waiting for meetings to start due to late arrivals.

    250 hours a week is effectively 6 staff members whose complete time is being spent sub-optimally, they could go home and get paid to do nothing.

    That’s 1000 hours/month, or 12000 hours per year, which is 250 work weeks, or over 6 person years of work lost to an organization every calendar year from people who are 15 minutes late for meetings…

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    Reflecting on Reflection Capture: What You Can Learn From 3 Questions & Colour-Coded Cards

    How do you capture the reflections of participants on ideas shared during your event? At the end of the TEDxEcoleHôtelièreLausanne programme, we scheduled the university’s music committee to perform a musical interpretation of the event. We knew that they would need up to ten minutes to get their instruments set up and ready to go on stage. A great opportunity to capture some reflections from participants!

    We prepared a slide with three questions on it, and handed each participant three colour-coded cards to match. The questions (see photo):

    Whilst the band set up, participants discussed these questions with people seated next to them and then wrote their personal response on the cards, which we collected and posted on large boards for everyone to read during the aperitif that followed. The cards generated lots of interest as people learned how differently people experienced the diverse talks. And an important bonus too: it helped them remember things which they may have already begun forgetting in the mash-up of ideas that comes with TEDx events.

    The analysis that we did after the event was also really interesting. We started by sorting the cards according to colour / question, and then regrouped the cards according to the talks they refered to. Laying them out on a table under the speaker’s name immediately gave us a bar graph for each question. We could see which speakers were most quoted, which ideas people will most act on, and which people see as potentially having the biggest impact in the future. And then looking at this data collectively, we could see how these three questions elicited very different responses! There was no apparent correlation between people’s favourite quotes, facts and figures and action or impact. And, perhaps most interestingly, the ideas that were most seen as potentially having the biggest impact were among those that participants were least likely to act on.

    Doing this cards exercise is a quick and easy way to gather a very rich reflection on what people valued about each talk. It also highlights the deficiencies in asking a simple question such as ‘which was your favourite talk’ because how do people respond? With that which hooked them with a great quote? That which they will act on? Or that which could have huge impact in the future? We are looking forward to the results of the online survey to see if we can see a pattern! What is clear already is that all the speakers were valued for one reason or another, and we’re pretty stoked about that 🙂

    p.s. It also enabled us to provide some much appreciated feedback to the speakers… an important part of the often-forgotten post-event speaker care!

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    What’s in a Name (Tag)?

    For years, name tags looked something like this (above): Name, title and organization. Small, business card size and with a pin on the back that always meant that no matter how many times you adjusted it, it listed slightly to starboard. The printing was also pretty small, making people with personal space issues perpetually nervous.  Name tags are changing, here are two I received more recently that start to work for you on a lot of levels.

    This GTD Summit name tag is twice as big as the first, measuring 9cm x 11cm and popped into a sleeve hung on a sturdy cord. The first name is pulled up by many font sizes, and your identity within the community gathering is added to the information given. For an international group, skipping the official title and adding your country helps give more backstory for discussion.

    This name tag, used by TED Global this year (as last year), is even bigger. Measuring in at 12cm x 19cm, it is laminated into a block hung by a cord connected by clips on both sides – this you can see from a distance which helps at crowded receptions and also presumably to monitor entry to the venue and satellite events held all over the city. On the name tag the first name again stands out, encouraging people to be on an informal,  first name basis. The photo is an interesting addition (mine is pretty standard, but many people had unusual studio photos that gave away some secrets of their passions). Below the title, organization and place of origin (also helpful for languages), comes a section called “Talk To Me About:” followed by three key words. We were asked to pick these to add to both our online profiles as well as our badges, to give anyone approaching a substantive starting point for a discussion. Again, lots of creativity can go into these three words.

    Another cool feature of this  name tag was that on the back you had the programme for the week, colour coded day by day, with the session titles, speakers names and timing. Social events and venues were also added. So when you are sitting in a big conference hall waiting for a speaker, or at coffee wondering if you wanted to go back to the big room or sit in the simulcast lounge, this information was at your fingertips to update you on what’s happening and for quick decision-making about where you should be at any moment.

    In the end, a name tag is both for the person wearing it as well as everyone else attending the event, it provides provenance, establishes identity in the group, and also, if it is designed to do so, can help encourage engagement that starts further down along the usual small talk trail of questioning.

    The next time you make one, think about how the name tag can be an intervention in itself? Think about how many different items of information are useful to include – and what you want the impact to be. Can it help people be on time, help people find their own language groups,  identify similarities and diversities for you so that you can get right into the most interesting conversation, encourage informality by picking out the first name, give you the sense of being one of the in-crowd by wearing a huge identifier?

    Now, that’s what’s in a name (tag)! Any other innovations to this workshop staple to add?

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    Online Facilitation – Adapting to a Virtual Environment with Free(mium) Tools – Part One

    We’ve written a number of posts about both facilitation and the use of online tools for virtual and face to face events. See, for example:

    “The Connected Facilitator: What’s in the Online Toolbox?”,
    “Look Behind You! The Webinar Facilitator’s Non-Technical Checklist”,
    The Two-Day Total Twitter Immersion: Using Twitter for Social Learning“,
    “Knowledge at a Distance: Skype Video – It Works!“; and
    “Create a Facilitator Role for Your Conference Calls and Webinars

    In this two-part blog post, we are sharing (in part 1) some examples of tools that are either free or have a “freemium” model (you pay for increased functionality) and which we think can be usefully used in online facilitation; and (in part 2) some ideas about how you might adapt facilitation methodologies to an online environment using these tools (plus IRISnotes – as we haven’t yet discovered a lower-cost option…). We hope you find it useful, and that you’ll share your ideas and experiences too!

    Twitter.com
    ● Contribute to / follow conversations in real time with short bursts of info: max 140 characters
    ● Hashtags aggregate related content
    ● Content can be ‘retweeted’
    ● “Follow” option
    ● Tweetdeck

    Backnoise.com / Yammer.com
    ● Similar to twitter
    ● Private option

    Skype.com
    ● Conference call diverse group sizes
    ● Option to add video (max 10)
    ● Screen-sharing
    ● Instant-messaging with chronological display
    ● Send files

    Screenr.com
    ● Create screen-casts, recording screen and voice to share online

    Slideshare.net
    ● Share presentations, documents and professional videos publicly or privately
    ● Create slidecasts (slideshow + MP3 audio synced)
    ● Create channels & favourites

    YouTube.com
    ● Upload video content
    ● View video content online
    ● Create channels & favourites

    Wikispaces.com
    ● Co-create documents collaboratively
    ● Track changes / contributions
    ● Password protection option

    Docs.google.com
    ● Co-create documents collaboratively
    ● Similar editing to word / excel (and can export in these formats)
    ● Design surveys (google forms)
    ● Auto-generate survey reports with graphics

    SurveyMonkey.com
    ● Design and manage online surveys
    ● Auto-generate survey reports with graphics

    PollEverywhere.com
    ● Create multiple choice or free-text polls
    ● Collecting info in real time via text message, web, twitter, and smartphone responses which can be instantly combined
    ● Charts update instantly as people respond (online or embedded in ppt)

    Doodle.com / MeetingWizard.com / TimeAndDate.com
    ● Propose dates / times and gather responses online to quickly and easily determine preferred options

    MindMeister.com
    ● Co-create Mindmaps online in real time
    ● Working simultaneously and see changes as they happen

    Wordle.net
    ● Generate “word clouds” from text with greater prominence given to words that appear more frequently

    Smart Phone / computer video cameras
    ● Create short videos for sharing (by email if video-bites)

    Smart Phone / computer audio / voice recorders
    ● Create audio files for sharing

    DimDim.com
    ● Slideshow, chat function, audio for presenters, recording, private chat, whiteboard, video link for the facilitator, and more.

    Online-stopwatch.com
    ● Keep time online, counting up or down
    ● Customize the visual (stop-watch, clock, egg timer, etc.) and sound (bell, alarm, laughing, beeping, etc.)
    ● Once customized, download the link to your timer. (Personally, I like the egg timer with applause as here: http://www.online-stopwatch.com/eggtimer-countdown/full-screen/?ns=../../s/3.mp3)

    And here’s another one we love but that’s not free (you’ll need to make a small purchase):

    IRISnotes
    ● A pen and mobile note taker
    ● Capture handwritten notes and drawings
    ● Edit, save and export them
    ● Convert handwritten notes into editable text

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    Online Facilitation – Adapting to a Virtual Environment with Free(mium) Tools – Part Two

    Following part one of this blog post (which shares some examples of tools that are either free or have a “freemium” model and which we think can be usefully used in online facilitation), this part two shares some ideas about how you might adapt facilitation methodologies to an online environment using tools that are either free or have a “freemium” model (plus IRISnotes – as we haven’t yet discovered a lower-cost option…).

