There has been a raft of flipped workshops recently where F2F events have been redesigned to be held virtually, and it is fascinating what a rich diversity of designs there are. Some of them have been reworked as big blocks of synchronous together time that aim to closely mimic the programme of the original F2F workshop with some minor modifications, such as adjusting the time to make it more comfortable for participants on different continents, and reducing the number of days for example. Others are dramatically reducing the “contact” time and pushing workshop tasks into the days before and after the online meeting, undertaken by participants individually. Yet another model is spreading the engagement out over weeks, with scheduled touch points that pick up different themes of the original event – and many, many more!

As we are all learning right now, I thought I’d share some details of a few of these models that I am working on right now, in case they might be useful for other designers and organizers who are in the process of flipping their workshops.

Model 1: The Block

I have one of these coming up which was originally a 3-day F2F workshop, scheduled to be held daily from 09:00 – 18:00, with one evening session. Now in its virtual incarnation, it is two days long, and will be held from 11:30-17:30 (Central European Time) to accommodate both European and North American participants (and no “night” session). To pare down the work, we needed to go back to the original objectives and select those that needed to be accomplished now, and those that could wait for a subsequent F2F, or be taken into a set of topical conference calls later on. We also added some pre-work, but most of the work would still be done together in the virtual sessions.

Even with these modifications, this virtual workshop block will be a heavy lift for participants. We have the traditional 90-minute session lengths, with lunch and afternoon coffee breaks scheduled to relieve people from their screens. During this free time, we will invite people to stay connected if they wish, to chat together informally while they eat and have coffee. To keep things interactive and lively, we have a diverse mix of activities, including a number of break outs, supported with google docs to capture outputs from breakouts and other small activities (polls, stretching, etc.) to keep things moving.

This format of this workshop is relatively close to our original F2F agenda, and I think in some cases the makeover of a F2F workshop to a virtual using this model can work well with a few caveats. This would include a rather small group (we are 20) of very dedicated people (this will be tiring so need to manage their attention) with a well- defined task (we are finishing a co-creation project to develop a set of guidelines). I think the fact that the majority of this mixed stakeholder group has worked together before will make the social dynamics side work. We invested significantly in building social capital in our first F2F workshop that we can draw on now for trust, commitment and creativity. For this workshop we are using zoom and will have two facilitators supporting the team in their work, one of which will operate the technical aspects (splitting people into breakouts, launching polls, etc.)

Model 2: The Blend

Not many of my flipped workshops are taking this compact block shape. For others we are opting for shorter synchronous meetings (where people are all together) and taking a lot of the planned work out of that full contact time. We are blending substantive pre- and post-meeting work that is asynchronously completed (e.g. undertaken by individual participants whenever they want), with the meeting times for synchronous engagement and discussion.

Here’s an example: For one previously scheduled two-day F2F workshop where we were gathering feedback to guide a consultation process, we asked the 40+ participants to review and comment on a google doc in advance of the meeting, and to answer 3 higher-level strategic questions about the document on a separate google sheet before we met online. As participants were located all over the world, we conducted our workshop through three 90-minute meetings held each day for two consecutive days – one call for participants in the Asia Pacific region, one for Europe/Africa/MENA, and one for North America, Latin America and the Caribbean. To support these virtual meetings, we made three identical copies of the document to comment upon and labeled each by region. The google sheet with the strategic questions had the instructions on the first sheet and then three tabs, labeled by region, each with an identical set of strategic questions. Note that we sent out the links to the google docs, but also sent the files as attachments in word and excel. Some people are not able to use google docs due to their location or institution, or not familiar with them, so they had the option.

The calls themselves were used to present an overview of the document as a reminder, and then an analysis of the comments and feedback received. We asked for more feedback and could ask specific probing questions on each region’s responses where we had them. With the documents split by region, we could easily see what the people from the region on the call said, so we could seek further clarification and detail on their comments efficiently as need be.

For the Day 2 meetings, we synthesized what we had heard on the Day 1 across the regions, and identified five topics that emerged across the calls to bring back to the groups. For example, we had a couple of points that needed further clarification, others where the different groups offered conflicting advice, etc. The second call allowed us to share what we had heard and to go further, bringing in some of the good ideas across the different calls.

It is true that not everyone attending this larger workshop did the pre-work, especially at this time when people are working from home and juggling many things. Many did, but said they would value more time to reflect on the comments others had made, or in order to do some internal consultation in their organizations. As such, we are leaving the documents open for another week to capture as much of their input as possible, let them build on other’s ideas, and reflect further. Also, if someone could not join the calls for some reason, or did not want to speak out on the call, they are able to contribute their ideas in this way. This was our plan, and was also requested by participants.

Our workshop goal was to get this senior group’s comments and ideas, so we needed to make this as easy as possible for participants. This workshop was the first step in a longer consultation process so it had to generate good quality input, in addition to being satisfying for the participants. This model blends asynchronous work before and after the call, with shorter synchronous virtual meetings. It was run by one facilitator on the Go-to-Meeting platform.

Model 3: The Journey

The third model that we’re working on flips a very large-scale 300+ community workshop into virtual space by spreading the content out over three weeks. Six interactive webinars will be held in total. Once a week on the same day, two webinars will be held on the same day, one in the late morning and one in early afternoon to accommodate as comfortably as possible the largest number of the global participant group.

As this was more of a conference-style gathering for a larger group, even with many interactive elements in the F2F format, there was a lot of content to work with. This gathering will be postponed until early 2021, so we are pulling out the good practice exchange, community updating and storytelling aspects into this webinar format and featuring the work of different community members. We will still have interactivity through the introduction of a back chat polling tool (polleverywhere for example), as well as a crowdsourcing exercise to draw ideas from the group. This latter task will be introduced in the first webinar and the results analyzed and presented in the last webinar two weeks later. For this we are exploring Zoom, and will have a facilitator and a host of moderators and technical resource persons.

So there you have it, what started out as three F2F workshops planned to be held over 2 and 3 days, have ended up as three dramatically different models of virtual workshops. The diversity of options makes it exciting to re-design in virtual space.

Design Questions

Your choice also depends on the design parameters you are working with. Once you know your objectives and desired outputs, you ask:

  1. How many people?
  2. Where are they located (time zones)?
  3. What kind of connectivity do they have? (Can they support video, calls, other?)
  4. How committed are they to your process and the goals?
  5. Do they know each other? Do they need to?
  6. What experience do they have with virtual work? Do you use some platform already?
  7. Will people do asynchronous work? E.g. Will they devote the time if we give them tasks to do before and after the contact time?

Then as a facilitator, you use your design skills and creativity to put together your virtual workshops, which, just like their F2F counterparts, come in a delightfully wide variety of shapes and sizes.


