We found out rather late in the preparation for our major Congress that we could not stick anything on the walls during any of our workshops. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth at this announcement as many had planned terrific interactive sessions needing many sheets of flipchart paper that they wanted to paper the walls with during their 90 minute sessions. However, a crafty workshop designer can work with anything, even the tightest of parameters. Here is one innovation that hatched as a result of this rule – the human flipchart.

Well, everyone was wearing lanyards with their nametags anyways. Take a few volunteers, clip on some blank paper, and some tape, give participants their cards and viola – your interactive activity works, gets even more people involved, and not a sticky blue mark on any wall.

Not optimal you might say, but you never know when you are working in a space with apparently precious walls, the famous carpeted walls, or even no walls for that matter (how nice would it be to do your session under a big tree?) Give a good workshop designer a parameter in advance and with a little creative thinking they’ll design for it. Everything is possible…

Imagine you are at a huge international conference. How can you get over 8,000 people from 178 countries who have so much in common, but don’t know anyone, to engage in conversations and meet each other? At mega-events like this, people pass by each other in droves in the hallways of the conference centre, pack into elevators or escalators on their way to the next event, and stand in long slow queues to buy their coffee. But with the exciting diversity of languages represented at a conference like this comes the inevitable and rather awkward entry question of “Do you speak English”? (or “Parlez-vous Francais?”, or dozens of other possible language variations). To deal with this quandry, our Learning and Leadership unit, partnering with the Commission on Education and Communication, introduced an innovation at our organization’s recent World Conservation Congress: language buttons.

Well, we decided that one way to get people to appoach each other was to advertise the languages they speak, so that the Do-you-speak-X question would not be a barrier to engagement. We made thousands of buttons with 20 major languages printed on them in their own alphabets AND we made a blank button. On the blank button, people wrote other languages (such as Nepali and Afrikaans), and dialects (like Kreol and Bavarian) and even in one case a rather key coordinating person coyly wrote, “Don’t even think of talking to me” (but I don’t think he ever wore it).

In this process, we learned new things about colleagues – our Australian Director spoke Nepali (he had worked in a field office there), a Canadian colleague spoke Chinese for the same reason, our American Chief Scientist was fluent in Thai. These buttons were conversation starters even among people who knew each other. That was a huge benefit, not to mention sharing the incredible pride that people felt when they put them on (like my colleague Nicole in the photo above who sported 7!)

The buttons were a hit! The Information Booth workers had them, the Registration people had them, the Commission on Education and Communication members had them, and many, many more. These big conferences can be so impersonal, yet are attended by people who have the most to gain, exchange and learn from great conversations with each other. The question we asked was,” What can we do to get people talking together?” One small answer, only 30mm across, turned out to be a big success.

What kind of creative process produces ideas like a Treetop Barbie, a doll that models adventurousness, being outside and active for children? Or a programme like Canopy Confluence that mixes artists with scientists and takes them to the forest canopy to create art (even rap music) that touches people with more than data and diagrams? Or starts a Moss in Prisons project to explore different ways to sustainably grow moss for horticultural use (apparently moss grows very slowly). Or takes policy makers up into the trees with ropes and harnesses to get conservation messages directly to decision-makers in a Legislators Aloft project?

These are all Outreach Projects of the Research Ambassador Programme at Evergreen State College (Olympia, Washington, USA). At our World Conservation Congress, we heard Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, from Evergreen, speak about all these ideas in our “Beyond Jargon” workshop. All incredibly creative, what I really wanted to know was – what kind of a creative process produced these ideas?