    1. Scheduling future events
    • Use Doodle.com / MeetingWizard.com / TimeAndDate.com to quickly and easily determine favourable dates and times for future events (e.g. future conference calls). Not only can this be done to schedule your online event – you can effectively use it during the online event to efficiently schedule your next in real time!

    2. Presentation
    • Use Ignites (igniteshow.com) / Pecha Kucha (http://www.pecha-kucha.org/) (timed presentations) to keep to timing in online events and make sure presentations are well prepared and maintain a good pace.
    • Use Prezis (Prezi.com) for variety in presentations (a change from powerpoint), creating visual interest.
    • Use short videos and/or screen casts via YouTube.com / Screenr.com or Slideshare.net

    3. Work in small groups with online “job aids
    • Provide a participants list to everyone in advance, including names and Skype.com IDs (or equivalent). Divide the group up into small groups, designating a host.
    • Pre-create job aids using Wikispaces / Google Docs / Mindmeister etc. These will most often be templates, to which you can provide links.
    • Direct people to your ‘job aids’ with links (plus log-in and password).
    • Provide an online timer to keep time and remind people to promptly rejoin the whole group at the specified time.

    4. Report back (after small group work)
    • Use Screenr.com to create screen-casts for report back
    • Create video or audio recordings – using computer and smart phone programmes / applications to pre-record report-back and share using YouTube.com or Slideshare.net – helping to avoid lengthy monologues and add diversity to the event
    • Use an online timer (such as online-stopwatch.com) to help with time-keeping and speaker management

    5. Prioritizing questions (e.g. for a Q&A with a speaker)
    • Use Twitter.com / Yammer.com / Backnoise.com. Determine a hash-tag in advance and provide this to participants.
    • Give participants a few minutes to submit questions. To prioritize these for the speaker (so they respond where participants are most interested in learning more in a limited time), then ask participants to ‘retweet’ the questions others have posted that they are most interested in hearing the responses to. The questions most ‘retweeted’ are then prioritized and the speaker addresses the questions according to this prioritization.

    6. Clustering questions / ideas
    • Use a mind-mapping online tool such as Mindmeister.com (or do a hand-drawn version using IRISnotes). Set up the mind-map in advance and provide all participants with the link / access (to edit or view) or, just use Skype.com screen share (or equivalent) to share the map and designate one editor.
    • Ask all participants to think of a question / idea and then cluster these as follows: Ask any person to start, sharing their idea using instant messaging (this is important to keep it concise and to the point) – as well as reading it aloud (but not expanding on what is written unless someone asks for clarification!).
    • The mind-mapper copies and pastes the idea from the instant message into the mind-map. With this done, ask for someone with a like / similar idea to share it (again, instant messaging it and reading aloud), which is then copied and pasted into the mind-map / or summarized by hand if using IrisNotes. Do this until there are no more like / similar questions or ideas. Then start with a different ‘branch’ of questions / ideas on the mindmap. Repeat until all questions or ideas are represented.
    • The mindmap will clearly show where there is greatest interest, most clarification needed, most energy and/or ideas and conversation in plenary afterwards can start from here.

    7. Voting
    • Use an online tool such as PollEverywhere.com to do real-time voting (with an anonymous option). Prepare the questions / options in advance, or generate them online and set the poll up in the course of the online event. Either-way, if you think you might vote on something, get familiar with polleverywhere and its parameters (e.g. more than 30 people and you may need to pay a subscription fee) ahead of time.
    • One advantage of poll-everywhere over google docs and survey monkey (see below) is that rather than having to download the results as a pdf, you can actually see results live – as they change second by second, creating more excitement and anticipation.
    • Google docs (‘forms’: docs.google.com) and SurveyMonkey.com could also be used for voting prior to or during an event. Both enable results-exporting as visuals (pie charts / bar graphs) in pdf.
    • All give you the option to track – or not – who responds and how, so you have the option of anonymity or respondent profiling and analysis. (e.g. how do responses vary by sector / region…)

    8. Carousel
    • Use Skype.com video conference calls (or equivalent) for small group discussion (Note: make sure all participants are in one another’s contact list in advance and provide a participant list with names and skype IDs, as well as who is in which group for the carousel so that the host / facilitator of each station discussion knows who they need to include in the conference call)
    • Use wikispaces.com / google docs (docs.google.com) / Mindmeister.com mindmaps in place of flipchart stations
    • And/or use IRISnotes for visual / hand written work in combination with Skype.com screen share (can save and share doc with next group for further editing, or have same station ‘facilitator’ throughout)

    9. Open Space Technology
    (visit openspaceworld.org for the ‘how to’ steps in a face-to-face environment)
    • Use instant messaging (e.g. Skype.com chat) for people to submit topics / questions to schedule
    • Prepare a blank timetable (in word / google docs / wikispaces.com) and copy and paste across questions and topics as they are submitted
    • Provide each topic ‘host’ a few minutes to decide where they would like to capture the key points of the discussion as it progresses (e.g. wikispaces.com / google docs / Mindmeister.com / irisnotes), to set up the appropriate ‘page’ and send you the link plus log-in / password if necessary. Note: If you prefer, you could just pre-determine that everyone will use (for example) a wiki and provide the topic hosts with links to appropriate wiki pages – labeled topic x through to topic y.
    • In the same doc as the timetable, include the following info:
    (a) Who is hosting the conversation (plus their Skype ID)
    (b) Links to the page(s) where the conversation will be captured, plus log-in / password if necessary.
    • Use a screen share tool (e.g. Skype screen share) to share the timetable with everyone as it is developed
    • Ask participants to instant message the topic host when they wish to join a conversation
    • As the facilitator, keep time and use instant messaging to inform groups when they have 10 mins / 5 mins / 0 mins until the end of their session (OR use an online timer such as online-stopwatch.com) and then invite everyone to revisit the timetable for information on where to go for their next conversation.
    • Use Skype conference calls (or equivalent) for small group discussion, in combination with Skype screen share as necessary.

    10. World Café
    (visit theworldcafé.com for the ‘how to’ steps in a face-to-face environment)
    • Provide a participants list to everyone in advance, including names and Skype IDs (or equivalent). Include also in this list some coding (in a table) to facilitate organizing three different groupings of 4 participants for each round of the World Café, and nominating a host.
    For example, for the first round of the World Café / first grouping of 4, you might group people by simply going through the participant list organized alphabetically by surname, and counting people into groups of four – giving each person a letter next to their name – e.g. the first four participants would be coded ‘Group A’, the second four ‘Group B’ etc. For the second grouping of four participants, go back through the list and this time number them from 1 through to the total number of participants / 4 (e.g. if you had 40 participants you would number them 1-10 four times. For the second round of the World Café, all the 1’s will chat together, all the 2’s together, etc. Then for the third round, you might assign different symbols or colours. You choose – the important thing is to determine in advance how you will group everyone, and include this ‘coding’ in the participants list so it is clear and easy to create the groupings.
    Additionally it is important that, for each round of the World Café, you designate clearly in the participant list who is responsible for hosting the conversation (i.e. hosting the Skype call, keeping time and making sure everyone contributes!)
    • Once everyone is clear about with whom they will chat in the first round and who is hosting the call (plus their Skype ID), you can launch round one. But first – set an online timer (such as online-stopwatch.com) that everyone can see and which will ring to call everyone back into plenary.
    • Back in plenary, take some highlights ‘popcorn’ style from each group (call on the hosts of each group of four) and capture these in wikispaces.com / google doc / Mindmeister.com / irisnotes using screen share at the same time.
    • Repeat.

