Phil's Blog

Looking at things through the lenses of moderation, noble purpose and more

To vote or not to vote…or HOW to vote, at least: Heads, shoulders, knees and toes (well thumbs, fingers, movement and technology)

Measurement, MeetingsNo Comments

When was the last time you were in a meeting when something was put to the vote? If you work in Government you probably see a lot of voting. Or you might work somewhere where the leader ‘senses’ the group view. Maybe you lead a team where you decide, so don’t really look for a majority view. I have written about voting in a musical context even! In a ‘workshop’ or facilitated meeting voting has a particular usefulness – and can be fun too.

Helping explore the range of opinion in a group is a core facilitation skill. Voting methods help achieve an understanding of where other people are on a particular issue. And, importantly, only rarely is voting used for decision making. However, polling methods can be popular for the life they bring to a meeting – both in terms of the highlighting of certain ideas and the kinaesthetic action that most votes involve (you have to move something for all of them).

Voting is a useful tool to learn how to deploy – and is suitable for groups of any size, though especially for larger groups where the issue of helping individual ‘voice’ is particularly important and where the meaning of silence can’t be assumed (as assent, difference, reflection time etc).

There are three parts to good voting. You might imagine these as a 3 legged stool, that would topple over without all three parts:
1. The crafting of good questions,
2. The choice of an appropriate voting method and
3. Knowing how to get a useful discussion of the results.

This blog is focused mainly on the repertoire of methods (the second part). However, the first part ‘stool’ is important – posing a good questions requires incisive listening to get the topic right and clear communication so what you are checking is understood. Sometimes a group can get lost trying to agree the question to vote on. This might indicate something of the complexity and contentiousness of the issues – or the failure of the facilitator to ‘make it easy’ for the group!

[If you want to know more about crafting a good question have a look here.

The Opportunity of a good questions comes from
a. The right Orientation – as in Heron, are you supporting, challenging, opening up…
b. A clear Purpose – The famous Kipling poem gives some options for how to start a question from why to where, what to who, when to how, (as in ‘how do you do?’). However, sometimes the best first word in a question is ‘given’ or ‘in light of’ etc…such as “Thinking of the ideas presented so far in this blog, what do you rate as your degree of engagement in what you are reading (___/10).”
c. What Power words open up the mind and get the creative juices going: critical, simplest, significant, challenging, relevant…and any other adjectives can be used.
And remember to think through the response format: how far will any question be a few categories (eg in response to a proposal, such as “This day is going well – yes, no, bit of both, no idea”) or pick up a numeric score (“out of 10, 10 being high”).]

The third leg of the ‘stool’ remains important. Even if the question is powerful and useful, and the voting method is engaging and illuminating too, there might be a failure to sufficiently discuss the insights from the results. Alternatively the discussion can go on too long.

So, back to the second leg (or part) of good voting: choosing the right voting method…

Voting is often assumed to be useful in helping a group decide – but most organisations and events are not democracies. Some people’s views matter more than others when it comes to agreeing action (the far right of the decision making diamond). However, in a group session voting can help ‘divine’ the group view. The purpose here is to inform subsequent thinking and discussion. A bit like the Delphi Method, the opinions that are seen more clearly in a vote give members a chance to re-calibrate their opinion.

Voting helps in the exploring. It can be used on ‘process’ issues as well as the content of meeting – eg to test acceptance of any agenda change. For example, using SPOG  you might use a vote to check if some vocal members of the group are representative of the whole.

Voting is useful in helping keep plenary sessions lively, see this.

A number of low-tech methods include:

1. The Traditional: arm up and down (with the possible twist of using two hands or stretching if you REALLY agree).
2. The Bobbing: people standing up and down in response to the question.
3. The Caesar: thumbs up and down – or wavering in the middle.
4. The Goldilocks test: eg too warm, too cold, just right.
5. Giving the finger(s) – showing your score to a question (out of ten, five) with your fingers.
6. The Sticky Strip: dots, thumbs up stickers, arrows, gold stars (NB – you can allocate a fixed number of stickies per person, or allow colleagues to ‘use all they need’) .
7. The Anonymous: hand in a piece of paper on arrival or on the way to the break (to summarise and feedback later on). Other ways to collect these bits of can involve throwing in a screwed up ball to be caught in a bin – or making them into paper planes to come to the front.
8. Balls in buckets: place a ball (or other object, like a rolled up piece of paper or cork) in a receptacle labelled to indicate a particular view.
9. The Poster: getting a sub group to agree their score to a vote on poster – before feeding it back to the whole group.
10. The Human Likert Scale: standing on a line (eg from 1-10 or low to high or Fear to Hope etc).
11. The Run-around (or the Human Histogram) – With places for those giving a particular number to stand (see p24 here).  A version of this is to explore the number of ‘Ayes’ ‘Noes’ and ‘Abstentions’ as per the political division process.
12. The Clap-o-meter: based on the loudest clap (to explore degrees of support from ‘pitiful’ to ‘massively enthusiastic’)
13. The Voting Card: which can be used in a variety of formats and ways. Please let me know if you want some of the idenk cards  f.o.c, or want to know the sorts of ways they can be used – from RAG ( to supporting wonky tables : )