It is easy to gather explicit knowledge on the internet – a quick google gave me a good description of all these activities and told me more about their goals and outcomes. Tacit knowledge (know how as opposed to know what or know why)- can be an even more valuable source of learning, especially for innovation processes. I was able to ask Nalini Nadkarni about her creative process – what confluence of events, steps or practices produces these incredibly innovative projects? She shared some thoughts on what is working for her and the team at Evergreen, which I synthesized into these three headings:

1. Accept no boundaries (or at least question them relentlessly): This condition may be part DNA and part deliberate. For Nalini growing up in a dual culture home gave her simultaneous insight to two worlds and an innate breadth of perspective. Her choice to be both a dancer and a professor of environmental science again provided multiple reference points and opportunities for bringing together diverse traditions and communities, such as the arts and sciences. Evergreen State College itself is a unique learning environment where professors of different subjects have offices in the same hallway, not departments in different buildings, and this maps over into the interdisciplinary and team-taught nature of its interest-based curriculum. For innovation, breadth of view and perspective seems to foster new ideas. Multi-everything is the word that comes to mind.

2. Find time to listen to the smallest inner voices: In the confluence of stimuli, how do you notice, sort, select and develop the ideas that will become the next great one? Time outdoors alone seems to work for Nalimi, who takes long runs and hikes to tap into what’s happening around her, to make connections and meaning from it. It strikes me that there are many ways to undertake this kind of reflective practice, it could be the long run, or 20 minutes on the eliptical trainer, or an off-peak-hour bus ride, or a cat nap in the sunshine, or any other opportunity to quiet your mind and ask yourself to think deeply on some interesting questions.

3. Braving the creative collision space: Once you have the ideas can you let them go so they be developed further by others, formally or informally? In this case, Nalimi has Monday lunches with students and other faculty which provide great opportunities to throw a new notion out and get people’s feedback. Ideas build on ideas and quickly you have a better prototype, richer with the inputs of people you trust and respect. This might take a little courage, and a willingness to let go of some of your earlier conceptions in the creative jam around your idea.

These three things seem to be a part of the creative process at Evergreen State University’s Forest Canopy Lab – it’s definitely working for them. Maybe some sequence like this could or does work for you. Think about your own great ideas. What kind of conditions have been present when you had them? Are there any patterns you can identify? Why not note them down and share them. Learning can happen anywhere, not just from what you accomplished, but how you accomplished it – think about tapping into your own creative process, it’s probably quite replicable.

OK, so you are running your event and you have an audience in front of you – what are they doing? Are they: leaving, sleeping, doing their email, sitting in rapt attention, talking, laughing, voting, writing, singing (well, so far I have not seen any audience singing, but I have seen all the other ones).

So now go and sit in those seats (figuratively at least) and stay there for more than 10 minutes. How does that feel? At the end of your 10 minutes (and remember that ours were 90 min) were you: excited, bored, energised, frustrated, motivated, moved, or a million miles away?

Now make the connection – If you want your audience to feel X (e.g. like running up after the event and asking for your card, or engaging their brains and giving you some excellent ideas on how you could improve your approach, or getting motivated to go home and do something differently, or getting excited and telling other people about what you are doing), then you need to deliberately structure your event to help them get there.

It’s a great exercise for a communicator (and if you have an event you are in this role) to put yourself in other people’s seats. If you do this upfront “sitting” (and thinking), both you and your audience will get more of what you want.

At the World Conservation Congress this week, there were 7,900 registered participants from 178 countries, and 972 events – from knowledge cafes to skills building workshops to conservation cinema. In this veritable souk of activity, how could you and your event avoid getting lost? People had a lot of great ideas about how to get attention and be memorable.

An innovation at this Congress was the creation of 12 thematic “Journeys“, which helped to organize some of the hundreds of offerings. These provided direction to the Congress traveller who might choose to follow the Islands Journey (In the Mood for an Island Get-Away?) or Marine Journey (Protecting Planet Ocean), or that of Protected Areas (Protected Areas for Life’s Sake!), Energy (The Nature of Energy) or Markets and Business among others. By following a Journey people had signposts to events that dealt with key issues and related social networking gatherings that put them in the pathway of other people interested in the same issue. All information on each Journey was collected into a short Journey guidebook, which in itself provided a useful synthetic resource of key words, related issues, institutions and experts working in each Journey field.

