Discover what attendees want to talk about with Post It!

Ever wanted a way to find out what people at a meeting would actually like to learn, discuss, or ask questions about? Post It! is what you need. It’s a simple technique that can be used at various levels for:

  • All the attendees at an event.
  • Breakout groups discussing a specialty set of topics.
  • A single conference session.

If you’re a conference presenter with an audience of less than 50 people, you can use Post It! to rapidly discover audience interests and to help decide what those present would like to hear about.

Alternatively, Post It! provides an effective and efficient way for a group to learn and reflect on its members’ interests. If you need to process in more detail the topics uncovered, consider using the affinity grouping technique described in Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love (and my upcoming book too).

When
Run Post It! at the opening of an event, breakout group, or a single session.

Resources
It is surely no surprise that you’ll need one or more sticky notes (e.g. Post-it® brand) for each participant. If you’re using Post It! for a presenter tool at a single session, supply a single 2” x 3” note to each attendee. For a group display of topics, supply one to four 6” x 8” (preferred size) notes, or 3” x 5” notes if posting space is limited.

Make sure that you have sufficient pens available. Fine tip marker pens are best.

Finally, you’ll need clear, accessible wall or notice board space where notes can be posted. Walls should be smooth and clean, as sticky notes don’t adhere well to rough or dirty surfaces. If you’re using Post It! as a presenter tool, the posting area should be close to where you are standing in the room so you can easily refer to it.

How a presenter can use Post It! to shape the content of a session
Before the session begins, give each participant a single sticky note and a pen. Ask the audience to write down the one topic they would like explored or question they would like answered during the session. Give everyone a couple of minutes to write their response and collect the notes as they are completed. As you collect the notes, browse their contents and mentally categorize their contents into broad themes. For example, some attendees ask specific questions, some may want an overview of your topic, and some may want you to cover one particular aspect. Once all the notes have been collected, briefly read each note out loud and add it to a cluster of similar notes on the wall next to you. You may find a note that is unique and needs to be placed by itself.

Once all the notes have been stuck on the wall, it should be clear to both you and your audience what the group is interested in. Don’t feel obliged to cover everything mentioned. Instead, use the notes to make a plan of how you will spend your time with the group. Describe your plan briefly, and apologize for topics that you’re not able to cover in the time available. Even if you don’t cover everything requested, your audience will have the information to understand why you made the choices you did. If you’re going to be available after the session is over, you can invite attendees to meet with you to talk more.

As you continue with your audience-customized session, you can refer to the note clusters to confirm that you’re covering your plan.

How you can use Post It! to make public the interests and questions of a group
Before the session begins, decide on the number of sticky notes to give to each participant. The number will depend on the size of the group and the length of time available for any resulting sessions. Suggestions for the number of notes to be provided are shown in the table below.

Size of group Suggested number of notes for each attendee
20 − 30 2 − 4
30 − 50 2 − 3
50 − 100 1 − 2
100+ 1

Hand out this number of sticky notes and a pen to each attendee. Ask the audience to write down one or more topics they would like explored or questions they would like answered during the session, one per note. Tell them they do not need to use all their notes. Indicate the wall area where notes can be posted, and ask them, once they have finished, to post their notes on the wall. Give participants a few minutes to write their responses. As the notes are posted it is natural for people to hang around the wall and read what others have written. Let them do this, but ask people to allow late posters to get to the wall.

Once all the notes have been posted, provide some time for everyone to take in the topics and questions displayed. This group sharing can then be used as a starting point for Open Space, Fishbowls, Plus/Delta, and other group discussion techniques discussed in my upcoming book.

Photo attribution: Flickr user edmittance

A post about posting (on walls) at events – part 2

In an earlier post I complained about the practice of some venues to prohibit posting materials on the walls of meeting rooms. So I thought I’d summarize here some ways to post on walls that avoid wall damage and should be acceptable to any venue. Many of these methods are described in The Big Book of Flip Charts by Robert Lucas, an exhaustive guide to what can be done with those pads of 27″ x 34″ pieces of paper that we know so well. I’ve divided the methods into two groups: attachment solutions and wall treatment solutions.

Attachment solutions
Masking tape
If allowed by the venue, masking tape is a convenient method to hang paper and cards on a wall. I recommend 1″ wide, fresh, name brand (e.g. 3M, Scotch) tape. A couple of 3″ strips of tape placed at the corners will hold a piece of flip chart paper securely. If you are going to be hanging many sheets of paper, you can use a continuous strip of high quality double-sided masking tape e.g. 3M 9415PC. Run the strip horizontally at about a six-foot height, and you’ll be able to hang paper anywhere along its length.

Self-adhesive pads
Although much more expensive than plain paper pads, flip chart pads with a 2″ strip of tacky adhesive at the top of each sheet provide a convenient method of quickly hanging flip chart paper without having to mess with strips of masking tape.

Self-adhesive paper rolls
One way to create large drawing surfaces is to tape roll paper to a wall using continuous strips of masking tape. If the drawing surface has to be moved a few times, another product to consider is an adhesive backed paper roll. Two products I have found but not yet used are manufactured by Pacon: GOcraft! and GOwrite!