    11. Point and counterpoint (read the description of this methodology for the ‘how to’ steps in a face-to-face environment in the book: Thaigi’s 100 Favourite Games)
    • Provide a participants list to everyone in advance, including names and Skype IDs (or equivalent).
    • With everyone on the conference call, use Polleverywhere.com (or google forms / or SurveyMonkey.com) to gauge participant’s positions regarding a controversial statement. Set the poll/survey question up in advance, putting opposing controversial statements at either end of a scale of 1-10, with 10 fields in between into which they must enter their first name. (You need the names later!) Give participants only 30 seconds to decide where they are on the scale.
    • As soon as you have all the results, generate the report (export the results) and share this with participants using Skype screenshare (or equivalent). You should be able to see the names of all participants on the scale from one to ten. At this stage, make a comment on the distribution. Then ‘count off’ participants, starting at the person nearest 0, putting them alternately in team 1, team 2, team 1, etc. Note: Designate one (or two) participant(s) – you want to ensure there is an equal number of participants in each team) who fall in the middle of the distribution as ‘judges’ who won’t participate in the work of team 1 and 2. Then designate the person nearest 0 as the “captain” for team 1 and the person nearest 10 as the captain for team 2. They are then responsible for hosting two team calls (using the list of participants shared prior to the meeting).
    • Use a tool such as wikispaces.com / google docs / Mindmeister.com as a work space for each of the groups (having set up a space for each team in advance). Provide them with the link and (if necessary) login/ password and set them to work brainstorming all the arguments in favour of ‘their’ controversial statement – capturing all contributions on the tool provided. (This capture is essential for later.) Use an online timer (online-stopwatch.com) to keep time and remind them to return to a full group call.
    • Meanwhile, set up 2 quick slideshows. Make sure you can play both on loop. In the first, go through the results from the poll, entering one name per slide into the slideshow starting with the name closest to 0 (and remembering to remove the judge(s)). With all the names in place, make the slides with the names of all participants from team 1 one colour, and all the names from team 2 in another colour. When you play the slideshow, as it goes through the names, the slides should alternative team/colour one and team/colour two. You will use these to call on the members of the teams to share their arguments, as well as helping everyone keep in mind who is talking and on behalf of which team / position. A second slide set is just two slides with just the two team colours (no names).
    • Back in full group, launch the ‘debate’, determining who speaks when using your slide set, until all the arguments captured are exhausted. The switch to your second slide set and invite people to ‘change teams’ and spontaneously argue from the other team. You will not have names, so just switch from colour one to colour two. Participants can only share if they are adding a new argument from the other team to the one in which they participated.
    • Once all arguments are exhausted. Invite the judge(s) who have listened to the debate to give their ‘verdict’ with a brief synthesis of which arguments they found most compelling.
    • Finally re-do the poll that you started with. Generate the report and compare the results! Have people shifted in their thinking?

    Please let us now how you get on and what you think!

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    I’m the Facilitator

    We are currently running a Facilitation learning programme with a large organization here in Geneva that is focused not so much on tools and techniques, but more on the design of facilitated learning processes, and what it means to be the person leading them. Overall we are working to help people use facilitation in a very nuanced, thoughtful way rather than as a blunt instrument.

    We have a session that is focused on ourselves as facilitators and for that we use any and all information that people have generated over the years (their choice) using diagnostic tools such as MBTI, Strengthsfinder, FIRO-B, etc. They can also talk to friends and family to get some inputs. The objective is to reflect on how our behavioural preferences might manifest themselves in our facilitation and group process leadership work.

    It has been a very interesting thought exercise to try to identify times when our individual behavioural preferences might really help our processes, or might get in the way. Just asking the question – How might my behavioural preferences manifest themselves in my facilitation work – is an intervention in itself as it is something most of us don’t consider or consider very often.

    We both give examples of where we see our own preferences at work, and take the exercise one step further to talk about how, once we are aware of them, we manage these. We are both very different facilitators, Lizzie and I, and it is interesting to see what we both actively do to make sure that the best outcome is achieved.

    I grappled with one of my behavioural preferences recently during a large group facilitation exercise in Mali. My FIRO-B results in inclusion are rather high (expressed and wanted). This is a good thing, of course, when it comes to working successfully with groups, and at the same time it gives me a challenge when ownership by the group is one of the soft outcomes desired of a facilitated process. This might be the case for a network building meeting, one generating an action plan or campaign, or a Youth Call to Action – as was the case in the Mali event.

    For any facilitator high in inclusion, turning over the process, standing back and letting the group take over takes deliberate thought and action and can really work against that behavioural preference to be in the middle of everything until the very end. But that ownership outcome demands it. In Mali, at the end of our process, that hand over needed to occur and did occur, but it was a little messy and felt for some as though the process was listing to starboard. As easy as it would have been for me to step in (my inclusion was ready to jump), I didn’t. I was present, I helped from the floor, I gave advice when needed, but the group representatives and the process we had set up took over, and they finished the work, and could revel in their success in doing it themselves.

    That was hard for me personally, but very good for the process.  Lots of additional relationship building, deeper perspective sharing, and considered decision-making might have been lost if I had run that process myself right to the very end. And these outcomes can be used as social capital when this group meets again.

    We use other examples of how our behaviour preferences map over to our facilitation work, and we talk about what we do to manage these, whether it is to design in specific things (like a handover point), to working with a co-facilitator that balances them out, to contracting differently with the group. We all have preferences that both make us good at being facilitators and that also might get in the way. Being mindful of these, and frequently asking the question – How might my behavioural preferences be showing up in my facilitation work? – is a good way to constantly be learning when I’m the Facilitator.

    Related blog posts:
    What Did You Say? Building a group’s capacity to deal with its own issues
    A sampling of good intervention statements to use when you are trying to help a group work through its issues, take control of the process and lead its own development.

    You Have the Right to Remain Silent
    Reflections on dealing with a group that has different inclusion needs – just because someone is not talking doesn’t necessarily mean that he/she is not engaged. Watch jumping up that Ladder of Inference!

    Understanding What We are Bringing to the Party: Group Process Consultation Resources
    A list of tools and resources that facilitators and Group Process Consultation practitioners can use to explore their own impacts on a group.

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    Making Meetings Meaningful – Greatest Hits from an Organization’s Learning Department

    In doing the research for a participants’ guide for the Facilitation learning programme we’re launching with a partner next week, I found a nice “greatest hits” collection that we made of some of our blogging reflections on the topic of making the most of internal meetings.  These posts were written from inside a large organization’s learning department and give some insight into the internal dialogues, learning and engagement processes (all kinds of meetings and gatherings) that institutions convene to help work through issues and generally get things done.

    I am delighted now that we captured our learning at the time in this format – a blog- and wrote it with the spirit of creating “reusable learning objects” (I was always banging on about RLOs in the organization, now that I am actually reusing them I am delighted!)

    This collection of 18 posts is organized below (with summaries and links) into the following categories that explore aspects of how to Make Meetings Meaningful:

    1. Purpose
    2. Positioning, and
    3. Process (e.g. design, implementation, reflection) 
      

    1) What’s the Purpose?

    Are we having conversations that matter?
    How are the conversations our organization is having changing the nature of relationships and the way people, groups and societies around the world are thinking and behaving? In other words, to what extent are our conversations bringing about the change we seek and helping achieve our objectives? And how can we continue to improve the quality of our conversations to better ensure that they matter?

      

    What Is the Purpose of ‘Free Coffee Mornings’?
    What value do weekly free coffee mornings have in fostering staff networking and informal learning in our organization? We decided to explore the opinions of others in our organization on this topic, through a short questionnaire. Many staff commented on the exercise itself, pointing out learning about how to make the most of free coffee mornings in the future to engage with staff, about how enthusiastic staff are to express their opinions, and the importance of ‘social spaces’ and time for team-building and collaboration across ‘silos’.

    You’ve Just Been to a Great Staff Meeting – What Happened?
    What are some of the different purposes of a Staff Meeting?

    -To update and inform staff members of activities in the institution
    -To profile people who have done good work and let them share their reflections
    -To maintain transparency and an open environment for sharing
    -To bring staff together for a shared experience once and a while
    Have you ever been to a great staff meeting? What was it about the meeting that made it useful, interesting, and made you excited to go to the next staff meeting?

    Post: You’ve Just Been to a Great Staff Meeting – What Happened?

    Networking – In or Out of Your Comfort Zone?
    Monday afternoon, a two hour session was held titled, ‘Learn Something New: People and Networking’. The objective was to not to provide a taught course on Networking, but do create an environment where people can share and exchange about networking, and do it at the same time. … Some suggestions were offered about how we can do more networking, and how we can help create work environments where networking and interaction is one of the key objectives. Longer coffee/lunch breaks? Open spaces in the agenda for interaction? Introductory sessions which serve to connect people and help them build relationships?

    2. Can Meetings be Used for Positioning?

    In our day to day conversations, how do we “talk the walk”?
    We’ve all heard of “walking the talk” – but what of “talking the walk”? In our day to day conversations, how do we “talk the walk” and reflect the core values employed in our work?… Our conversations can serve to enforce or discredit our messages and ourselves in powerful and lasting ways. Walking the talk is imperative. Talking the walk is so important too. People notice.

    No Such Thing as a Pointless Question: The Impact of Simply Asking
    The act of asking questions of an organization or group influences the group in some way. With our questions we get people to focus on something – what is that thing? What is our purpose of the question we are asking and what impact will it have on the way that person and the room think and feel? If people go in the direction you question them, where do you want them to go?

    Me and My Multiple Intelligences. We and Ours.
    In our organizations, what are we doing to make sure we interact in ways that address diversity of intelligences and learning styles? And how can we engage the multiple intelligences of our colleagues to best answer this question?

    3) How Effective is our Meeting Process?

    a) Design and preparation

    How Old is Your Knowledge?
    Workplace learning is 20% formal and 80% informal. Informal learning is an interesting combination of reading, internet surfing and search, audio-visual inputs, speeches and presentations, meetings, and conversations in the cafeteria, corridors, and on the bus. For the most part in these activities learning is quite accidental and not a deliberate objective. There are learning opportunities around every corner. What are you doing to structure your informal learning?