Even within the Journeys there were many overlapping events, from which people chose their favorites based on titles and short abstracts. How provocatively people worded their titles and abstracts and for some the promise for audience engagement helped people pick where they spent their precious time. The “Beyond Jargon” workshop title and short description promised and delivered the many innovative ways conservationists are getting their messages across through ideas and campaigns as unusual as a crocheting a coral reef , through developing a horticultural moss growing programme in prisons to prevent moss gathering in forests. A Learning Opportunity workshop with the provocative title of 3D Virtual Worlds: The possibilities of promoting global environmental awareness was held at which the Save Our Seas Foundation took participants to their Second Life Island and talked about how they use Second Life to educate youth about marine issues, as well as how YouTube has impacted their communication media choices and design, as exemplified in this powerful 1 minute Rethink the Shark Campaign video.

And every event had many speakers (it seemed). Who won the competition for attention and space in people’s long term memories? In the thousands of presentations that were made, many speakers used combined techniques to capture and keep people’s attention. By far the most effective combined great imagery with storytelling. The ones that touched us most were personal accounts and provided places to go for more resources and ways to follow up. For example, a speaker from Virunga National Park in the DR Congo set up the Gorilla.cd blog for the park rangers to share stories of their often perilous work to protect mountain gorillas, and invite other bloggers to be campaigners for their in-park team. Other speakers used video imagery embedded within their presentations to get a diversity of voices into their presentation, to take the audience out of the room to other parts of the world; they used music as a audio sub-titles to their presentations to make the participants’ experience fuller, or included other language translations of their text. Presentations that had images, stories, new ideas, and ways to act were by far the most memorable. Speakers who challenged the audience, asked them questions and pitched it above introductory level added to the appeal.

With such choice, we needed some help to see the trees for the forest – thanks to those who helped make themselves and their messages most memorable.

(I have written about this before, see this January 2007 post, written as I sat in my first planning meeting for this Congress: “Bottoms on Seats: How do you make that memorable?”)

Our second lesson as facilitators working the World Conservation Congress had to do with the benefits of continuity. For some workshop leaders, they had one facilitator help them with design, then another one work with them on the actual sequencing and delivery. For other workshop leaders they did their own design and then enlisted the help of one of our facilitators just prior to the event. For others, they made their request for facilitation help during the event.

In most of the cases what we learned was that overall the events where the same facilitator helped with the design, the delivery programme, and then did the actual facilitation for the group, the result was much better. The continuity, the relationship building, the iterative conversation that could slowly educate both on the topic and the process, and the clear “contracting” piece (the social contract of who is doing what), all meant for a more powerful, streamlined final product.

Next time, we will do more to get these matches, between workshop leaders and their facilitators, set up earlier and keep the partners together throughout. Each facilitator has their own preferred tools, their own style and approach they feel most comfortable with – so it makes sense to ask people not to pop in and out of the process, but to sign up for the whole “programme”.

We are here at the World Conservation Congress Forum, which started officially yesterday, One of our activities is coordinating a facilitation team of six who are working on 38 different sessions with session organizers. As this is the first time that we have done this, I thought we would capture some lessons along the way.

The first lesson came through loud and clear in our pre-conference meeting of the Facilitation Team: Design work, education (about different facilitation styles and interactivity tools), and trust building (to try those tools) is a challenge to do virtually.

Our facilitation team and their session leads were all over the world with very little if no chance to meet. So we needed to work differently. We didn’t take as a lesson not to do the prep work virtually, but the fact is that no one had ever done that before -on either side. Normally when you bring in external facilitation help you meet first and do the creation work jointly and use that process to build rapport (at least at the beginning of any partnership).

We found that email was creating long time lags between question and response, it was too either too sparse (missing the info that one side or the other needed) or too long. Many started to pick up the phone or skype and found that a time saver and voice2voice helped with some of the trust-building. I guess video conferencing would have helped even more although we did not try that. As would have a small video library of facilitation techniques that people could see first so not everything would be left to their imagination. If I would have thought ahead about this I would have brought a video to record those activities at this Congress and had them on hand for the next one!