There is an excited flurry of activity right now among meeting, workshop and conference organizers -and their facilitators -as travel restrictions due to the coronavirus cause cancellations of face-to-face (F2F) meeting formats. Planning meeting agendas are being taken over with the exploration of different technologies, tools and platforms to help hold these events virtually.

But in many ways, virtual gatherings are not so different to their F2F counterparts.

It’s worth remembering, and I am talking to myself here too, that these meetings, workshops and conferences themselves are tools – a means to an end. We don’t organize workshops or conference just to have them – they are not boxes to tick in our annual workplans. We use these gatherings for other goals that are important to us. The most useful thing to bear in mind when looking at all these different models, tools and platforms to convert our F2F meetings into virtual formats is, “What was the end we had in mind?”

What did we want to change or be different as a result of our workshop? What did we want people to know, think or do differently after attending our conference? What did we want to have in our hands as outputs at the end of our meeting?

No doubt there was a task you wanted to complete – whether it was to collect useful input to a strategy development process, collectively write an article, review a set of draft guidelines, or exchange good practice to build community capacities, and so on. There were also probably some softer outcomes in mind, like helping build relationships in a community, reinforcing trust in a process, or inspiring buy-in and support in promoting the final co-created product.

Putting your desired outcomes first will help make choosing the right technology to support it much easier – form follows function (if you will pardon my invocation of an over-used design cliché.) If we take a step back and remember our desired outcomes and outputs, that will help make this conversion-to-virtual process easier, and potentially tap into some creativity in terms of how we get things done virtually.

A couple of other thoughts on virtual workshop design – length and complexity

We observe in our F2F conferences and workshops that even the most well-intentioned participants have finite attention spans. It may be less obvious when people are sitting in an auditorium as they can easily dream away while still looking fixedly forward at the person standing at the podium. They can of course also choose to keep talking to the person they just met at coffee break and leave their seat empty in the plenary room. (It is of course harder to disappear when there are only 15 or 35 people – although they may invoke the “sorry, I couldn’t reschedule this important call.”)

Online, there are a multitude of ways people’s attention can drift away or be drawn away – pulled by their computers, email, various devices. And there is no way to tell if they are even there at all, or just popped out to make a coffee, if they are on mute and no camera is being used.

So the same rules apply to virtual as F2F, keep things short and to the point. In F2F we rarely have sessions that are more than 90 minutes to two hours maximum before taking a break. Within those blocks we use a lot of techniques to keep messages focused, interventions short, pithy and discussions interactive. Virtual sessions should use the same rhythm, sticking to these familiar timeframes, and include well-prepared interventions.

Technology adds a layer of complexity for both participants and organizers. Even in F2F, preparing a presentation and standing up to speak is something that most people are happy to do. But add a PPT projector, slide changer, microphone and sound system, and things can fall apart if not practiced and tested. This is the same for virtual environments where seasoned speakers can be perplexed by talking, keeping an eye on the chat stream, and changing their slides at the same time – especially the first few times they do it. Speaker preparation is something that needs built into both formats.

Although we all have our phones in our hands at every moment of the day, even using polling apps in F2F workshops (like polleverywhere or mentimeter) with an increasingly tech-savvy audience, still creates complications for some. This is why we take time for set up and do some low risk test questions before we use these tools for real data gathering. With online interaction it’s the same, and we do need to add in that additional time for people to get used to the tool – take it slow, make it easy with clear instructions, and practice. It also helps to be humble and invite the audience to join in the experiment of trying new things and invite them to give feedback afterwards on what worked and what could be different next time.

The good part is that people are getting more comfortable with these technologies, at least as users. With this current situation, many more will also get more comfortable with the back end of these platforms and tools as administrators. Whether it is using a polling app on our phone F2F or using zoom in our offices or at home, we are now more quickly domesticating these technologies.

It’s actually a great opportunity right now, and a great responsibility. By doing a good job with your virtual meeting or conference, you are building the capacity and confidence of the whole community to work together in this way. Once people feel comfortable with the technical aspects,  and have a productive and enjoyable experience working together virtually, they will show up differently next time.

This is a valuable mass learning opportunity for our community to learn how to work effectively together virtually. It’s possible that, even without travel restrictions, we may never go back to the same meeting culture we had before. We will still gather, but may be even more ambitious with precious F2F meetings, with their substantial investments in carbon, budget and time. If we get our methods right, we may get the same valuable outputs in virtual formats as F2F, demonstrating that they are not so different after all.

(Note from Gillian: This is a very long, detailed, and rather geeky post. I write this as I have been asked a few times recently for “how to” information on how to set up these kinds of group work templates for virtual workshops.)

As we get more comfortable with getting work done collectively through No-Fly Workshops, innovations begin to emerge as we challenge ourselves with facilitation questions like, “How can we run this interactive activity virtually?” Rather than lowering our ambitions about what we can accomplish with an entirely or partially virtual group, we can take these as facilitation design parameters (similar to having to work with theatre format, or not knowing how many people will show up to your parallel side event) and come up with a design that is fit for purpose.

Everyone is now familiar with Google Docs, although perhaps less so Google Sheets (the Excel equivalent). These are both incredibly useful in virtual workshop contexts. Below are two ways to use them to support group work. I expand at the end into one application of Google Sheets that is perhaps less well-known, but very valuable in helping to solve a couple of familiar workshop issues around identifying key messages from group work and (too) long report backs. I provide detailed instructions at the end of this post for how to set up an Aggregator Google Sheet that collects highlights from different small groups’ work recorded on individual sheets, and automatically pulls them together into one summary sheet.

I start with two scenarios for how to capture and guide a group’s work with Google Docs/Sheets – 1) Co-writing a product document of some kind; and 2) Capturing ideas/answers to questions through small group work.

Preparation for both these scenarios:

  1. Decide on “permissions” in advance – can everyone or only some people edit the document (with others in read only)? If the group is small, you might give everyone the right to edit. If your group is larger and you will have smaller sub-groups working on sections, then pre-assign the small sub-groups and decide who will be the recorder/rapporteur for that group and give them editing permission. If you pre-assign groups and recorder, make a table that indicates which group people are in, and who is the recorder, and share that table in advance.
  2. Set up a “Back Chat Channel”: This could be a WhatsApp group for all participants, and if the Facilitator sets this up, you will also have all members connected to you in case you need to contact them individually during the workshop.
  3. Always write the exercise instructions on the Google Doc or Sheet. When people finally get into their part of the document or groups, they might very well have forgotten what they were supposed to do!


Scenario 1: One virtual group needs to collectively write a document or write parts of a document (e.g. a proposal, a strategic plan, a book chapter, etc.)