    What Kind of a Discussion do You Want?
    It is thought-provoking to hear people come away from discussions that they have lead and say, “Why do you think people reacted that way to my ideas?” Another question they could ask might be, “What could I have done differently to develop a generative discussion rather than a debate?” … If one sets up an academic situation, then people will be happy to react as though they are in one! Rarely do people throw a professor or a keynote speaker for that matter a soft ball…

    A Courtroom or a Concert?
    If I was going to run an important meeting, which environment would I want to create? How would I want my participants and speakers to feel when they left the room? What would I want people to get out of it? Would it be a zero sum gain, or would it be a step of a creative, hopeful process? When I sent out my next invitation for the group to meet again, what would be people’s reactions? Would they be excited that their favorite group was holding a concert again? Or would they dread the eyes of the jury?

    Bottoms on Seats – How Do You Make That Memorable?
    People travel to the venue, they walk into a bustling and colourful conference venue (exhibitions, restaurants, meeting spaces, and all), then they walk into their first of many small workshop rooms and basically sit there (different small rooms of course) for 75% of the conference… We spend a lot of energy thinking about communication to conference participants and the media around the event to make it colourful, interesting and engaging; how can we make sure that this does not stop at the workshop door?

    Leveraging the Wisdom of Crowds in our Organization
    Next week, our organization is hosting a week of meetings, bringing together in headquarters senior staff from our offices around the world. During these meetings, how smart will our crowd(s) be? How smart could it/they be? As session organizers, what can we do to make our crowds as smart as possible – better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future?

    Lights, Camera, Action: Working with Star Speakers
    Here is a lesson that I absolutely need to learn as a workshop facilitator: No matter how well you brief a plenary speaker who is a subject matter expert, they will go over the time. … Plan for it in as many ways as possible, especially by allocating substantial discussion times (even after they get cut down) so that this critical part of the learning process is always there to help people follow your star.

      

    b) Implementation

    Using Storytelling to Generate Ideas: We Just Went to a Great Staff Meeting – What

    Happened? (Reprise)

    We decided to use our own communications unit meeting to generate additional creative ideas, and then to share them with the team who is responsible for our staff meetings… Here was our question: You just went to a great staff meeting – you left excited, energised and hopeful. Tell us – what happened? We first worked in pairs to create our stories, then shared them with each other. Here are some of the ideas that emerged.

    Ballroom Learning and Large Groups: Using Socratic Questioning
    I am sitting in a hotel ballroom with 140 people at a conference titled, “Capacity Development Strategies: Let the evidence speak” and the level of some of the participants has dictated a certain room layout and format – we have a head table with four speakers and 140+ people sitting shoulder to shoulder behind tables in the room… If learning is the goal, and this formal room layout is a given, how might we best work with this format for optimal exchange?

    What Exactly Are You Facilitating?
    I have had a few people ask me about the value of facilitating other people’s workshops. What does that contribute to the grand scheme of things? The overall goal is not to just to move people around a room for a day. A good Facilitator is a process person with their eye on outcomes and learning – there is reason for every interaction, what is it and how can a process be designed that makes those conversations easier, smoother, and more productive? After all, facilitation comes from the Latin word “facil” which means to make something easy. Good facilitation means making group dialogue, decision-making, information sharing, and learning processes easier and more effective for everyone: your workshop hosts, your participants, and yourself.

    c) Reflection and follow-up

    Helping Other People Do Great Work
    How transferable was my experience last week and what can it prompt me to learn about how to help our guest speakers do great work for us at the upcoming workshop? What more could I do in the next few days that could make all the difference for a first-timer, to create an environment where people are proud of their contributions, others appreciate it, and generally helps everyone do great work?

    Dialoguing about dialogue
    “Listen to one another with your full attention. Think about what is said, how it is said and the intent behind this. How does it make you feel – physically, intellectually and emotionally – as a participant in this dialogue process? How does it make others feel?” There is still much to explore and emerge about the role of dialogue in change processes. Along the way, how can we replicate such experiential approaches in our own institutions for collective learning about the important role of dialogue in change?

    I found it interesting to look back, now that I am working from the outside and don’t always have seamless, day-to-day contact with such micro-learning processes, to remember how valuable it was to capture this nuanced process learning through a blog. Even after some time I find the learning very clearly reusable.  
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    10 Different Ways to Do Anything? Get Inspiration Everywhere

    Every town should have a local circus school, if only to remind us that there are at least 10 ways to do anything. It’s not just because I am a proud parent to two jugglers that I enjoy the regular circus shows. It’s because creativity literally oozes out from under the doors of the place.
    Today’s show featured some 50 young circus students; and one of the challenges they clearly set themselves was how many different ways they could get them on and off the stage. Sure, they could have just walked on and performed their acts. But they didn’t. They hopped on in burlap sacks, they somersaulted on in pairs (not easy, but possible), they walked on using colourful plastic cups as “binoculars” to peer at the audience, they rolled in on giant balls, they stepped in whispering mischievously to each other, they walked in on ropes that they were laying down in front of themselves as they went. And on and on.
    They also used those methods to leave the stage, walking back on their rope, picking it up behind them as they went, always cleverly tying in the juggling, acrobacy, or high bar that they performed into their means of “transport” on and off the stage. 
    I asked one of the teachers how they came up with all their ideas. She said simply that they get together and ask themselves the question – what are all the different ways we can do this? Then they have a lot of laughs and come up with the most amazing stuff, always keeping it very simple. Those plastic drinking cups were “binoculars”, they were lined up as a colourful border at the back, then a border at the front of the stage between us and them, they were piled up into the most perilous tower (several times) in the middle of the stage, and then knocked unceremoniously over by a giant ball, and at the end the young performers toasted each other with them. 

    Sometimes it’s as easy as that, get some people together and ask the question – what are 10 different ways we can do this (get people on stage – or do our brainstorming, design this project, run this meeting, celebrate this achievement)?  For inspiration look anywhere, find some friends, and don’t forget to ask the question.

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    By-the-Numbers: The Power of Math in Group Processes

    Sometimes the math behind learning and collaborative events and processes is pretty impressive. For example, I used the slide above in my intro at a recent multi-Stakeholder event.

    • 198 was the number of people who had registered to attend.
    • 12 was the number of hours each of us would spend in session over the two-day workshop.
    • 5.5 was the number of hours that we would be on breaks (coffee breaks, lunch and receptions) prime time for informal networking (about 30% of the total, not too bad).
    • 2,376 was the number of person hours in total that we would be working together – which adds up to roughly 59 person weeks/or over a year of work (with no holidays!) 
    • 16.5 is the number of hours that it would take if everyone spoke for 5 minutes in the plenary, one after the other with no breaks (and no podium/panel speakers).

    The last point is especially provocative from a group process point of view, and interesting to point out – if the group is large, and the format is plenary, and if you want to hear from everyone (because for example its a stakeholder dialogue), and everyone feels they have to speak in the plenary to be heard, it is a zero sum game.

    With the math it becomes quite clear and a powerful rationale for both (a) design decisions such as adding into the agenda all kinds of small group discussions, pairs discussions, talks to your neighbour after a speaker or before a plenary discussion (and maybe some good capture tools if you want to collect these thoughts). There simply are not enough hours available for everyone to speak in plenary; and (b) on-the-spot facilitation decisions such as helping people understand that they need to be brief and concise in their interventions from the floor and also from the front (panel, podium or other). This way if the facilitator selects someone new instead of someone who has already spoken, even if they are literally jumping up and down, an understanding of the math may help foster some understanding and patience with the process.

    Invoking the math can also help people gain a greater understanding of what is being invested (e.g. 2,376 person hours) and also what that might cost if it was monetized. It also speaks to what can be accomplished if that time is used most productively (design again – do you want it to be spent listening to speakers?)

    Do the math, it can be a powerful intervention for all – participants, organizers and learning/process designers!

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    So You’ve Been Asked to Give an Ignite or Pecha Kucha? Scott Berkun on “Why and How to Give an Ignite Talk”


    As we frequently use Pecha Kucha’s and other presentation techniques, I thought I would share this great video of Scott Berkun giving an Ignite (5 min presentation – 20 slides autotimed at 15 seconds each), on the topic “How to Give an Ignite”. His lessons are terrific and his engaging modelling of the technique itself in giving the tips just makes it even better.

    I found this video through Anecdote‘s blog which featured a post today (or yesterday or tomorrow – I am never sure which since they are based in Australia) titled Scott Berkun encourages storytelling. Have a look at this interesting musing on the storytelling aspects of Scott’s presentation.