We were onsite early, so have set up F2F meetings with everyone here prior to the events. That is helping, although in a few cases it is coming late for this important interpersonal side. For facilitation collaboration, we need to think about how to use a virtual preparation stage most powerfully. As our teams become more and more distributed, actively seek the intercultural benefits of working with colleagues in other places, we work more from our homes, and try to limit our travel carbon footprint, all these things provide an opportunity to think more in-depth about what it means to take facilitation (at least the prep stage) virtual.

At the moment I am working with six fantastic consultants who operate in some of the same areas as we do including facilitation and training in sustainable development. This is a wildly international bunch, they are from Ghana, UK, Mexico, Switzerland and Mauritius, and have all kinds of different sector experiences, from government to private. We have been working together now for a couple of months, each one is linked to 6 or 7 of my colleagues in different parts of the world, supporting the development of workshops and sessions they will run at our upcoming Congress.

And it is fascinating to reflect on their practice and see what kinds of things they are each doing that gives me the best user experience. Companies refine their products based on user experience reports. What if I pulled out all the things that I like best and created the super consultant? What would that consultant do?

1. Be responsive: My Zero-Inbox propensity means I am not usually a fan of little emails, but somehow working in a distributed team, with people around the world, in different time zones, and with variable internet access, I delight with the short email saying “Thanks I got it” or “I am working on this tomorrow”. Rather this than no news and then wondering if the three emails sent are stacked up in an in-box or have been routed accidentally into a spam folder. I love getting voicemail from these consultant, a skype chat message, or an inpromptu call, just to know that things are ticking away. Responsiveness includes attention to deadlines of course, and even when they need to slide, advance notice, and a new proposed firm deadline makes this easier to work with.

2. Have a system: When you give over a project you would love to do yourself to someone sles, you are happy when you know it is in good hands. Evidence of a system builds confidence. I am happy to get an email back with a summary of the six work items in progress and their status, or great follow-up on a query I had last month that was not yet ready to be answered (and had not been forgotten). I am comforted when I know that things are not getting lost, that as the coordinator my overviews, matrices, job aids, and tables are being used as they guides they were meant to be, and not buried or forgotten in the email blur.

3. Add value: Maybe those matrices I’m sending aren’t perfect – how wonderful it is when the consultant changes them around so they are more user friendly. Or sends through tips to everyone else, or asks that great aggregator question that prompts me to put together a better job aid or solve a general problem for the whole group, all this on top of the work at hand. I love it when people input ideas and questions that help everyone do a better job…

4. Give feedback: …including me. What feedback can be offered on the overall process, what are we noticing about how things are running more generally, and what would make this smoother and easier to implement and manage for everyone? What do people need from me as a coordinator to help them do great work, and can this input be provided mid-process and not afterwards when my ability to act is limited.

5. Be nice: This goes without saying and in stressful situations, this goes a long way. Its easy, its free, and it shows others that their user experience is important. I wrote another blog post on this one (The Golden Rule).

This last one is just a nice to have – for the amazing consultant, I want to spread the word:

6. Have excellent communication materials: A terrific simple website, a folder with a short brochure, an excellent 100 word bio, a neat short CV, a couple of good photos. All ready to go by reply button. That helps me spread the word.

Overall quality of work of course is a given, these other things help to make sure that the word-of-mouth works, and ensures repeat business based on a great user experience. We can all learn something here – from time to time our Unit also works in a consulting-type frame when we are doing projects with other programmes and units in house. Also, these lessons might be useful for people working in distributed teams, technology-mediated or mobile work situations (e.g. working from home). Finally, if I know what I like, I can ask for it (just like those I-Phone users)- I see a radical revision to TORs coming…

In the last 2 days, I have hand delivered three letters in my office building. I think that is the first time I have ever done that. But these days it is an absolute necessity. Our office is a little crazy right now (I wanted to call this blog entry “Going Postal” but with the stress levels right now it did not seem very p.c..) We are 3 weeks away from the opening of our enormous Congress, almost entirely run by and for people in our Union (staff, partners, and members alike). People’s email boxes are overflowing, their phones are on voicemail, meetings overlap, schedules are triple booked, questions and requests are flying in from all corners of the world. Time is precious. I had a 4 minute meeting today which actually accomplished something important. I am assured that this is completely normal just before one of our huge four-yearly Congresses.