OutputA collectively written document.
Online documentGoogle Doc
PreparationIf you have the headings for the different sections of the document (e.g. table of contents), paste that into a new Google Doc. If you do not, then your first exercise might be to have a brainstorming about the section headings (you can also do this BEFORE the workshop). Number the sections.
Activity (small group – 8-10 people)
  • Provide people with the link to the google doc.
  • Slower approach: If you want to discuss collectively and write the sections all together in real time, then have one person type and the others contributing ideas. This becomes a plenary activity. This is slow and can get messy. Plus even with a small group, people will struggle to jump in if you have any louder people, so this can be boring for some people. This can still work with a small group that  knows one another well and has good group dynamics.
  • Faster approach: Assign people to the numbered sections (this can be based on competencies or randomly assigned – e.g. putting your writers in alphabetical order to assign them.) People will write on the same document at the same time, but only initially on their assigned section.
  • Step 1: Give people a set amount of time to write. It is better to write in chunks and check in with people periodically for questions or comments. You can send an announcement in the chat to provide a 10 minute “warning” and the end.
  • Step 2: Once people are done with their sections. You can start a new activity asking people to read and comment on the other sections. Assign a time, and give them a 10 minute warning just before it is up.
  • Step 3: After the commenting period is over. Ask people to go back to their original section and review the comments, taking them into consideration and making a next draft of their section. Have them highlight any comments or questions for which they might need more information.
  • Step 4: After the writing, open a plenary discussion that allows section writers to clarify any comments or questions that they didn’t understand or would value more input. If it is useful, after this clarification round, you can give the writers some more time to finalise their sections.
  • Step 5: Open a final plenary discussion about the experience, what is missing, or what is to be done. You can create a new google doc that has Next Actions, Responsible person(s) and a Timeline or Deadline section. You might need to iterate your document further, or involve more people. This can potentially be done asynchronously after the workshop.
  • Note: While people are working, they can stay connected to the main workshop platform (Zoom, GoToMeeting, Skype, etc.) but mute themselves and take off their camera while they are writing their sections or comments on others, coming back in for the plenary check-ins and discussions.
Activity (large group – over 10 people)
  • Follow the above activity sequencing, but create small sub-groups (assigned in advance) and have them work together on another platform (Skype, MS Teams, or use the breakout room function in Zoom, etc.)  so they can talk while they write. They are still using the same shared Google Doc and link. The sub-groups can decide if one person writes and the others talk. Note you need to allocate more time for this kind of group work. It takes more time when a group is working, versus one person writing alone.
  • People can still stay on the same platform and mute themselves while they are doing their sub-group writing.


Scenario 2: Small groups need to brainstorm and provide responses to a question or set of questions.

OutputIdeas and answers to a question or questions (this might also provide input into a strategy etc.)
Online documentGoogle Doc for each group OR a Google Sheet with one tab per sub-group.

How to choose? If you have a report back, it is a little fiddly to click through to different Google Doc links, especially if you have some people who are only connected through audio (e.g. dialed in through their phones) who are clicking through themselves following along. It is easier to have one Google Sheet with multiple tabs, and then people can just click tabs to see the results of the different groups’ work. This latter also has the advantage of keeping all the information in one place for ease of sharing and use later.

PreparationYour choice of a Google Doc or a Google Sheet also depends on what you are doing. If you have, for example, four groups working on a complex set of questions in parallel and you don’t necessarily need to share their detailed results with the others, then you could make 4 separate Google Docs. This could be more appropriate for longer and more involved group discussions.

If you have four small groups that are brainstorming or answering one or two questions, then you might want to set up a Google Sheet that has 4 tabs (each labelled with a different group name), and ask people to work on the same Sheet but on their designated tab.

Designate the groups in advance. If you want to let people choose their group, then ask them to choose in advance through email or a polling tool like survey monkey, etc. Make a table to share to ensure that people know which group they are going into, what document they will work on (link), and how they will convene in their smaller groups. This can be through the breakout group function of your platform, or you can set up skype, MS Teams or other channel.

  • In “Plenary”, announce the activity and remind people of their groups by sharing the table that lists the group members. Explain what they will be doing once they get into their groups, ask for any questions then.
  • Give people a way to contact you if they have any problems (e.g. through WhatsApp).
  • Tell people when they need to come back to the Plenary.
  • As a facilitator you can watch the Google Docs or Google Sheets fill up, and if one of the groups is not making progress, you can check in with people in their small groups through WhatsApp or other backchannel. Note you may need to refresh your browser as there might be a delay in updating the shared doc.
  • Report backs? After the designated time period, when people come back to the “plenary”, you can ask for a representative from each group to share some highlights and share their screen, or you can share your screen, or you can ask people to click through the document themselves.
  • This part can be very long! You need to time it (e.g. give each group 5 minutes) or come up with another way to limit what people say, particularly if it is not essential for everyone to know every little detail about another groups’ work! For a neat way to help groups synthesize their discussions, you can create an aggregator Google Sheet (see below).

Helping groups identify key messages and be concise in their report back – Creating an Aggregator Google Sheet

When people have their group’s entire results in front of them, reporting back can be very long and overly detailed. It is hard in real time for many people to synthesize on the spot, and they want to honour the whole discussion. This is the same for both a F2F workshop and a virtual one. In addition, sometimes people don’t care very much about the nitty gritty of another groups’ work; they just want to hear the key points. However, report backs are expected, they can be useful for making bigger picture observations, and can acknowledge and appreciate a group’s work. So it is hard to avoid them. But you can make them better!

In a F2F workshop, I might give a group a template to work on with the key questions, and at the end of their discussion another smaller template asking them to distill out 3 key messages or highlights from their group’s work. Then I ask them to report back using the highlights template, rather than their longer, group work artefact.

You can do this in virtual meetings as well. A ninja tip (as my Luc Hoffmann Institute colleague who created one recently called it) is to develop a Google Sheet that has an aggregator function. By this, I mean, on each group’s tab there is one space where the group can discuss their question and record their answer in length, and a separate place where they write in their 3 highlights or key messages. Anything written in this second spot is automatically aggregated on a separate tab on the Google Sheet labelled “Summary” or “Highlights”.

When the group then gets to the report back part, you display the Summary tab’s sheet and that is all they and the other groups see. This Summary sheet gives you an overview of responses from all the groups, supporting a more focused and concise report back, as well as any subsequent observations for pattern spotting.

With this type of Sheet, as the organizer, you now get a write up of the longer discussion as recorded by the group on their designated tab, as well as their highlights on a separate one. Now you don’t have to wade through a lot of information to find key messages from the whole exercise.

Making this kind Google Sheet is very easy but takes some knowledge of Excel. For those who are whizz’s at Excel you might already know how to do this and be happy that it is similar in Google Sheets. If not, here is a description to follow below:


Setting up your Aggregator Google Sheet

First set up your Google Sheet with your “Group” tabs and a separate tab for the “Summary” (see below). Note that you need to have a one-word name for each sheet with no spaces. E.g. instead of “Group 1” you need to call it “Group1”.