    We have written a few blog posts with tips from our own learning too: Taking the Long Elevator: 13 Tips for Good Pecha Kuchas and The End of Boring: Borrowing, Adapting, Mashing for Facilitators. The video is highly recommended for anyone giving a Pecha Kucha or Ignite presentation, and the basic messages are transferable to anyone looking for punch in broader speaking and presentation contexts.

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    In the Absence of Metaphor: Games and New Groups

    As Facilitators and Trainers working with new groups and organizations, we occasionally get strong reactions to descriptors like “interactive”, “games-based”, “experiential” when explaining our work. When you dig a bit deeper into those responses, you hear stories of team-building sessions gone awry, icebreakers that were too “silly”, or activity choices that were “pointless”, in someone’s estimation.

    The gap in meaning, I might guess, is due to the absence of metaphor.

    Metaphor is the concept of understanding one thing in terms of another – or constructing an analogy between two things, ideas or actions.

    Picking the right team building game for example, is not just a question of what the facilitator likes or feels competent delivering; it is selecting a game that provides a platform to explore some of the key issues that the team has, and creating a metaphor in a game that lets team members identify them, work through them, test options, discuss them based on the behaviour in the game, and then draw lessons or ideas that can be useful in their daily work. 

    Even a quick activity, like an icebreaker or introductions, can be linked to a useful metaphor too. For example, I recently used Thiagi’s Hello game to both have people collect information about their experience, expectations, etc., which was good insight in itself, and then in the debriefing asked the group to think about how the exercise might be a metaphor for their work. This game features a number of small groups concurrently collecting information from the whole group in very short segments for planning, collecting, analysing, and reporting of around 3 minutes each! This particular group had some issues that team members wanted to explore about dealing with time pressure, with cooperation and information sharing, and this game was perfect for both introductions and to begin to lightly focus and reflect on these things, even in the first 15 minutes of the day.

    Think about where you can find or create metaphor in  facilitation and training work. Any extra design element, no matter how small, that makes the link between the activity or game and the work that people are doing (or hoping to do better) can deepen the connection and the learning. And of course, it is important to bring attention to the metaphor, through debriefing, questioning, noticing. Your role as a facilitator is to help people see and make those connections. When done with skill, this helps makes both the meaning of the activity as well as your choice in introducing it much more obvious to participants. Finally, it optimises the time and refreshingly gives people permission to play again (“serious play” of course).

    Some groups might need some extra work to help regain credibility for experiential learning. By strengthening the metaphor and meaning of games and activities, you are both investing in a group’s future success learning together through interactive techniques, and also hopefully softening resistance, making your life easier on the day and afterwards.

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    Creating Temporary Learnscapes: Can Visual Interest Help Us Learn?

    I think all of us would instinctively answer this question with a “Yes”, but how often do we actually take steps to create an interesting visual “learnscape” around us, particularly in our temporary learning venues.

    At least 99% of the time, the spaces that we use for our workshops, whether for strategic planning, team development, training or other, are square rooms with white or beige walls. All the chairs are the same. The tables might be rectangular, square or round, and probably all the same. The windows are uniform, the walls are blank. The latter is often a good thing, particularly if you want to hang up flipcharts and the products of your work. At the end of the workshop the walls may be covered and the “journey” of the workshop evident for all to see.

    But what about the first morning, when people first walk in? What do they see and how does it set them up for the exciting, creative and productive experience that you will help them co-create with your terrific interactive agenda and fast paced repartee?

    It is interesting to notice when workshop or conference organizers do take the external environment and the challenge to create visual interest into consideration. I think that conference organizers perhaps try a little harder as they assume that the participant experience is more passive, so they add a plant or a sofa. Actually, TED Conferences are really brilliant at this, the stages that you see in the videos, or as a participant from the floor are intricate, rich and interesting.  Watch a minute of this Tim Jackson TED video for an example of the eclectic mix of background articles they use. Or take a look at the photo I took of a panel discussion at the TEDGlobal Conference I attended last summer. The TEDXChange Geneva event that Lizzie organized also featured a whole task list on procuring props for the stage, shipped in from Zurich, to make the background for the speakers and the conversations look interesting, including a vintage coke machine, a wagon wheel and more (see photo here), which all tied in some way with the talks being given.

    When you can’t truck in props, you can still create visual interest in other ways. The recent Membership Meeting of a standard setting textile product group that I facilitated featured a sample from their first harvest on each table – there to admire, feel and connect people with their process. In the room as people entered were also maps of their strategic regions, with photos of the value chain stakeholders, and posters created to show the value chain. We used these for one of the first exercises, and put them up before we started for the visuals and to get people in the theme of the meeting from the onset.

    It you want to leave the walls free, what about the ceiling? I was mesmerised by the big room at the Hub in Brussels, where we had a recent LEAD Europe (Leadership for Environment and Development) training course gathering, where a local artist had hung a cardboard sculpture. How visually stimulating it would be to have a workshop in that space! I remember during past IUCN Commission on Education and Communication workshops, there would be bouquets of fresh flowers, and bowl of bright fruit and chocolate on all the tables. I remember a facilitator from Disney telling me that at some of their planning workshops, each participant would have their own placemat and setting with drawing paper, coloured markers, playdough, lego or other small items to “play with” while the meeting was going on. What can you bring in that will be different and interesting to look at/interact with during your learning exercise?

    Creating stimulating visual environments for learning, even in our temporary workshops spaces, can enhance creativity and spark ideas and engagement. It can signal that something different is coming, something that will connect people will both their left and right brains. You can do this by moving people around, by using different rooms, by going inside and outside, and also by looking differently at your main workshop room and setting and thinking more about how you can make it visually stimulating. Even you are a canvas – people will look at you, the facilitator, trainer or organizer for HOURS, what colours are you wearing???

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    Meetings Too Long and Too Wordy? Try a Twitter Meeting

    I hear over and over again that meetings go way too long (and certainly have been in more than a few of these myself). People are not always to the point (if they get to the point), and the actionable items are often embedded in lots of description and anecdote. Loose narrative is not necessarily a bad thing, and at the same time, when an institution has a meeting culture where everything happens in meetings, it is refreshing when they are planned, concise, decisive, and over.

    Would it be possible to practice being concise by having a meeting on Twitter?

    Here is how it might happen. You could have the first meeting in the same room, with everyone there with their laptops or smart phones. You would have to get everyone on Twitter (in most institutions, only a minority are – and still people are incredibly curious). Help them sign in, set up and connect. Then do a little practice chatting so people get the mechanics. Then start your meeting – try to conduct at least the first item completely on Twitter.

    Imagine a silent room with 10 people in it all staring at their computers or phones – frankly, lots of meetings with one person talking are still like this (except people on their laptops and phones are not paying attention to the speaker – see my blog post on Email During Workshops: Bad Manners or Proof of a New Paradigm). At least this time, the other 9 people are all typing and commenting as the person sends through their very concise report, idea, or question. Every agenda item would have everyone’s multiple inputs – thoughts, comments and questions. Stop at some point and debrief it, how is it going? It is interactive? Are people getting used to saying things that are short and pithy?

    The next practice might be the same group in their offices. Set a time for the Twitter meeting and have everyone start engaging on Twitter from wherever they are. Imagine in this format, some of the people might be at home, on the train, or having a coffee at the cafeteria. Again see what that is like in terms of helping people be concise, and in the next face-to-face meeting reflect on that. How easy is it to get to the point? How much preparation does it take to have a short meeting? (I think it always takes more – how many people do not prepare at all for meetings, and do their thinking on their feet? Is this why meetings can take so long?) With the Twitter meeting, how easy is it to interact and engage in the discussion? And what’s it like to have the minutes of the meeting at your fingertips immediately as the meeting is going on?

    Full disclosure, I have not yet tried this myself although I love the idea. It sounds like an excellent way to help people notice the value of being concise in meetings and to help them practice that. Even in a formal learning situation it might be an interesting exercise in using social media, reflective practice, summarising, reporting, and two-way communication. If you try this, let me know!

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    Horses for Courses: Facilitating High Stake Workshops

    There are so many kinds of workshops/meetings/events, with as many different kinds of objectives and outcomes desired. Each needs a specific structure and build to get successfully from start to finish. For veteran facilitators this might be a statement of the blindingly obvious. However, we do have our favorite sequences. We have tried and tested frames for group work, our signature activities and games, our question stems that we draw on and adapt to many different contexts. We might also do more of one kind of workshop than others – more retreats, or relationship building, or strategic planning, or stakeholder dialogues. These big categories indeed might have archetypal sequences that we can use as building blocks and rely on for winning results.