What it means is that people are having to work very differently, which might not be a bad thing. If I need something now, information or a decision or someone’s attention, (like my 3 invitations to speak at workshops), I need to get off my chair and go out of my office and physically find them. Sometimes they are at their desks, sometimes coming out of meetings, sometimes ducking into the ladies or heading out for a smoke, where ever they are, I need to find them. Because in 5 minutes we have discussed, informed or solved something that would otherwise go into an action file and re-emerge in a week or a month (or never). No time for that now.

Actually I am enjoying this new mode of working. I get to see people, talk for a minute, learn about their latest whatever. I am getting to hear more about what people are doing, their hopes, goals and sometimes frustrations. I can even help at times which is very satisfying. Like the postman in the old days where I grew up – he walked around door to door, chatted with people, knew what was going on in the neighbourhood, and was always willing to exchange a few words or give some friendly advice. I think that this way of working helps reduce stress, pulls the community together, builds relationships, and fosters informal learning. There is something deliciously counterintuitive about this way of working (I am too busy to send a 2 minute email and wait for a response. Instead I’m going to take a 10 minute walk to get what I need.)

I remember reading an article about the workplace of the future (which is now) suggesting that the ONLY reason to come into an office today was to interact. At home, people have all the equipment they need to work – online access to intranets, skype, Instant Messenger, and more. So if you are not in the office to interact with colleagues, you might as well work from home. There, your only interuption might be the postman.

See Doug Johnson’s Blue Skunk Blog for “10 Commandments of Panel Sessions”. This post seemed particularly relevant for what we are about to do at our upcoming Congress in 4 weeks – that is, hear lots of panel discussions. These strike me as sensible ways to steer panels so that they do what they are meant to do (which I guess is to present a lot of information to a lot of people in a short amount of time.) Learning should also be a top goal, and I think following these “commandments” will get us a little closer to that one.

Thanks to my colleague Wiebke in our Brussels Office for sending this along (fyi she also keeps a blog, on “perpetual learning and other pathways to peace”.)

I have mentioned before in this blog the Learning Capture process that our institution is undertaking in the months prior to, during, and after our upcoming World Conservation Congress (October 2008). I use the blog to answer some of the questions – this is question four: Reflecting on the process of designing and coordinating the Forum, what aspects were successful and could become part of the process for the next Forum? What aspects of the process are, in hindsight, not essential, redundant, or simply did not work?

When I think of the issues I am dealing with right now, coordinating a Facilitation Team for the Forum (a four day mega-event with hundreds of parallel workshops, activities, cinema, etc.), I imagine the kind of questions I might have asked many months ago that might have mitigated some of the work I am doing now. I see an opportunity for next time (we do these events each four years) that is worth mentioning around the venue selection process.

As I am working with the facilitation side of things, I would start with the same kinds of questions in this situation that I would ask of anyone organizing any activity: What is the purpose of the event? Once that was established, I would ask: How can we model our goals in our methodology? So that people get both an intellectual experience and a kinesthetic experience (that’s our left brain/right brain issue again) that grounds it firmly in participants’ life experience (at least for longer than 90 minutes.) My next question would be: What kind of a venue do we need to do this?