Note: You can make the Sheets on the separate tabs as pretty or as plain as you like – this is a template, you can be creative! Below I changed font colour and font size for the title, put borders around my question and answer area, and highlighted the aggregated cell/line so it was easy to see. For each separate sheet, write in the group name again at the top, the question, as well as instructions for group work. (click on the image below to enlarge)


Next you will set up your aggregator page. Go to your Summary tab, here you need to enter a few simple formulas so that this sheet pulls the answers from the other sheets automatically (same as in Excel) (click on the image below to enlarge):


For this, you need to:

  1. Click on the cell in the SUMMARY sheet where you want the highlights to show up (e.g. the cell under Group 1).
  2. Type “=”
  3. Now go back to the sheet from where you want to draw the information and click on the cell where that information will be written (e.g. the “Highlights” cell)
  4. Press RETURN (it will automatically take you back to the SUMMARY sheet). Now your formula is there that links the key cells from the two sheets (SUMMARY and GROUP1)

Now when you go back to the SUMMARY sheet, you see the following formula in the cell under Group 1 as follows: =Group1!A2  (A2 is the cell you connected to on the Group 1 sheet)

  1. Repeat for the other group tabs until you have all the highlights connected with the SUMMARY sheet. Now in subsequent cells you have =Group2!A2   =Group3A2, etc.

You will see how easy this is once you try it. What you get in the end will be a helpful support to your virtual group work, making reporting back more efficient, pattern spotting easier, and giving you concrete outputs to work with in the next steps of your No-Fly Workshop. (And please feel free to add additional ideas on how to use them in virtual workshops in the comments section below.)


No-Fly Workshops are becoming increasingly popular as people become more sensitive to carbon emissions from air travel, respond to budget freezes or higher scrutiny of trips and travel, and try to profit from the time savings afforded by avoiding long flights or trips to meetings.

We know that face-to-face (F2F) meetings are good for social capital and relationship building, and can be important for achieving soft outcomes from group identity creation to shared ownership of a great collective result. But after relationships have been built, what are the options for teams or partnerships that have work to do, but also want to benefit from all these environmental, economic and personal productivity savings?

I recently had the great pleasure to work with a tri-continental team on a strategic consultation exercise during which: a) The whole team needed to share an understanding of future organizational objectives; b) Team members in different constellations needed to work together to generate key inputs; and c) These inputs needed to be shared with the whole group for further validation and value-adding discussion so that the process could go forward to the next step with everyone’s support.

This workshop would have taken a day or more to accomplish the stated goals. To execute in F2F format, it would also have produced over 20.5 tonnes of carbon from the air travel it would have needed to convene the team in one place, not to mention cost many thousands of USD in travel costs, and implied days of travel time for team members in other parts of the world – in this case, Europe and Latin America. We had bigger groups in two of the organization’s offices, and a few individuals joining from other locations.

In the end, the following virtual format was used:

  1. Four, 2-hour online workshops were held starting from 09:00 EST/14:00 GMT/15:00 CET and ending at 11:00 EST/16:00 GMT/17:00 CET. These were scheduled over an 8-day period, with gaps of a few days in between the first three calls (which helped with collecting feedback from those participating and tweaking the meeting process).
  2. Go-to-Meeting was the platform that we used for plenary discussions. MSTeams was used for small group work. The largest group always stayed in the Go-to-Meeting space, keeping that open for the duration of the workshop.
  3. A Google doc was designed to help small groups capture the outputs of the breakout discussions for each of the days (each day had a different theme), with one tab for each breakout group (labelled with the group name) created for each day. The questions to be answered through the group work on the different sheets were the same for each group in this case, although the groups could modify the questions and the framework for responding.
  4. A Word doc was sent to all participants in advance of each of the online workshops with the link to the Google doc for that session, a reminder of the Group topics, and the list of members for each group. Instructions as to whether the group would move to another room, or stay in the main room were included.

The first of the 2-hour sessions was somewhat of a pilot. We spent that session entirely in plenary using a Mindmeister mind map to capture the outputs of the plenary discussion. However, we quickly understood that we needed some further discussion on the overall framework and rationale for the exercise, so some time was devoted to a presentation during the next scheduled staff meeting. This happened to fall between Workshop 1 and 2, and had a more traditional online presentation format with a Q&A afterwards.  After that, as we were 14 people and wanted to have as much time as possible for individual contributions, we decided that small group work would be more effecient at least for part of each workshop. Therefore, for calls 2, 3 and 4, we used the following design:

  • Plenary opening (in the Go-to-Meeting space):  Welcome and reminder of the purpose of the 2-hour session, overview of the group composition and topic areas for this day, instructions for the group work, and the time to reconvene in the Go-to-Meeting space. (10 min)
  • Small group work: The largest group stayed in the main virtual meeting space. Some other people physically moved rooms if they were with one of the two larger groups in one of the offices.    Those people not in the larger group muted their microphones and turned off their cameras in Go-to-Meeting, and went onto the other platform for their small group calls (MSTeams in this case, but this could also be Skype or another). All the groups connected to the one google doc, and used their appropriate group tab to discuss and answer questions and capture notes. Each group designated a facilitator, as well as a rapporteur who would capture the discussion on the Google doc. In the bigger group, the external facilitator (in this case, me) stayed with that group and supported facilitation as needed and helped keep track of time. Some groups found that people had already included some ideas on their Google doc – this was because the Word document with the links had been sent in advance, and those who could have contributed to more than one thematic discussion encouraged to add some of their ideas in advance, with their initials.   (45-50 min)
  • Plenary exchange: After the parallel work, the groups reconvened in the Go-to-Meeting space to share the results of their discussions. For this plenary discussion, we used the “record” option for Go-to-Meeting, so that the discussion could be referred back to later. For the plenary exchange, we each clicked on the appropriate tab of the google doc to follow along as one team member shared their discussion. After each report, we took questions and comments, and added any additional thoughts to the template. As the plenary group was large, people also had the option to add comments and ideas to the google doc individually and noted their initials, so that we could get back to them if there were questions about what they added. This way it was not necessary for everyone to share in plenary – some could, and others could add their ideas in writing directly onto the Google doc.  (55 min)
  • Closing and Next steps: We had a little time at the end to take some closing comments from the host, and to talk about the objectives of the next call/the next steps in the process. We noted that the Google docs for each of the workshops were live and that people could also add ideas afterwards, again including their initials. (5 min)

This process got smoother and smoother, as people got used to the technology. We also tried a few different ways of recording the results of the small group discussions. Initially we let groups that went “off piste”  record the notes of the discussion outside the templates. But we eventually decided that it was better for people to use the templates, and answer the questions (bearing in mind that they could tweak the questions) for more task precision. We definitely saw the benefit of using this format a number of times over a few days – practice helped!