    When the Stakes Are Even Higher

    When we get into a new category of work, that is a great opportunity to think again about our favorite workshop outlines. For example, how different might an agenda look if you are consensually negotiating a text that will be binding on those in the room (and many others who may not be)? This is an interesting context as stakes will no doubt be much higher. In this context, participants may be formally representing constituencies (where their re-election depends on successfully serving their interests), others may be spokespeople for higher-level absentee decision makers (who may sign their paychecks). There might also be observers, funders, hosts, and other non-voting participants, who might still have significant impact on the final decision.  There may also be significant power asymmetries, along with the familiar cultural and sectoral diversity and personalities that we see in all of our workshops. Ultimately jobs and much more may be at stake. All together this might make agreeing on a black and white text in a defined period of time an exciting couple of days for a facilitator.

    Some of the differences between such an agenda and one devoted to, for instance, strategic planning by project teams, might be how and when you work with the product (text) itself. Some of the things I have noticed revolve around timing and placement of the decision moments in the overall workshop agenda. These might sound simple, and can make a difference for a successful outcome:

    • Watch attendance and travel: If this is a high stakes decision-making meeting encourage people to be there for the duration of the meeting, and if necessary make an agreement that if people choose not to stay it indicates their agreement of the final decisions of the group.
    • Have clarity on decision moments: Make certain participants are clear WHEN the readings will be and decisions taken, so that they can arrange phone checks or access to other decision-makers at critical times. It helps them avoid scheduling other work or calls at those times and also helps them arrange their schedules to be present (mentally and physically) when they need to be.
    • Keep extreme realism in timing: Because timing will be important throughout the event, keeping to time is even more important – make sure this particular agenda is super realistic (as opposed to optimistic), and build in some extra discussion time where possible (can a less important agenda item for the group be pushed into their next meeting?)
    • Make it visual: When it comes to the text itself, make sure that the text is put up on PPT point or visually in the room and not just read out loud to the group. The meaning is much clearer and easier to discuss as a group when people are able to read and mull it over together.  
    • Externalise the decision: Making it visual (rather than oral – as in reading) also externalises the words (e.g. de-personalises the text) so that the group can own it and it is not affiliated with any particular position or the opinion of the reader(s). 
    • Provide something to take away: Have a print out of the final text too, that people can use to check with counterparts who are not present, or can use to read later on their own or in caucuses. Don’t make people write it down for themselves.
    • Build in check-in time: Give people time after the first reading to check with their constituencies if necessary or with their bosses.
    • Sleep on it: Try to get the text work done before the last day, so that people can sleep on it and discuss it informally.
    • Take a second look: Have a second reading of the decision taken on the final day. Make sure this is not in the last few hours of the workshop in case there are still open issues which can be dealt with in time.
    • Don’t push it: Introduce no new issues on the last day of the work together.

    There are many other familiar activities that can and will feature along the course of the negotiation. There will be the relationship building, the mapping of opinion, the exchange of perspectives and reality checks. With this kind of high stake workshop, the steps of the negotiation and decision-making process need to be perfectly placed so that this central aspect of the group’s effort doesn’t create a hurdle but a gateway to … (ok, giving up on the horse-racing metaphor here, it’s sounding more like the stable floor than the track – you know what I mean!!) 

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    When I Was a Game

    I arrived at the Chicago workshop about 5 minutes late and was horrified to see all the participants in their seats looking at the trainer/facilitator who was in mid-sentence describing the objectives of the day. He didn’t even pause as he said “gruetzi” to me (“hello” in Swiss German), to which I quickly replied “bonjour” (I don’t speak Swiss German), and tried to quietly sneak to the only remaining seat in the room, which of course was at the first table. I grimaced as I walked in front of him to take that seat. He never broke his opening patter, but for that first word of welcome, and didn’t address me directly again as he informed the participants that I didn’t know that I was the first game for the day.

    Take out a piece of paper, he said, and write down three things you know about this Mystery Person (the group had already met for several days previously, and I was only joining on the fourth day). Including, he added, how you pronounce her name (I had just written it on a sticky name tag) with a hard “G” or a soft “G”. The winner, he announced, wins a BMW.

    People took out paper, and peered quizzically at me. After literally 30 seconds of reflection he asked for everyone to share one of their guesses. I was to answer yes or no as they postulated about me based on the little bit of data that they had collected in that 2 minutes since I walked through the door. What do we know about our Mystery Guest, he asked, and people started…  I disliked being late. I wasn’t good with directions. I spoke another language. I had a job where I worked in front of people. I had travelled by plane to get there. And on and on. It was simply amazing how many things people could discern or infer from so little input in such a short amount of time.

    At the end, he asked me to say a few words about myself. At that point, my introduction to the group was alarmingly short as I built on the many uncanny, correct guesses of my fellow participants. At the end, he asked people to  count up their “points” at which moment there was a flurry of quick questions. He said “congratulations!”, without being too concerned about who actually had the most points, and welcomed me as a newcomer into the Thiagi Interactive Techniques Certification Workshop.

    * * *

    What a wonderful way to be warmly integrated into a formed and familiar group, what an interesting way to involve everyone in this introduction process. What an excellent way to reinforce the fact that your participants know much more than you probably give them credit for (or can figure out for themselves), and that you can cover a lot of ground, hitting multiple objectives (introduce a new person, integrate him/her, play a game with some learning points like these, get people’s attention and wake them up at 08:00 on a Thursday) in only 5 well-used minutes.

    This is the work of Thiagi (Sivasailam Thiagarajan), who holds the title of Resident Mad Scientist at the Thiagi Group. With its Indiana USA origins (starting “in a basement” some 30 years ago), this group is building an increasingly global network of games enthusiasts and Thiagi Certified Facilitators (like me!) who use these kinds of interactive techniques as a basis for engaging people in our facilitation and training work. And in that short introduction to our Certification day, Thiagi helped us see that not only are we people who design and run games for learning, we can be games too. There are no boundaries! How different might daily life be, how much more might we notice or learn, how much more fun might we have, if we knew that we could make a game of literally anything?

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    Taking the Long Elevator: 13 Tips for Good Pecha Kuchas

    What do you notice when you have the opportunity to watch 35 Pecha Kuchas? We have featured these interesting presentation techniques – 20 PPT slides autotimed at 20 seconds each – in different workshop settings in the last few months. Here are some of the things we noticed that made them work:

    13 Tips for Pecha Kucha Success

    1. Practice your Pecha Kucha WITH the timing turned on (don’t just talk through your printed slides to yourself as “practice”.) 
    2. Check particularly how your message for each slide matches the 20 second timing limit.
    3. Too much information? Think about where you need to break down your message if there is too much information for 20 seconds. For example, run your message over 2 or 3 slides if need be. Think creatively about how your visual can progress with your message development.
    4. Too little information? If you find that there is too little for 20 seconds, e.g. just a one liner or one brief point, then double up two messages on 1 slide, or think about a quick example to illustrate your short point. Note: Watch that the example doesn’t launch you into a long story which will blow your timing.
    5. Using diagrams? These can be a good way to snapshot lots of information but be careful with diagrams or graphs that are too complex. Can they be recrafted so the one key message/line/box is bolder? Note that people will not be able to read the little stuff (like all the indices etc.) quickly, so only include what you need for your story. Spread it over 2 slides and use a build. Make a handout for later if people will need the detail, don’t try to go through it in your Pecha Kucha.
    6. Save time by not using the first slide to introduce yourself, the title of your talk only, or closing with a “Thank you for listening” slide. Just say it quickly. If you want to elaborate on yourself, use a wordle (beautiful word cloud) of your CV or bio to snapshot yourself (here is an example of one I did for myself).  
    7. Watch your computer positioning – make sure the computer is in a place where you can see the screen as a prompt and still face the group, unless you have good peripheral vision and can stand at the side so you can see both the screen and the eyes of your audience. 
    8. Never NEVER read your slides.
    9. Design thinking – I have seen both slides with only images and no text, and slides with an image and a prompt word. Unless you are very good at picking images and they are very obvious (even quirky can be obvious within your narrative), I think I like the latter. The single word can summarise the point of the image.  It is also very effective to only have one or two words on a blank slide (centred or interestingly placed), and perhaps with a black or colour background. In any case, mix it up!
    10. Interactivity? It is hard in the time allocated to do very interactive work with your audience – you can use hand mapping or voting, or other quick inputs, but if you have to pick on people and wait for an answer, and then if people talk too long, there goes your timing.
    11. Part of a Pecha Kucha marathon? If your Pecha Kucha is one in a string of PKs, then the organizers might want to pause for a minute (literally) between them and invite people to write down any thoughts, questions, or comments before starting the next one. The organizers could even make a Job Aid of some kind (a card with a matrix, etc.) to help people keep track of where they are in the line-up and their impressions.
    12. Getting people’s attention – If you do want to engage, then end with a “lesson” unconcluded; with a question, or an invitation.
    13. Don’t apologize for “not having enough time to go into depth because of this format”; that just says you didn’t prepare well enough.

    Everyone should be able to make their point in this day and age of micro-media with an “elevator speech” – and 6 min and 40 seconds is an incredibly generous elevator ride by most building’s standards!