That would be the question sequence from my perspective. Another perspective might come from a thematic organizer – I want to get this great message out to as many people as possible – how big are the rooms and do we have translation? Or from a logistics person – how good is the venue staff – am I going to have to do everything myself, or are they really well organized? Or from an admin person – is the venue too big that I am going to have to run from one event to another and is my office near where the action is? Or from a participant – am I going to be sitting all day listening to people talk – are the chairs comfortable and is there a place I can get a coffee? Or from a facilitator – I need to involve people, are the chairs moveable, can we post things on the walls, is there open space I can use for games or activities?

Compromises might need to be made of course (hopefully not too many), however, far upstream of such an event, a useful checklist (a Reusable Learning Object) can be made of the needs and perspectives of the people that will bring such an event to life, followed by clear communication of the decisions taken. This would be an interesting way to involve those people in the very first stages of the process. Maybe the advance team, visiting the venue options early on, could invoke them in their visits – can they take a handful of masks? The organizer mask, the staff mask, the facilitator mask, the participant mask – and see it through their eyes?

I have mentioned in previous posts the 12 month assessment and learning process we are undertaking for our upcoming World Conservation Congress (October 2008). An internal evaluation team is asking a question each month or so to a sample of staff working across functions in preparation (and delivery) of this major quadrennial event. Their aim is to capture more iterative and detailed reflection on learning over time, rather than doing a huge debriefing the day or week AFTER the event. The result should be information that we can strategically use, rather than the more generic (self-) congratulatory “smile sheet” responses that both participants and conference workers alike generate in the glow and relief of the end of such a huge event.

The question this month asks us to describe what we have learned since our last World Conservation Congress (Bangkok 2003), and what we are doing differently as a result.

I really like this question for a couple of reasons. First of all, it is an intervention in itself. Just the act of asking this question gets people to reflect on the past process and identify their learning, and think about how they are applying it now – effectively helping us to complete our learning cycles through application. If we have not already done so (connect our efforts last time with this new event), this question will get us to start, and potentially open up a whole box of useful know-how that has been parked in the dusty corridor of our brains. Secondly, the question is appreciative, in that is assumes that people have learned something from their past experience, and they just need to write it down to share with other people. Thirdly, I remember reading recently that people remember not so much what happened but what they TOLD people happened at an event. So by getting people to document their learning (even if it is 3 years later), the chances are greater that they will remember it longer (thus have the knowledge available to pull into service) by having had to analyse, process, and then craft a “story” for sharing.

I would say that one of the first things that we learned from our last World Conservation Congress is how to run an assessment of the event that is focused on learning, rather than on writing an evaluation report for funders. Now that will help make our next event even better.

Of course, 3 years later, people might not remember the detail strongly, but have feelings or impressions. Another good thing about this learning assessment is that you can share in what ever format you like. My impressions from the last Congress were strong, perhaps I will choose expressionistic painting or interpretative dance – how would the evaluation team work with that?

Did I answer the question?

(NOTE: This post is dedicated to hundreds of my colleagues who will be literally running our upcoming quadrennial mega-event. You know who you are!)

I spent last week in Barcelona where my organization is going to hold its World Conservation Congress of 8,000 people, which we have been blogging about these past few months. During my trip to Barcelona, we visited the Congress centre and saw the various rooms and halls, and most importantly were given some very practical tips about the centre, where we would be spending around 10 days of our lives, day and night.

On my way home to Geneva from Barcelona, I read an article in the inflight magazine about two London office women who decided to do the Ironman triathalon. The story explained their learning and preparation for this grueling competition, which includes a marathon, 112 miles of biking, and 2.4 miles of swimming. You need to be competent at everything to finish – similar to our Congress. You might be a mild-mannered project manager for 355 days a year, but at Congress you can take on the role of media spokesperson, usher, VIP handler, translator, and high-level panelist in one day, with super quick changeovers between each.

And like the Ironman you need to prepare yourself if you want to finish in one piece. No showing up the day of the race and lining up at the start (or the registration table). For our Congress, preparation means practice of these new roles (I took my media training course today), getting rid of your sleep deficit, and taking care of that low grade cold you have been nuturing for months. Hard work and many nights of minimal sleep will find your immune system a real pushover – probably on day 2 of the Congress.