GOcraft! banner paper is available in 12″ x 40′ and 24″ x 25′ rolls. The paper is backed with a post-it like adhesive. The manufacturer claims it will adhere indefinitely to a clean, hard surface and to textured surfaces like fabric covered wall for several days. You use permanent marker to write on the product and Pacon claims that no bleed-through will occur.

GOwrite! is available in 18″ x 6′ or 20′ and 24″ x 10′ or 20′ rolls which provide a dry erase surface that can be used with any dry-erase markers, and, according to the manufacturer, erase cleanly without whiteboard shadowing. The product is attached by removing a peel-off removable liner sheet and will adhere indefinitely to most hard surfaces, but will not stay on textured walls for extended periods. Pacon claims that it will not ruin surfaces when removed, and it can be moved “two or three times” before its adhesion deteriorates and the corners start to curl.

Sticky notes
Sticky notes are a great tool for “cards-on-the-wall” group techniques, like affinity grouping, and they are often the only things that venues will allow to be attached to their walls. For small groups, 3″ x 5″ notes may be large enough, but I prefer to use 6″ x 8″ Post-it® Brand Super Sticky Meeting Notes for large groups.

Pins
Thumb tacks, if allowed by a venue, are a convenient method for attaching paper and cards to cork boards. Buy map style not flat head pins. And at a pinch, straight or safety pins can be used to attach flip chart paper to draperies.

Cloth panel adhesive strips
For mounting to fabric-covered walls, use these mounting squares, which provide an adhesive side that attaches permanently to paper or card, and a  velcro-like side that provides strong yet removable adhesion to fabric-covered walls.

Cloth panel wall clips
Cloth panel wall clips provide another convenient method for attaching paper and card to fabric-covered walls. They are more expensive than adhesive strips, but they can be moved and reused over and over again.

Vinyl Dry Erase Pads
Vinyl dry erase pads are 27″ x 34″ white sheets, packaged in a roll, that stick to a wall by static electricity. They will not stay up indefinitely, but work fine for temporary use during an event. Because they stick to everything, they are not easy to install and should be put in place before a session begins. They can be written on with either permanent (preferable) or dry erase markers, but like most inexpensive whiteboard substitutes they are hard to erase completely, so you should be prepared to replace sheets after a few uses.

Wall treatment solutions
IdeaPaint
Ideapaint is a treatment that turns any smooth flat wall into a dry erase surface. It has to be applied correctly and is not cheap ($175 – $200 for 50 sq. ft. coverage), though Ideapaint’s price compares favorably to the cost of a high quality whiteboard.

Steel or corkboard or wooden wall strips
One of the simplest ways to make a venue wall attachment friendly is to install horizontal strips that can be used to attach flip chart paper. Such strips are available in various materials: steel (use magnets to attach), wood or metal-framed corkboard (use pins), and wood (use appropriately spaced straight pins or nails on which binder clips can be hung). Steel and wood can be painted to match the wall decor, while cork board strips are generally attractive and unobtrusive

Whiteboards
Whiteboards offer a permanent solution for writing and posting on venue walls. At prices of around $15-$20 per square foot, they are not inexpensive, but they offer perhaps the ultimate flexibility for meeting activities that require a vertical posting or drawing surface. The older (and less expensive) melamine surfaces suffer from “ghosting” of dry erase markers over time and are not recommended for institutional use. Nowadays, most whiteboards use a hard porcelain finish over steel, which allows the use of magnets to hold materials on the surface.

There are probably other methods available for non-destructive posting on walls that I haven’t mentioned here. What have I missed?

Photo attribution: Flickr user ezu

A post about posting (on walls) at events – part 1

Recently I’ve been frustrated and baffled. No less than three venues (two hotels and a conference center) in the last month have informed me that I was not allowed to post anything on the walls of the room I was meeting in.

Nothing could be posted. No flip chart paper, no masking tape, no stick pins, no thumbtacks, no sticky notes, and no wall clips.

To add insult to injury, none of the venues apologized or offered any suggestions on alternative ways I could display materials on a vertical surface. None of them had any substitute surfaces, like large portable notice boards or whiteboards available.

One conference organizer wondered if I could use tables instead. Unfortunately, tables are not a comparable substitute for walls for two reasons:

  • On walls, notes or cards can be placed anywhere in a seven foot band between the floor and where people can reach, while on tables, human reach limits us to a three foot band.
  • Information placed on a wall can be easily seen by many more people than if it is displayed on a table.

Some of the most powerful techniques available for group problem-solving require ways to display multiple pieces of information to an entire group, whose members can then easily and publicly move items around to cluster, list, sort, and map relationships. Schools have used blackboards (aka chalkboards) for two hundred years to display information to students, thumbtacks (aka drawing pins) have been around for over one hundred years, masking tape was invented in 1925, and we’ve been using post-it notes for over thirty years. These are not new technologies, folks, why are they now being banned from the walls of venues where we meet?

I understand that venues are used for many different purposes, and wall damage, through incorrect use of attachment technology or marker bleed-through, costs money to repair. But “wall work” is an essential component of group problem solving, and for a venue to prohibit its use while offering no alternatives mean that many kinds of useful meetings will not be held there.

In the second part of this post I’ll cover some of the technologies now available for posting information on walls, including some that you may not know about. Stay tuned!

Have you had venues not allow you to post materials on their walls? What did you do?

Photo attribution: Flickr user pierrelaphoto