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    811 Years of Experience!

    We just completed a very interesting workshop where 110 stakeholders were involved in giving feedback to 15 speakers (project proponents and authors of 11 Chapters of an ambitious global Reporting project) in 1.5 days. How we did that is a completely different blog post! (We did use Pecha Kuchas to give the Chapter overviews, which overall worked well – participants appreciated them very much for their economy of words and time, and some speakers were rather challenged to get all their information, diagrams and graphs into the 20 slide x 20 second format.)

    Our very large participant group was made up of experts, advocates, authors, and partners, all with a valuable perspective to share, both on the process and the content areas addressed in the Report. With so many speakers and items on the agenda we needed to design in as many opportunities to hear from the participants as possible, as getting their feedback on the Report was one of the main goals of the workshop.

    With so many amazing people, we needed to optimise their inputs and flatten out any potential power hierarchies that might be inadvertently created by a speaker/participant, teacher/learner lecture format (e.g. someone speaking and many people listening and then asking questions). We used many different ways of capturing inputs and ideas from people after our Pecha Kuchas, many starting with table-level work so that many people could speak simultaneously.

    But back to the very beginning… After our workshop opening on Day 1, we took the first 10 minutes at the tables for people seated together to introduce themselves. They shared their names, organizations and insight on their involvement in the Reporting process so far. That provided a good sense of the resources available in close proximity.

    Then we used a group mapping technique that would help demonstrate and visualise, for all of us, the collective knowledge and expertise in the room. First we asked people to stand up when I called their sector – I asked people working for government to stand up, for those from NGOs, business, the UN, etc. to stand – this gave us the sector balance in the room. Then I asked for people to stand who had already worked on the Report as an author or writer – that gave us the people who have been most intimately involved – our process experts. I asked who had read one or more Chapters – that gave us the people who had been involved in any kind of review (formal or informal). We noticed that for each of those categories called, the experts were in fact seated at all the different tables in the room – no longer were all the “experts” at the front of the room.

    Finally, we asked for people at their tables to add up quickly all the months that individuals had been involved in the Report process, and all the years of content expertise they had. They wrote this up on a prepared flip chart near their tables, and then we had them quickly report their numbers table-by-table in plenary.

    When we added this up we had 625 months (or 52 years) of process involvement in working on this Report (which had officially started in 2008), and 811 years of content expertise! With all this experience in the room, we were ready to go!

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    Learning How to Speak “Agenda”

    Something I am noticing about groups that I work with frequently over time is their growing ability to read through the agenda versions I give them and imagine what will happen, anticipate the kind of questions or challenges the participants might have with the task or group work, or wonder if the time allocation is enough for the number of speakers – just like I would.

    Being able to speak and read “Agenda, is a great language to have both as a Facilitator/Trainer as well as someone engaging one. When both these parties speak it, it helps to develop a shared sense of the event or workshop before it happens so that you can build in any contingencies (e.g. extra time at breaks that can be used for overrun, a session that is optional, etc.) Especially if you are working with a new group, it might be hard as a newcomer to their community to anticipate where things might possibly go off track, you won’t necessarily know the personalities you are working with, the past history, the patterns, the hot buttons, etc. So having a counterpart in the organization engaging you that speaks “Agenda” is incredibly useful.

    How do you know if someone does (and it could be any member of the organizing team)? They will be the people who ask you the kind of questions you would ask: What will we get out of that session? How do people move from one room to another for this exercise? Where will the screen need to be for that activity? What happens if someone asks X? These are very useful questions that, when answered, make for a smoother, better choreographed, more productive workshop. You will be asking these kinds of questions yourself as you do the agenda design work for the event, and at the same time, with the knowledge your partner has about his/her own participant group, their sharp eyes on your agenda will be incredibly helpful.

    How can you train people to speak “Agenda”? Well, you can start by writing it and speaking it back to them. When I write up my agendas, I always prepare first a detailed facilitation process agenda. This includes essential items such as:

    • Time on the agenda day (matching the hours of the workshop);
    • Session number and title (these milestones makes it easier to talk about parts of the agenda);
    • Session content: sequencing, speakers names, presentation titles, activity names, group work questions, and timing of all these individual items in minutes
    • Facilitator name (who’s in charge of that session)

    Once I have thought through the agenda to this level of detail, I send out version 1 to my counterpart in the host organization and I talk them through it also at this level of detail. That is when I need to find that person who speaks “Agenda”. The next conversations are incredibly important for road testing the ideas, the sequencing, the activities proposed. Especially when I am introducing a new kind of activity (like a Pecha Kucha, or a systems game) it is incredibly useful to have someone who can understand the dynamic and ask me informed questions about it. 

    I can see over time how my regular contracting partners get better and better at speaking this language of group dynamics and of process flow, and it becomes a real exchange on what the workshop will look like and achieve. I believe it makes the final agenda more robust and realistic. When I am not getting back these kinds of questions (if my agenda only gets to version 2 or 3, because I am tweaking it myself or finding typos), then I know I need to sit down again and go through it myself very carefully to check my timings, transitions,etc. This is also when I need to be asking more questions to get information about the group and its personality and preferences when convened.

    When I sit down with one of my partners who speaks this language, however, I might get to version 4 to 6 (or more), and in working through all the elements with someone who understands, I feel even more confident about the flow and content. An added bonus in finding someone who speaks “Agenda” is that, in session, I have someone who is watching the dynamic like I am, who has the vocabulary and can understand what is happening and why, and with whom at the breaks I can check in, with a little chat in Agenda, my own language, to see how things are going from a Participant’s point of view. 

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    Domesticating Your Facilitator: Mashing Up Technology Adoption with Onboarding a New Facilitator

    It is always exciting when you get to work with a new organization as a facilitator or learning practitioner. And at the same time you know that every group has its own everything: processes, policies, values, vocabulary, leadership style, secret handshake. So what can you do to understand that as soon as possible? And what can the organization do to help this unaccustomed Facilitator feel comfortable with her new (albeit temporary) home?

    If I wanted to build on a theory of domestication that has been developed around technology (e.g. how does an iPhone go from something you have only heard about to an essential part of your life in 3 months or less – I wrote a previous blog post on this titled, “New Technology: It’s Not Just for Christmas“), how might that inform how organizations can work with new Facilitators? This goes both for groups who have never worked with Facilitators and those who are “breaking in” a new one.

    The often-cited steps to domestication (which I have converted over to onboarding a new Facilitator) are:

    1. Commodification: Preparing the ground for initial appropriation of a new Facilitator. This might include clearing it with the Executive Director, or the Board, and certainly the staff with whom the Facilitator will work. This includes the “design” and “marketing” of what kind of Facilitator you want, and what you expect that Facilitator to do. Do you need someone who has a background in your field, what are their Terms of Reference? How will these Terms fit into the existing tasks of the current team members. How will you tell your participants about the Facilitator, and how will this person be described? And when the term Commodification is taken in its original meaning, that is assigning an economic value to something not previously considered as such, you need to be able to put the tasks and time of this new Facilitator into financial terms. For example, is there a budget line for a Facilitator?

    This step of Commodification helps to start to integrate the new Facilitator into the daily life of the organization. Although some of this will happen before the Facilitator is engaged, it is important that the Facilitator is also included in much of this, from being asked to comment on the Terms of Reference, to being introduced to the team, and their individual roles and responsabilities. And, as the Facilitator is a person and not an iPhone, she will most certainly have questions to ask!

    2. Objectification: In the technology theory, this step means that the new item is positioned in the workplace and integrated into daily life, that is, it turns up in your environment consistently. This might mean that the Facilitator has a regular meeting with the team, or a regular conference call during the planning stage of your event. Hier email address and website are shared, along with all the necessary contact information, and put on the internal knowledge network where you can easily find it. Maybe a Skype invitation is sent, the Facilitator features in your Contacts list. The Facilitator becomes a part of the daily conversations around the event or meeting.

    3. Incorporation: This the third stage of domestication, which means that the Facilitator just becomes a part of daily life (for the life of your event). At this point, you don’t have to try to remember to copy things to your new Facilitator. She is just on the cc line of every email that is sent out about the event. You remember to ask when decisions are being taken that might affect a dynamic, preparation or the results of a session. And the Facilitator is in the room when new aspects of the design, set up or delivery are being considered.  You are comfortable with the Facilitator, and the Facilitator is comfortable with you. Once this stage is reached, the Facilitator can continue to listen deeply around the process, to dynamics, power asymmetries, to learning from past events, and is now able to contextualise descriptions of scenarios, biographical details, and the hopes and dreams of individual team members and participants for the outcomes.