From the Facilitator’s perspective, I took some notes for myself that I wanted to share – I will want to use these the next time I facilitate a No-Fly workshop:

Before: Design
  • Design needs to be taken seriously by both the Facilitator and the hosting organization. It is tempting to think that this is like the conference calls of yore, when you just ask a question and (some) people talk. You will go miles further with a more complex design, a good discussion capture tool, and the technology and groupings decisions made in advance, written down and shared with all participating. Make an agenda just like you would with a F2F workshop, with timing to keep you on track.
  • Two hours is really the longest you can keep people’s attention online, and moving into groups keeps people engaged for that period. If you stayed in plenary the whole time you would need a break in the middle, and even with the break, two-hours in plenary would still be taxing, and guarantee a bit of attention drift for even the most committed participants.
  • All the discussion supports need to be made in advance, the Google doc, the instructions sheet (with links and groupings). This can be sent to people in advance so they can review them and have them handy.
  • Don’t make the templates too complex, and include the group work instructions at the top so that once people are separated from you in their small groups they won’t spend a lot of time trying to remember what it was they were supposed to be doing.
  • Build in extra time for some initial technical difficulties. As you will normally be using the platform that the team uses, someone from the team will likely be the adminstrator/convener of the session.  Know who your technical support person is – that is the person in the team who always knows how the technology works (in my experience, there is one in every team and probably one of the younger team members!)
During the Workshop
  • Remember that as the facilitator, your video camera will be on the whole time. People will be looking at you the whole time (in the breakouts you will stay with the big group, camera on, with your smiling face!) So think about that. Movements that you will make will be distracting, every turn of your head will be noticed, your facial expressions, your yawn, and everything else. If you are a fidgiter, you might want a stress ball nearby, as well as your water glass, your notes, your phone (on silent), your watch (also on silent), etc. all in your immediate reach so that your head is not bobbing in and out of the camera frame as discussions ensue.
  • As the facilitator in a virtual workshop, it becomes pretty obvious when you are doing something else. You can’t stand at the back of the room and take a break while people are watching the speaker. And to make matters worse (or more obvious), if you have glasses, the reflection in your glasses will show what is on your computer screen (this is the same for individual participants in front of their computers too). You are there to pay attention, support the group and deeply listen (if you are not trouble shooting or taking notes, or trying to find a participant, etc.)  – two hours is a long time!
  • Look behind you. I wrote a whole blog post about this: Look Behind You – it’s funny that I wrote this post 10 years ago, so the technology we were using is long gone, but the tips on how to manage your environment for an online workshop still apply.
  • Check your own  technology. I used a wired headset, as over a couple of hours (and as the facilitator I connected 30 minutes before the 2-hour call, so my online time was longer), my earpods can run out of battery if I’m not careful.  Also, if I have an option, I don’t rely on wifi for my connection, and have a wired cable, just to avoid any ups and downs in the wifi. You need to judge the reliability of your work environment.
  • Create your “cockpit”: I facilitated all of these workshops standing, using my standing desk. On this I have a large additional screen on which I displayed the Google doc and instructions. Beside this was my laptop with my webcam, as well as showing the webcams of all the other participants. I needed to be looking most of the time at my webcam, and still following the other documents, so they had to be in my line of sight. The workshop agenda I had in hardcopy and it was there that I took my facilitation notes by hand during the call. I had my phone on a stand-up charger just by my laptop so I could also see the skype chat (and WhatsApp). My “cockpit” had three screens of differing sizes and all my documents open or at hand.
  • Set up a communication means with the organizer. I used Skype to call and chat with my counterpart, but on reflection, during the workshop it would have been handy to have two WhatsApp groups available – one with the whole group to remind them about timing (e.g. when to come back from breakouts) and to see where people were (if someone didn’t come back, you could message them), and one WhatsApp with the main organizer so that you could ask bilateral questions, or check things as people were talking.
  • Remind people while they are speaking to speak slowly, and to pause from time to time. Similar to your role as facilitator in F2F environments, you will be helping other people jump in, so it is important that people not talk for too long. There seems to be even more of a barrier to entry for people to jump into a conversation virtually and it is harder for them to make eye contact or use the body language that they might employ in an in-person workshop to signal to the speaker that they want to get into the discussion. You will spend more time helping people contribute in this virtual environment.
  • All of the issues that would emerge in a F2F workshop will also emerge here and potentially affect people’s willingness to contribute. Whether it is trust, transparency, confidence, hierarchy – everything you as the facilitator may be keeping an eye on in an in-person workshop, you will need to keep an eye on in a virtual environment as well. Having methodologies that allow people to contribute without always speaking in plenary  – for example, using the google doc, allowing people to contribute asynchonously before and after, or even during the workshop,  in writing, etc. all these can help to manage some of these very human dimensions of collaborative work.
After: Feedback
  • It is incredibly useful after each of the workshops to have a debriefing call with the organizer to talk through what worked and what could be different next time. That helps continually modify the agenda.
  • It is also important to let all the participants know that they can send through observations on the process and suggestions, to you bilaterally, or to the organizers. Again this helps with adjusting the process.
  • I also used 10 minutes at the end of one of the early calls for people to write in their thoughts about “What worked” and “What could be different next time” on the side of the Google doc. In real time I wrote those two headings and asked people to take a moment to provide some quick feedback in real time. It just took a couple of minutes and everyone who had a reflection could contribute it without noting their name.

No-Fly Workshops have been around for a while, and they are certainly not going away. More and more people are considering this option for getting work done within distributed teams and networks, to cut carbon, costs and time. As technology advances, and our organizations invest in better platforms, so too do our motivations to learn how to use them more effeciently to get our collaborative work done.  Similar to sharing facilitation and design tips, as Facilitators, let’s try to share more and more of our “how to’s ” for these No-Fly workshops, as without all that flying around, we should have more time to do so!

The day before our recent 130 person, 3-day multi-stakeholder workshop, we were excited to learn that not one, but three VIPs would attend our opening session – two ambassadors and a minister! This was great news in terms of national visibility for the event, demonstrated buy-in on our topic, and support for follow-up on the outcomes. In addition to these benefits, such situations also give organizers and facilitators the opportunity to pull out their VIP checklists. What’s on yours?

Here’s what was on mine: Press, Protocol, People and Programming.


With VIPs come Press, cameras, lighting, cables, microphones and all the people holding them – which interestingly don’t have the same feature of transparency that they hope their news promotes. Is there a dedicated place for Press so they aren’t blocking everything?  Can you leave a front table free and reserved for “Press”? Or can you make plans for one of those many cameras to be projecting your VIP speaker on a screen so that the people in the audience can see the speaker and not just hear her?

In addition to potentially significantly restricting views, Press will also come and go at will. Think about their movements. Is there a side entrance they can use? A safe place for their gear? Can you brief them in advance as to where they should stand and set up?