This is probably not a definitive list of lower tech options. I’d be interested in the methods you use and can imagine (such as sitting in certain sections of a room, depending on your opinion; signalling your view with your body language). Some methods favour certain sorts of questions (eg hands up and down for those questions with a few fixed categories, to scales from 1-10 when using fingers or standing on a line).
It is worth noting that most of these are not anonymous. In groups where trust is low, then the insight might be questionable. Also, and more importantly, any method that allows colleagues to see what others think before they declare their result runs the risks of contagion (or groupthink). Asking people to all vote at the same time (when using hands) – or think hard to clarify their thoughts before moving to stick dots or walking standing in a particular place – can help.

Some of the methods require no props, others require some investment and packing in advance (eg voting cards, pre-prepared voting sheets). All voting requires some attention to the necessary ‘kit’ to capture the results and insights – from a camera to pre-prepared slides and spreadsheets to swiftly bring up the results for discussion during the meeting – or to feed back in the record. Even a pen and paper summary of a vote can be interesting when photographed and projected up.

As well as these low tech methods, there are some electronic option too:
14. The e-survey: getting a vote in advance (or on arrival or by going online in breaks). Note it is possible to then repeat these scores in low tech votes (or repeat and capture on review cards too).
15. The xls: getting people to fill in a pre-questionnaire (often an assessment of some sort).
16. Electronic voting: the is a very common method, but regularly used very poorly – with unimaginative questions and insufficient discussion: hence, the stool falls over! Try coming up with provocative questions (such as word association: “I say leadership, you think dictator, where, brilliant, pants…”) with engaging, plain English categories (“I have absolutely no idea” or “I have lost the will to live”).
17. Tweet: counting tweets to specific hash tags – or text numbers
18. The Apps: the more fashionable end of e-voting, such as Poll Daddy.

Beware: these electronic ones can seem attractive (and regularly appeal to leaders who commission events), but tend to cost more and are harder to use ‘in the moment’. They are best used when they can pass the Heineken Test: achieving something no other method can (such as handing complexity, cross tabulation etc).

And note, the GrandDaddy of digital insight Hans Rosling has gone a bit analogue recently, with his plastic boxes. Don’t be afraid to keep it simple with methods that are easier to amend and busk.

So, overall, voting provides a way of engaging head, heart and hands – and doing it in a way that helps a group to move through the ‘Decision Diamond’.

And…which ideas did you find most useful here…vote now…


Are you involved or committed?

EngagementNo Comments

Do you know the fable of breakfast – from the point of view of the chicken and the pig? There is lots about it online these days – as an analogy for thinking about engagement in change.

Wikipedia summarises the basic tale as a riddle.
“Question: In a bacon-and-egg breakfast, what’s the difference between the Chicken and the Pig?
Answer: The Chicken is involved, but the Pig is committed!”

I was working with an international group recently where a number didn’t eat pork and others avoid eating meat. But they liked the metaphor when someone mentioned it.

So we had a go at finding other metaphors for the basic idea.

Where did we get to?

“What is the difference between the key ingredients in a cheese salad ? The lettuce is committed and the cow involved”.

Now to find a vegan version…

NB Disclaimer – no animals (or vegetables) were harmed in making this blog

The mosquito and the meeting

Checklists, Personal productivityNo Comments

The night before the start of an important 3 day meeting.

At 2am.

A mosquito arrives.

Buzzing my ears.

I tried some things suggested by colleagues (catching it with the light off, looking for it with the light on, putting a light on in another room to attract it…). None of them seemed to work – but maybe there was more than one mozzie! The next night I would be fine – with an anti-mosquito machine to plug in and infuse the room with smelly vapour.

But on this night…? Before a crucial meeting? An event was already on my mind…

I decided to ignore it – and even sort of welcome it and the warm night it was part of. I drifted back to sleep – a buzzy, dozy sort of sleep.

The lesson? When we have a problem, do pool the ideas for solving it. Meetings can help that.

But sometimes we have to draw a line and move on. A meeting might work but groups of people can get stuck and demotivate individual action and movement, if not very carefully handled.