    4. Conversion: And this is the fourth stage in domesticating your Facilitator. One of the well-known writers on domestication, Professor Roger Silverstone, wrote that in this final stage users want the perfect fit and an enhancement of their life and work without destabilisation. In the end, if this process goes smoothly, you will have a Facilitator that understands your organization, the internal processes and unique personalities, and shares your view of what progress looks like.

    Once you get to this last stage you have a domesticated Facilitator. The investment made to domesticate can help you again in the future when you need him or her to help you reach your goals with a little updating, but overall without much additional effort.

    I have been domesticated by a few organizations now, and I have seen real benefits to this – in terms of finer and more nuanced understanding of topics, quicker connections with participants through the use of their own vocabulary (read: jargon), less real time spent in session by participants trying to explain “how things are done around here” to the Facilitator, greater ability to identify negotiating points, better more provocative questions to focus discussions, and of course a reduction in preparation time needed (which equals lower budget lines to cover Facilitation). I have seen some preparation processes go from needing many days to read, meet, discuss, revise agendas, etc., to just an initial in-depth meeting, one or two agenda revisions, a pre-meeting walk through and delivery.

    It is worth putting in the effort to domesticate your Facilitator; it helps them do a better job for you, and helps you get productivity enhancements and adds real value when it is done well. And with a Facilitator, you always get a full battery…

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    Facilitators: Get Good With Names


    Many people say they are not good with names, and apologize in advance for forgetting yours (over and over again). However, if you are facilitating a new group, it doesn’t ingratiate you if after the first few hours you still cannot call on people by their names. Or worse, call them by the wrong names; or even worse, start to only call on the people whose names you know (I’ve seen this happen, but of course YOU would never do that!)

    What About Name Tags?

    Many workshop organizers kindly try to help this by using name tags. Yet somehow at the beginning of the session there are miraculously still many left over on the registration table, when every seat is filled. And it is even more remarkable how you can not read a name printed in number 10 font from more than 2 meters. Or how thoughtfully people put them on at the beginning of the workshop and then as the morning wears on, and they feel more comfortable (from your good facilitation no doubt), take off their jacket or sweater, nametag firmly affixed, and hang it over their chair. And you can forget more than 20% of your participants remembering to put them on for Day 2 (do you?) – by then everyone is sure that everyone else knows their name. Finally, if you are a facilitator that is new to a group whose members already know one another well, they will probably not think to have name tags in the first place.

    So what about name plates then – those folded over paper cards, that could help, right? Well, just one change around for small group work  (and we want that interactivity) and the names are all in the wrong place. And there is also something slightly amusing about the fact that, when name plates are only printed on one side, people seem more often than not to put that side facing themselves.

    So failing name tags and name plates, what else can you do to get good with names?

    Use Group Introductions Strategically

    Well, normally workshops start with some kind of group check-in or introduction, with participants sharing their names and organizations, or something about themselves. Just before they start this, quickly draw the layout of the room (tables at least) on the top of your agenda. Then, write down their first names as they say them, indicating where they are sitting at that time. If you jot down a key word or two, or the colour they are wearing, that can also help. “Introductions” is also the best time to ask people to repeat their names if you did not quite catch them (then write them down). In the end you have a full seating plan, and even if people change later on, you can usually remember where they started, or greatly narrow it down, and use it for reference as needed throughout the event.

    Usually at some point, workshop organizers also distribute participant lists, but perhaps not to the Facilitator; they might put them in the participants packs, or they send it to you by email in advance. Make sure you have a copy on hand, whatever it takes, and keep it with you at all times when you start. You can also use that for notetaking during introductions, noting a memorable thing about each person as they speak (although I usually prefer the seating plan capture described above – it’s a visual snapshot of the group). If a Keynote presentation follows and you are in the back, use your participants list or “seating map” to practice names while the speaker has their attention (and they are not moving around).

    Here’s another idea, when you write up your facilitator’s agenda, write in all the people’s names who are contributing. Even if people are giving short presentations, briefing an activity, meeting people for the bus – put in their full names and titles in bold the first time they are mentioned. Then with your agenda in hand, you can check the name quickly at any point in the session, after they have made themselves known through this contribution (you will probably be briefing them beforehand anyways).

    Use It Or Lose It (Memory-wise)

    You can also reinforce people’s names by using them at every possible opportunity (without being irritating, I think that is something that they teach in some job interview courses, and overused it gets cloying). After you say someone’s name a few times you usually have it. That also starts to narrow down to just a few whose names you really don’t remember or are not sure enough of to use in front of the group. At that point check your seating plan notes, or better yet, in the next break go and ask them or ask someone else for their name. Then the first chance you get, use it, twice (Lizzie, you’re next! Thanks Lizzie.)

    By the end of the first half day, by combining a few or all of these things, you should have everyone’s name and be ready to work much more closely with the group from then on. It makes a noticeable of difference getting to know a group when you can call each and every person by name – helping them accept you as their process guide, inviting them personally to engage, and encouraging them to try something new and potentially take some steps out of their individual comfort zones.  Do all these things, and you will proudly be able to say, “I’m good with names.”

    Any other tricks? Please share them!

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    From One Brain to Many: Can You Creatively Build 20 Presentations Into a Workshop?

    I got a great question this morning from a fellow learning practitioner working at the UN in Geneva, asking for ideas about how to structure 20 short participant presentations over a 2-day workshop.

    I wrote a blog post last month about using Pecha Kucha’s and Ingnites for this kind of thing (see The End of Boring…), and went on to suggest how to use this in a workshop where people might not have prepared to try a new technique.

    Why not let people choose between doing a Pecha Kucha and doing a poster for their 5-minute presentation. Tell them 50% can do one and the other will do the second technique. See if they self-select between the two after an introduction to the techniques.

    For the Poster, tell people that they will have a flipchart size sheet, coloured markers/collage materials and their product will be photographed and shown on the big screen as a guide for their 5 minute talk. You can give them a word budget too if you wish – 10 words, 20 words – or you could have them pick a card and the card number gives them their word budget, so they will all be different. That gives them a little more drama, as their Pecha Kucha colleagues will experience.

    Then give people time in the workshop to prepare themselves, say a 45 min or 1 hour prep period before the presentations start. And finally, put them into pairs to do this preparation work (even mix them, one poster person with a Pecha Kucha person). This pairing gives them some support and someone to bounce ideas off of, it also gives them a deep dive into someone else’s work, and let’s them experience the other technique they didn’t choose. The one-hour investment in preparation time will be made up through the 5/6 minute presentation time frame (versus the 10-15 min per person they might have expected normally), and provides valuable relationship building time.

    After the preparation time, set up the sequencing, let people pick a number between 1-20 out of a hat, which will give them their order. Then schedule them in 5 presentation blocks (that is roughly 45 min, with the transition times). After each of block of 5 presentations, plan on a reflection discussion for 10 minutes – what are people noticing about the presentations? What patterns are emerging, what might that mean for our topic X or Y. Change the questions for this reflection slightly each time for variety, as well as a useful opportunity to help move people’s thinking on your topic. Pull out different things, about one aspect or another, or about what we can do with the new information we are getting (so how it contributes to our action, next steps, or other goal of your workshop.)

    For timing within the overall workshop, it depends on what purpose these presentations serve. Are they briefing people on the other participants, on work between a previous meeting and this one, information on the activities of many different offices of members in a network? If so, then it would make sense to start this early, such as after coffee on Day 1 and finish after lunch the same day. Or perhaps it is on commitments ore personal action plans for the results of a longer workshop, in which case you will want that at the end. See when the information given is most useful for the work you are doing. With 20 of these, it would be important to work it around a break, coffee or lunch.

    Other interesting presentation-linked techniques that I have seen recently (not linked to the above scenario, but cool anyways – I want to remember them in any case so I put them here!):

    • Give a “quiz” at the end of the presentations. This would also work for the 20 presentations referred to above. As people present, note down some of the key points, interesting facts, etc. Then at the end of the presentations, to start the discussion, ask the audience the quiz questions. Question by question, ask for the answers from the audience; then if desired, ask the speaker to complement this with (only a little!) additional information. This is also the way to focus the discussion on a certain line of inquiry if that is helpful for your workshop. You can also decide if you want to tell people in advance that there will be a quiz or not. If you do, you might get them to pay more attention to what they are hearing; surprising them will wake them up for the discussion. See what makes sense for the group.
    • Introducing speakers: Have the audience introduce them. Put up on the screen a photograph of the speakers (with their name and title if you want, or try it without and also ask the audience for their name and title) and walk down into the audience and ask people to introduce this person. Some people will have heard something about them, read an article, or met them, let the audience say a few words about the person and then ask the speaker if there is anything they would like to add. I saw this at the Battle of the Bloggers at Online Educa last year with an audience of about 150 and it worked brilliantly, and in the end the information got out.

    What other interesting practice have you seen for making presentations powerful and memorable? What are the ways we can help people with brilliant ideas and thoughts in their heads share them with others in the most productive way?