With VIPs come Press, that’s a fact of life, and as a facilitator you can acknowledge them and ask your group to pause for a moment if need be to let them set up and do their work, so their movement isn’t disrupting you, the previous speaker(s) and activities, or absolutely everything.


Involving VIPs comes with other implications – in particular protocol about speaking order, which is one way unknowing hosts and facilitators can accidentally put their foot in it. This can be different country-by-country and even sector-by-sector. If you have an international set of VIP speakers, you might run into this confusing mix of protocols. However, go with where you are – most will defer to the host country in case there is any discrepancy in norms between who goes first and who goes last, for example. In some countries, the most important ranking official goes first, and in other countries, this person always has the last word. Don’t make any assumptions here, get advice!

Not only speaking order, but official titles can also be sensitive. Whether it is the honorific, or the longest possible form of the Ministry or High Commission’s official name, you need to get this just right both in the programme and orally when introducing them. Name cards or “Table tents” for the speakers can be very helpful in this case. If you don’t have them and if you are not local, or have less than 200% confidence that you have exactly the right information, invite the local host to introduce them, to make sure that everything that needs to be said about them is said in their speaker introductions, following the right order. This is protocol, respect and also – oh, yes, remember the Press? – this is all being recorded for posterity.

Almost always, the VIPs will want to see the speaking list BEFORE they come, which is good, because correcting a speaking order or an official title has caused many a hurried agenda reprint in the past, and you don’t want this to hold up things or take up all your time (especially in hotels where printing big numbers can be a major roadblock).

VIPs’ packed schedules also can mean uncertain arrivals, with minute-by-minute SMS updates from aides about traffic and ETAs, necessitating one dedicated point of contact on your team standing by, phone in hand. Even before your VIP arrives, there is the need to communicate and check all these important elements with necessary briefings which also must fit into the VIP’s crowded timetable and thus might literally happen outside your workshop door while participants await your guest(s). And there can be LOTS of people waiting for them…


Legions of followers are another feature of welcoming VIPs, swelling your ranks for the opening session and providing big numbers for room size and catering (and the group photo if you take it quickly enough!) But these people normally disappear at the coffee break, leaving many half-empty tables and seats, and your room feeling a bit barren. You want to welcome them, and at the same time, keep your core participants together. Can you have a couple of rows of empty chairs at the side, back or front, to seat these guests and then remove them at the break? This is often not 5 or 10 chairs which you could easily stack in the corner by yourself during coffee, but can be more like 30 or 50, so alert the hotel conference staff in advance about this to get help. Remember to bring these chairs back in for your closing, particularly if there is a high-level element, as there often is when you start with one.

The organizers might also offer an opportunity in the registration process for people to indicate if they are coming only to the opening/closing, or staying the whole time, so that you can adjust your participant count numbers accordingly – not printing too many worksheets, or job aids, and adjusting catering for the rest of the workshop. Sometimes the numbers of this category of participant, coming to support and hear from the VIPs, is surprisingly large and can make a big difference to, and impact on, different aspects of your workshop.


Taken together, this means that your programme and facilitation design needs to be highly flexible, not too tight and rigid. You can still have your timing planned out and a logical sequence. But you need a firm Plan B, particularly for delays (from short to really long) or even last-minute changes or no shows.  Do you have some blank name plates and an appropriate black marker that you can use to quickly write in a new name? Do you have an activity that can be done with the group while they wait? For example, can you “officially” schedule table introductions for just after the high-level opening, and then move them up if your VIPs are VLPs (Very Late People). Can you have a discussion/ reflection question ready? One that can develop into a rich conversation or be cut off quickly and picked up later when the door swings opens and the security and aides walk in, to a hail of flash bulbs, preceding your much-anticipated speakers?

VIP participants can influence your workshop, meeting or conference in many useful and distinctive ways, don’t let them also be unexpected!

No matter what your financial or calendar year looks like, there’s always time for planning!  Woo hoo! What are we going to do next year?

You certainly have some options – you could do it strategically or unstrategically.

What exactly is unstrategic planning? Here’s how you might go about doing that…

  1. No big picture thinking needed: Don’t bother to think about the bigger context of your programme, project or process. Imagine that you are operating in your own little bubble, safe and sound, and that you have complete control over everything.
  2. The future starts today: The past is messy! Thankfully, you don’t need to think about anything that came before. Try really hard not to be bogged down by learning from the past, what worked or what you might do differently in the future. Imagine your process is a white board and that everything starts from today!
  3. Do-it-Yourself: It is hard to coordinate everyone’s schedules, so just do the planning yourself, or with anyone available. No need to bring in the people that your plan might affect or consider what they would like or think about it. Just consider what you want to do. You can always check in with them later while the plan is being implemented. They will understand!
  4. Time is precious: Anyways, people are super busy, so make sure it is nice and short – something you can do in a couple of hours max. People can’t devote too much time to this as they need to go back to whatever they were doing that was not related to last year’s unstrategic plan.
  5. Capacities can expand: You don’t need to consider the capacities of the people that will implement the plan, or whether they have time to implement the new ideas. They are great people and they will find the time!
  6. Talking and planning: In your planning session, don’t bother to write things down, you’ll all remember what was discussed! And no need to have a time plan, or milestones (things will happen when they happen). If you do want to write a little report, sit on it for a few weeks, then people won’t remember what was discussed leaving you a little wiggle room for tweaks…no one is going to read it anyways!
  7. If we plan it, funds will come: You don’t need to gather information in advance about budget, or need to know how much is available. Actually you don’t even need to talk about budget. If you want something enough, funds will show up.
  8. Risks, shmisks: No need to talk about risks or Plan B, C or D. These plans are basically thought exercises anyways, right?

These are some of things that can make your planning unstrategic. Of course if you want your planning to be strategic, do the opposite!

  • Do think about the bigger system in which your project or programme is embedded.
  • Try to learn from what has happened before – what worked and what didn’t and use that to inform your next plan.
  • Make sure all the right people are in the room and make sure anyone not in the room has been consulted if you planning will implicate them.
  • Strategic planning takes time, you can’t rush it. A day or even two days might be the appropriate time to get through all the steps thoughtfully, comfortably, with creativity and enough discussion for agreement.
  • Consider the capacities of the team members implementing this, how does it fit into their current work, will it be a part of their work plans? Reflected in their performance assessments?
  • Make sure you document the process and make it available immediately (a google doc perhaps?)
  • Make sure to include time plans, realistic budgets and roles and responsibilities so when you are not in the room together everyone knows what to do.
  • Have a conversation about risks – what might be the risks to implementing the plan and how might you mitigate those?

What more would you add here?

Unstrategic planning is relatively easy. Thankfully this is an alternate universe to ours. We all understand how important it is to make sure our planning is strategic and that it sets us up on the best possible trajectory for the highly anticipated new year ahead.

