How to improve your facilitation: an example

improve your facilitationHow can you improve your facilitation practice? Here’s an example that illustrates what I do: a mixture of continual improvement, lifelong learning, and Kaizen.

An example from The Solution Room

I’ve been facilitating The Solution Room, a popular plenary session, for 8 years. It’s a 90 – 120 minute session that engages and connects attendees, and provides peer-supported advice and support for a current professional challenge chosen by each participant. Participants routinely evaluate the session as a highly helpful and valuable experience.

Over the years I have made numerous small improvements to The Solution Room. Here’s the process I use, developed intuitively over time, illustrated with a recent tweak.

Practice

Obviously, if you’re going to improve what you do you need to practice. Each time I run The Solution Room is an opportunity to implement any new ideas gleaned from the previous time I ran it. Even if I don’t have any changes to make, practice typically makes my delivery and the consequent session a little better.

Notice

Noticing stuff that’s happening is a key component of learning from experience.

During The Solution Room, each participant has a turn facilitating exploration and support of another participant at their table. While preparing everyone for this phase, I verbally share a set of directions on how to do this. Here they are:

  1. Read the challenge that is in front of you out loud.
  2. Start asking questions of the person whose challenge it is to clarify the issue. If necessary, encourage everyone at the table to join in to ask clarifying questions and give advice and support.
  3. Take notes of the ensuing discussion on the paper in front of you.

While running recent Solution Rooms I noticed that table facilitators had no problem implementing #1 and #2, but #3, the note taking, was sometimes skipped during the intense discussion that followed each challenge presentation.

Respond

Now I’ve noticed something that could be improved, it’s time to respond. “Respond” means think about what I might be able to do to make my process better.

Typically, for me, this involves musing over a period of time on what I noticed. (I typically run five or six Solution Rooms a year, so there’s no big time pressure to implement a change.) I’ve found this works best when I don’t immediately fixate on the first idea I get. Coming up with three or more options seems to lead to the best outcomes.

I considered rephrasing my instructions, emphasizing the importance of the note taking in some way beforehand or during the “rounds” of peer consulting. Finally I had the idea of creating a laminated card with the instructions on each table, and asking table members to pass the card around to each consultation facilitator in turn.

Implement

The next step then is to implement my potential improvement. For The Solution Room, I need to create the instruction cards and modify my instructions to participants so they remember to pass the card to the next facilitator.

Test

At the next opportunity, I test my change, by implementing it and noticing what happens.

Repeat!

Continual improvement needs an action loop. We go back to practicing, noticing…

Conclusion: Improve your facilitation practice!

I hope this continual improvement practice I’ve shared helps you improve the quality and effectiveness of your facilitation. Do you have your own approach to improving what you do? Share your ideas in the comments below!

When the audience can’t stop talking about what they did

When the audience can't stop talking about what they didLast week, I led The Solution Room for a group of New York City attorneys. When it ended at 8 pm, after two hours of continuous intense conversation and connection, no one left. The participants, despite having worked a full day before my evening session, hung around and talked and swapped business cards while venue workers patiently reset the room for the law firm’s next business day.

For me, having people unwilling to leave after one of my sessions is over is a sign of success. It’s an example of what Set Godin calls viral work.

Important work is easily dismissed by the audience. It involves change and risk and thought.
Popular work resonates with the people who already like what you do.
Viral work is what happens when the audience can’t stop talking about what you did.

Every once in awhile, all three things will co-exist, but odds are, you’re going to need to choose.
—Seth Godin, Important, popular or viral

I like Seth’s definition of viral work, but I’d change one word to better describe my facilitative work.

“Viral work is what happens when the audience can’t stop talking about what they did.”

Because, it’s not about me.

How often do you get to do viral work? Share your successes in the comments below!

[P.S. I don’t usually photograph the challenge representations drawn by Solution Room participants because they can contain personal information, but I made an exception for the charming image that graces this post.]

The Secrets Behind Conference Engagement

So you’re holding a conference. How are you going to get your audience tuned in and engaged?

Read the rest of this entry »

Two powerful ways to open a conference

Two powerful ways to open a conferenceIf we’re creating conferences primarily for the benefit of attendees, rather than organizers/sponsors/presenters/etc.—yes, I know, it’s a radical concept—what are good things to do during the opening after the customary welcome and housekeeping? Although the answer depends on conference scope, desired outcomes,  group composition, time available, and so on there are two approaches I find especially useful. (My books cover these and several other openings in detail.)

After agreeing on ground rules—essential in my view before doing group work—here’s an outline of two techniques I use extensively:

The Three Questions
Three questions:

  • “How did I get here?”
  • “What do I want to have happen?”
  • “What expertise or experience do I have that others here might find useful?”

are printed on a large card given to each person. I explain that they cannot answer these questions incorrectly, share some examples of answers, allow participants few minutes to answer them in writing on their card, and then give everyone in turn the same amount of time to share their answers with the group. You can run The Three Questions in small groups, or with as many as 60 people in a roundtable. For large groups it’s important to break up the sharing every 20 minutes. Run activities at each break that help group members learn more about the group.

The Three Questions make a clean break with the convention that at conferences most people listen and few speak. They publicly uncover a rich stew of ideas, themes, desires, and questions that is bubbling in peoples’ minds. And they expose the collective resources of the group—the expertise and experience that may be brought to bear on the concerns and issues that have been expressed.

(Want to learn more and can’t wait for my new book? My first book has all the details you’ll need to run The Three Questions at your next event.)

The Solution Room
The Solution Room is an opening conference session, typically lasting between 90 and 120 minutes. It both engages and connects participants and provides peer-supported advice on their most pressing challenges. By facilitating peer interaction and consultation at the start of an event, The Solution Room creates a conference environment that embodies participation, peer learning, and targeted problem solving. By the end of the session, every participant has had the opportunity to receive advice and support on a challenge of their choosing.

A session of 20 or more people starts with a short introduction, followed by a human spectrogram that demonstrates the amount of experience available in the room. Next, we give participants some time to think of a challenge for which they would like peer advice. A second human spectrogram follows which maps participants’ comfort level.

Participants are then divided into small equally-sized groups of between six and eight people. Each group shares a round table covered with flip chart paper and plenty of colored markers. Group members then individually describe their challenge on the paper in front of them using mindmapping. Each participant gets equal time to explain their issue and receive advice and support from their table peers.

When sharing is complete, two final human spectrograms close the session. They provide a public group evaluation that maps the shift in comfort level of all the participants and the likelihood that participants will work to change what they’ve just shared.

Try ’em!
Both of these techniques allow people to learn about each other and connect around issues that are personally/professionally meaningful. In my experience, they lead to much more powerful and authentic participant engagement than the generic “icebreakers” (hate that term!) typically used.

The Solution Room—an introductory video

The talented graphic facilitator Kristine Nygaard of Kiss the frog, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at FRESH 2013, has created a delightful one-minute video introducing The Solution Room, a plenary session I facilitate for 20 – 300 people that engages and connects participants, and provides just-in-time peer support and answers to their most pressing professional problems. Thanks Kristine!

Enjoy!