Another thing the Ironwomen learned in their preparation for the event was that you need to learn things you never imagined you needed to know. Like how to fix your own bicycle – during the race, no one is going to stop and help you fix a blown tire. They are too focused on their own race to even notice, or be able to stop and help. Our Congress may be the same, with everyone flying in every direction preparing for any of the 40 simultaneous events at any given time. When your caffeine withdrawal is giving you a whopping headache, and there are 300 people waiting at the coffee bar, you need to be able to produce your own solution. What about a thermos of coffee that you made that morning in your hotel room? (bring your travel kettle, instant coffee and thermos – sorted). When you just need a glass of wine at the end of the day – know where the nearest supermarket is, and pack your corkscrew. Lay in some nutritional snacks, proper meals will be few and far between – think of those Ironwomen and their protein bars, water bottles, energy drinks.

And don’t forget the proper kit and gear. You might not need the wetsuit and onesie, but something that will work for day and the evening reception (that you will never have time to change for), a fanny bag that you can wear even if you are on the podium – so you don’t have to retrace your steps over the last few hours to look for the bag you left under a table somewhere. And the essential thick soled shoes (think miles of granite floors, with not a centimeter of carpet in sight.)

And at the end of your test of extreme endurance, you will have the great satisfaction of knowing that you could do it, you finished it, you learned some new things about yourself and your co-racers, and perhaps can help advise the next group of Ironmen and women, or Conference workers, on how to prepare, and hopefully enjoy, this once in a lifetime experience.

Who created the “Wave”? Tens of thousands of fans working together to send a message to their team, standing up, joining the action, adding their voice? If a seated stadium of 50,000 people can be interactive, then a Congress of 8,000 can be too!

Well, we might not be able to do the Wave at our Congress, but there are plenty of other interesting ways to involve those thousands of people in what is happening on stage, in the many smaller meeting rooms, and in the hallways.

Our expert facilitation team has been coaching session organizers in the last 6 weeks to help them define, design, and refine their 90 minute workshops for the upcoming World Conservation Congress. Let’s see what kind of interactivity they are coming up with…

Facilitators, can you let us know, what kind of things are the teams creating that is different (from the standard panel session)? What are some of your ideas for creating interactivity in large groups? Write us a few lines in the comments section below – thank you in advance!

What do you see when you go to the circus? You see the amazing daredevil acrobatic teams, the perilously high tight rope walkers, the perfectly synchronized performing ducks… What you don’t necessarily see is the lifetime of concentrated training the acrobats have undergone, the many hours a day the jugglers practice, and the fact that the lion tamer is actually missing a thumb.

The incredible amount of preparation that it takes to pull off a thrilling, memorable and meaningful performance is what my organization is experiencing right now in the preparation of its quadrennial global Congress. Expectations of 8,000-10,000 attendees have raised the stakes for putting on a really exceptional event. What that means for us is not only getting the logistics right, but also engaging the audience – our colleagues, partners and visitors – in many different, exciting ways.

Some people might be born with the ability to juggle flaming torches while standing bareback on a cantering horse (in sequins no less.) For others, it takes some practice, preparation and a good deal of help. The same is true for our events. So, for the first time at a Congress, we have engaged an international team of professional facilitators as advisors, who will work with 54 of our colleagues leading on different Secretariat sessions. This facilitation team will help the leads to think through their events and make suggestions as to interactive tools and techniques that they might use to get their messages across and novel ways to engage the audience. Whether it is Open Space Technology, Conversation Cafes, or newly designed large group games, the goal is to see how we can break through the fourth wall between those on stage and those in the bleachers, to reach them, touch them, challenge them, learn from them, and engage them in our work.

Because this is rather experimental, we are going to capture our learning throughout the preparation as a part of the M&E process. So more will appear on this blog on the Congress Facilitation Advisory Team and its work to help us prepare our Greatest Show on Earth -suddenly I’m craving popcorn.