So Happy Strategic Planning and hoping your year is full of exciting, well-planned initiatives and activities!!

One of the hardest things about using LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® method (LSP) is just getting people to try it!

Imagine walking into the workshop room and sitting down at  your spot to see, with your water glass, pen and paper, a small mixed bag of 48 LEGO® bricks – a LEGO® Exploration Kit. What’s running through your mind?

You might fall into two categories of people, the first one who says “Cool! Let’s play! No PPT – finally, not your ordinary workshop!” or the other one who says, “What? This is serious business, and time is scarce. Skip this silly stuff and let’s get to work!”

But before you even get into the room, there is a whole discussion that needs to happen with the workshop host in advance, where the Facilitator might get one or the other of those reactions after proposing LSP. During this conversation the Facilitator will need to explain the benefits, and give a little of its background…

Whose idea was it?

In the late 90’s, confronted by the tidal wave of video games that were taking kids away from their bricks, it was LEGO® itself who founded the LSP process, with a couple of IMD business school professors, to help the company think creatively and re-imagine itself.

The method worked, beautifully. Today LSP has a growing community of certified LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® method facilitators connected together in an Association of Master Trainers, of which I am proud to be one!

Who’s using LSP and why?

I would say that LSP is becoming fairly well known in the private sector, many of the facilitators I met at the recent LSP community meeting in Billund, Denmark – the home of LEGO – worked with businesses, but not all. It seems to be just beginning in the NGO and inter-governmental/United Nations world, where I find myself working most. I’ve run LSP processes now with a number of first-time user groups, here are three illustrative examples of the organizations and what they wanted to achieve:

  • a large international conservation NGO’s resctructured leadership team was undertaking a visioning process, and wanted to understand the features of a successful team in the future structure;
  • a global reproductive health supplies team wanted to identify organizational priorities and explore efficiency and effectiveness in delivery;
  • a small sustainability Think Tank wanted to focus on building excellent internal and external communications, and identify capacity and skills needed to do this.

The applications of LSP are vast, from strategic planning, design thinking, product development and marketing, rapid prototyping ideas, work process re-engineering, prioritization, as well as softer goals such as identifying what makes a good team member, how to build trust, and how to resolve conflict.

How can you do THAT with LEGO®? Thinking with your hands

The basic LSP process involves four steps:

  1. Asking a question
  2. Building a model (with the bricks)
  3. Sharing and explaining your model
  4. Reflecting on meaning

This four-step process happens over and over in an LSP session, with various other rules and parameters sometimes added. The process provides the builder the opportunity to think about her/his answer to the question (and the questions can be incredibly complex or blissfully simple), and then to use their hands and the bricks to build a metaphor that illustrates their answer (not a literal answer, but a metaphorical answer). Often people build as they think, they re-build, they explore their answer as they think and layer meaning onto the bricks. This process, of turning thoughts that might have started out rather vague, into 3D objects, helps people become more concrete about their thinking.

This nuanced work would be hard with a pile of only the traditional rectangular and square bricks, so the LSP brick sets are full of metaphorical pieces in addition to these – flags, mini figures, animals, flowers, propellers, etc. – to release the creativity of the builder. You still have to get familiar again with how things snap together, and even working with metaphor, so a skills building component is always included in an LSP session.

A number of Core LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® application techniques have been developed by the Association of Master Trainers. These are illustrative of some of the most commonly used and thus most documented applications, and build on one another:

  1. Building individual models and stories
  2. Building shared models and stories
  3. Creating a landscape
  4. Making connections
  5. Building a system
  6. Playing emergence and decisions
  7. Extracting simple guiding principles

These generic techniques can be applied widely to different team and organizational goals, and are customised through the framing and question that is asked (What are our blind spots? What will our organization look like in 5 years? What does a perfect co-worker look like?), and normally involves some sequencing, where models are built and deconstructed (also a good lesson in letting multiple ideas come and go) with a strategic set of relevant, thoughtfully framed questions.

What changes in the individual? 

There is some nice research underway exploring the value of LSP in working settings, and the changes that can occur in the individuals and teams participating. Some that we heard about and discussed at the LSP Community Meeting included:

  • helping people enter a more reflective and thoughtful state, rather than getting off-the-cuff answers that might be the first ideas that pop into your head, thus the easiest ones, and perhaps not the most creative ones;
  • helping people appreciate other perspectives – building the different models individually and sharing them helps people see what other people see (literally);
  • helping people explore sensitive issues – building a model and using the model as a metaphor, even holding it or pointing to it as one speaks, helps to externalise the issue from the builder, making it easier to explain and less risky. The thinking has already been done, so people are not trying to think and talk at the same time;
  • helping people develop more creative confidence – to feel more confident being creative in the workplace, especially in a rapidly changing environment where innovation is needed, both at the organizational level, as well as in terms of products and services.



It definitely takes courage to try something new, but I can report that all the groups that I’ve worked with using LSP have loved it, for the uniqueness of the process, the fun and engagement it provides, and ultimately for the deeper insights and creative results it produces.


As trainers and facilitators, we need not necessarily be confined to working in our native languages. We have probably all had experiences working with translators (who translate the written word) for materials and interpreters (who translate the spoken word) in meetings using both simultaneous and sequential interpretation. But normally these opportunities are confined to more formal presentations and settings, where people are sitting down with headsets bolted to tables or connected to a little fiddly box, and often to shorter timeframes.

What if you wanted to play a game, run a quiz, or get people on their feet for an interactive exercise, in Russian, Arabic or Japanese? (these are languages that at least I do not even notionally speak)

With our Japanese partner, Change Agent Inc., and a fantastic, local bilingual Co-Facilitator, I had the great pleasure recently to lead three days of Bright Green Learning Academy workshops in Tokyo with an impressive group of 30 Japanese Facilitators and Trainers. Our training courses are highly interactive and experiential, and it was a training about facilitation and working across cultures.  It was fascinating to plan how to run the workshops very effectively in a language that the lead trainer (me) didn’t speak at all. It worked remarkably well due to a number of actions taken in advance and during the workshops. Bear in mind that to do this well, it takes a lot of extra work, but if your goal is real learning exchange, then it’s worth it.