Caution: meeting, handle with care.


A recent blog about formal meetings from Roy Lilley.

And a tweet of one way of thinking about meetings.


And a method for getting to sleep from my psychologist colleague Steve Bagi:

Work through this when you have finished all you need to do. It is an exercise which helps to clear the thought congestion of so many things in our minds.

While in bed in the dark…

1…identify three-four things that you can hear e.g fan, clock

2…identify three-four things that you can see e.g. some street light, shadow

3…identify three-four things that you can physically feel e.g blanket on me, pillow

Then ask yourself the question “what do I want to do now” with the answer “I want to go to sleep”.

This should clear some of the congestion.  Repeat as many times as needed.

Options for avoiding ‘death by feedback’

Facillitation, MeetingsNo Comments

In my facilitation training I am often asked what my ‘nightmares’ are. I find that hard to answer, but I do know the things I think about a lot.

These are the issues which I have worked on the most.  A few of these ‘points I ponder’ include:
1) Very ‘introverted’ groups – I now make sure I give people lots of private time to think.
2) Long post lunch plenary sessions – I use voting and humour and physical activity to keep it lively.
3) Very long panel discussions – I use controversy or comedy. I use buzz group conversations to surface any questions (to avoid the long silences that can happen when opening the floor to a large, unsure group – silences that can depress, further dampen or unsettle a group). Some colleagues like to pump prime a few people to lead off with comments and questions from the wider group. I find that a bit artificial.
4) Teach or communicating something I know only very shakily (eg directions, a concept) – I get someone else who knows, to do it!

One issue I think about a lot is how to ensure all plenary feedback is successful. In most large meetings there are times when small groups meet. And after that there is often the expectation that there is some sort of report back.

Some of the options I think about at this time of plenary expectation (and risk) include:
a) Is feedback really needed? Maybe participants will be happy to find out what happened over tea. Or you could just ask for one point from each group. This will then create time and space for other ways of working – such as the neglected Q&A or reflection (“what have you learnt; what is bothering you; what is the single key issue we need to crack” etc).
b) How can feedback be focused and brought to life? I like the use of posters to focus both group work and feedback. As well as a gallery of charts with a host to explain them, do consider getting photos of each poster on a screen and asking a rapporteur to point out a couple of key points. If the posters ask for images/doodles, you have a natural discussion point. Getting a question to put to the vote (and discussion) from each group is useful too.
c) Might asking each group feeding back to use photos and bullet points on a slide or two help?
d) Would a ‘fishbowl’ with representatives from each group be more interesting (due to the theatricality of the moment)?
e) If a design team has been working on the event, then their involvement can mean there is more ownership and a better vibe. These groups are often about 10% of the whole, so the ripple effect in terms of concentration, interest and buzz can make a very big difference.

Have fun experimenting!

The sound of (more than) one hand clapping

Feedback, MeetingsNo Comments

There are (at least) 10 uses of applause in a conference:

1) To thank a speaker (“let’s applaud…”)
2) To appreciate someone you have just done group work with (“let’s acknowledge…”)
3) To reach out to someone who has just frozen in ‘stage fright’
4) To encourage someone stumbling in a language that is not their own
5) To acknowledge the whole group
6) To vote (noting the relative volume)
7) To express frustration (the slow clap)
8) To warm up (clapping more than just hands)
9) As part of a listening or co-ordination game

I was at a meeting where nearly all of these were used at one time or another.

And at one point someone said “at the end of the day we are all here to make money”. Most nodded vigorously. A few clapped.

Then something happened.  There was a spontaneous round of applause.  And I was I was left thinking “what a lovely clap”. Which one? Clap 3.

No noble purpose in sight. Money was in focus. And yet there was care…for a stranger. At the mic.  Stuck in the headlights. Frozen with fear when it was their turn to speak.  Helped out of that hole by the generous applause of the group.

3 of the best?

FeedbackNo Comments

After the October facilitation series of blogs (please let me know if you would like the compilation), I have been tweeting a bit more recently.

These are three very recent ones…

A tweet about a blog!

Hi-foresight with BT

A fascinating talk from a Cambridge college, that links to noble vrs financial purpose:

What do you reckon?

The stories some people tell

FacillitationNo Comments

Leaders are often exhorted to tell stories as part of how they present their ideas. Over the last decade or so this encouragement has become almost deafening. We have joined in with the chorus (see the second part of this business briefing and point 5 in this blog). You read about stories everywhere it seems – for example and this.

Why the interest? Outlining a logical argument for change often doesn’t convince. Preceding those messages with something that engages the heart and mind of the listeners helps. Ganz is powerful on the importance of developing and using a ‘personal narrative’. He has helped President Obama in his oratory…and this speech of his shows the ideas of the story of self, us and now in action.