Preparation, Preparation, Preparation

To make this work, preparation is absolutely key. You cannot simply show up, speak your language, and let the interpreters do all the work, using your English slides, flipcharts, and materials. Everything needs to be translated in advance, including:

  1. Participant Materials – This is obvious – everything the participants get needs to be translated into their language.
  2. Facilitation Materials – If your co-facilitator speaks your language, you might not need to translate all the facilitation materials. But you will want to go through your Facilitation Agenda in great detail with your co-Facilitator to make sure he/she completely understands the content and process, as they will then be able to answer questions without asking you.
  3. Job Aids – All the handouts, group work sheets, quizzes, etc. will all need to be translated. It is helpful if you number your English versions, and then have the same numbers and layout (as much as possible) for the translated versions, so that you can hand them out while giving instructions, and are certain that they are the same documents.
  4. Flipcharts: Instructional and Templates – In advance (like months in advance), I sent through photographs of all the flipcharts, both those that had group work instructions, and those that small groups use to fill in to guide their group work and record their answers. See below for an example. I thankfully had photos of all of our flipcharts from other English delivery of the courses, so could send those along for translation and creation in Japan.  When I got to Japan all the flipcharts had been made beautifully, and were recognizable as they were exactly the same as the English versions in look. When I had to refer to them, such as the schedule, either we put a few words of English on the Japanese version (as below), or I put an English version of the flipchart below the Japanese to orient myself. When I introduced it, though, I used the Japanese and just kept an eye on the English to make sure I was in the right spot!

Note that it takes longer than you think to translate all these materials well, and format them nicely (and in some cases print them). All these materials need to be sent weeks and months in advance if possible. It is also important to have a professional translators, which Change Agent had, so that the translations were done particularly well, something always appreciated by participants.

Delivery with Interpretation

With all your materials translated, and with a mirror English set in your hands, you are ready to start working with the interpreters. On the day prior to the workshop, it is useful to set up a meeting with the interpretation team so that they have a chance to ask you questions.  The excellent Japanese interpreters I worked with had been provided with both the English and Japanese translation of the materials and had carefully gone through it highlighting concepts, acronyms, phrases that they needed some further information about. This meeting took us about an hour, and also included their tips for me on how to work successfully with them.

In our case, as we were a relatively small group, in a small room, I was the only person with a headset. When I spoke, the interpreters would consecutively translate into Japanese. So I needed to speak slowly and chunk up my inputs so that they could follow. When a Japanese participant spoke, or my co-facilitator, the interpreters would simultaneously translate into my ear. So for the participants, when they were interacting with each other and with me this was seamless, and almost immediately I could understand what they were saying. In order to do this, the interpreters would move around the room to be close to the speaker and use a small whisper mic into which they would simultaneously interpret into English what was being said. They used a clipboard to cover their mouths when they spoke into their small hand held microphone (about the size of an iPhone) and could do it so quietly that no one noticed or heard them speaking, except me through my ear piece! This meant that when I spoke, it doubled the time needed, but when participants were speaking, there was no additional time needed in the agenda. That was an incentive for me to keep my inputs concise, and pacing felt more natural.

With a highly interactive agenda, including lots of movement and format changes (we were delivering facilitation training so walking the talk) this worked well, as participants did not need to speak into microphones, nor wear headsets. I also did not need a microphone, as long as the interpreters could hear me clearly. They did use a microphone themselves when they were consecutively translating my words, so that they could be heard easily by all the participants in the room.

A couple of tips from the notes that I made during our workshop:

  • Wear something with pockets as you still need to put the little control box for the headset somewhere (that lets you turn up the volume, and turn it on and off to save battery – check the battery!)
  • Meet up with interpreters in advance, not only to allow them to ask questions, but also so they can get used to your voice and speech patterns.
  • Keep eye contact with the interpreters during your session. They will give you signals when you need to slow down or explain things further, or if they need a little more time to translate what you said.
  • Check in with them regarding their hours, break times, and things they may or may not do. (Not in this case, but once I had interpreters tell me a little late that they would not translate videos, thus making our small group video report back exercise rather challenging.)
  • Also see if there is anything that drives them crazy – when I work  in French and English, two languages that I speak, I have had interpreters ask that I only speak one language and not mix them mid-sentence, which can be tempting to do. In some cases, there are two interpreters, one who translates into one language and one who translates into another. So when they see me take the microphone or stand up, that would be a visual signal and they would know what language I would be using and the related interpreter would be ready. This doesn’t work if you keep switching languages! This is not always the case, but a conversation with your interpreters in advance will uncover any of these things.

All in all, it is amazing to be able to work effectively in many different languages, even if you don’t speak them. Taking particular care of the preparation and delivery with translation and interpreters can help you make sure that you achieve your goals, your participants achieve their goals, and that your words and materials are not irretrievably lost in translation!

  • 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!)


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 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!)

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:


  • 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!!

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!)

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.

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.)

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.
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
Stan Getz & Bill Evans  (sax & piano) 
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)
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!)

Bellagio 2
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.)

    Bellagio 3

    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?


    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!)

    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.


    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.

    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.

    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. 

    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.
    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.
    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! 

    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. 

    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:

    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…


    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).


    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?

    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?

    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…

    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!

    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?

    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!
    ● 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 /
    ● Similar to twitter
    ● Private option
    ● Conference call diverse group sizes
    ● Option to add video (max 10)
    ● Screen-sharing
    ● Instant-messaging with chronological display
    ● Send files
    ● Create screen-casts, recording screen and voice to share online
    ● Share presentations, documents and professional videos publicly or privately
    ● Create slidecasts (slideshow + MP3 audio synced)
    ● Create channels & favourites
    ● Upload video content
    ● View video content online
    ● Create channels & favourites
    ● Co-create documents collaboratively
    ● Track changes / contributions
    ● Password protection option
    ● 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
    ● Design and manage online surveys
    ● Auto-generate survey reports with graphics
    ● 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) / /
    ● Propose dates / times and gather responses online to quickly and easily determine preferred options
    ● Co-create Mindmaps online in real time
    ● Working simultaneously and see changes as they happen
    ● 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
    ● Slideshow, chat function, audio for presenters, recording, private chat, whiteboard, video link for the facilitator, and more.
    ● 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:

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

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

    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 / / 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 ( / Pecha Kucha ( (timed presentations) to keep to timing in online events and make sure presentations are well prepared and maintain a good pace.
    • Use Prezis ( for variety in presentations (a change from powerpoint), creating visual interest.
    • Use short videos and/or screen casts via / or

    3. Work in small groups with online “job aids
    • Provide a participants list to everyone in advance, including names and 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 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 or – helping to avoid lengthy monologues and add diversity to the event
    • Use an online timer (such as to help with time-keeping and speaker management

    5. Prioritizing questions (e.g. for a Q&A with a speaker)
    • Use / / 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 (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 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 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’: and 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 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 / google docs ( / mindmaps in place of flipchart stations
    • And/or use IRISnotes for visual / hand written work in combination with screen share (can save and share doc with next group for further editing, or have same station ‘facilitator’ throughout)

    9. Open Space Technology
    (visit for the ‘how to’ steps in a face-to-face environment)
    • Use instant messaging (e.g. chat) for people to submit topics / questions to schedule
    • Prepare a blank timetable (in word / google docs / 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. / google docs / / 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 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 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 / google doc / / 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 (or google forms / or 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 / google docs / 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 ( 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!

    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.

    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.  
    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.

    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!

    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.

    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.

    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???

    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!