For me, and my colleague Steve Bagi, there are 3 sorts of stories:

1) To build rapport
2) To illustrate a point
3) To motivate for change

Stories that motivate the listener to want to change often involve the leader sharing an analogous personal example that illustrates COCO: the context and challenge they faced, the options they considered, the choice they took and the outcome they achieved. This might be a key moment in their career, something from the life of a family member or even someone or some moment well known that clearly means something significant to the person listening to it.

And the risks? It can seem a bit instrumental. Will there be a backlash? Will we hear “oh no not another personal anecdote”. I doubt it – as humans we don’t tire of the novels or movies, for example. Searching out stories about personal and collective quests is part of who we are, it seems.

What are the best ways to start to practice this sort of approach? Well it isn’t rocket science. It really isn’t. You might want to have a go with our personal narrative worksheet…give it a go when you next have an opportunity to speak with your staff. And a tip – try photos…and, of course, really try to avoid bullet points.

Engaging with the shadows

FacillitationNo Comments

When planning a survey or a meeting, I tend to find starting positively works the best. Asking “what is going well, what gives you hope, what should we build on” frames the day in a way that is both pro-active and focused on possibility. The spirit of appreciative inquiry, positive deviance and solutions based therapy lives in our work.

But I also engage with difficultly and problems and pathology too – see the yin yang on page 7 of this older article of ours.

Oliver Burkeman describes the power of negative thinking in The Antidote. Whilst I think he over argues his case (more on that another time), I like the general principle that negative ideas, feelings and outcomes might be ok in our personal lives.  And generally I believe that there is some wisdom in resistance, correction through opposition and that conflict is good. I am with Lencioni in being ok to talk about ‘problems’, not just ‘challenges’; dysfunctions, not just strengths.

A key application of all this for a facilitator is the trying to strike a good balance in designing a conversation – so the focus isn’t just on the potential but also the difficultly too, and vice versa.

A key skill for any group facilitator, is judging when a ‘negative’ response is productive and when it is likely to derail. In helping make this judgement it is worth thinking through the possible sources of the negativity. And here the psychodynamic literature on group dynamics is especially helpful.

Do you think that what someone said was a helpful correction – or motivated from something not related to the stated comment? Was it from something going on under the surface?

Two key concepts come up time and time again from this school of thought – power and anxiety. These lenses are regularly used to explain and help understand what goes on in groups, from jealous attacks to scapegoating by others; from feeling dumb to believing you are on a creative roll individually.

There are lots of ideas to investigate and some are a bit complicated, but they are worth persevering with and drawing on. However, remember this health warning when ‘diagnosing’ a group behaviour: First we can never really know what is going on – we can merely hypothesise. Secondly, what we notice happening might be just what it seems to be, and not some mysterious embedded current. For example, you might be criticised because you are not doing a very good job and not because someone doesn’t like the colour of your shoes! In the (misattributed) words of the father of group dynamics “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”.

In a nutshell, projection can lead to being dumped on, blamed…and you risk projective identification if you take it in and take that persona on.

Transference is where you remind someone of another person (good or bad), with the associated risk of countertransference, when you take it heart. This can work both ways – you can also be told you were brilliant, when really it was the memory of someone else that was.

So the key insight is that when stuff happens (good or bad), it isn’t always about you.  However, it can be hard to put on a protective shield from the flattering or threatening dynamics of a group.

Large groups can be especially tricky for a facilitator and bring out the worst in participants due to feelings of abandonment plus anxiety about significance, trust or control. This can lead to a powerful flight or fright response (down to leaving early, tricky questioning and passive aggressive responses from people who seem fine one minute and not the next.

I have an interesting article from the Huffington Post critical of the dynamics of a famous self-improvement course if you are interested…let me know.

How can you cope in large groups specifically?
a. Be human – the ‘blanker’ you are the more likely you are to receive projection. Actually, in group relations training it is common for the consultants to choose to be inscrutable to provoke this! So, being ‘professional’ might increase the risk of a hard time. Quirky authenticity might not be a bad thing.
b. Look calm – do not seem anxious, don’t stoke the feelings others will certainly have. Your tone of voice, facial expressions and way you walk even really do matter. Try to turn up calm, even before you are on stage. Don’t start your (and the venue staff) off on a bad footing by letting it out on them. I have, and really try hard to contain my anxiety now!
c. Avoid recommending some of the common ‘defences against anxiety’ such as working groups to delay a difficult conversation – think how you can seize the initiative and get stuck in. Even in large groups methods, such as fishbowls or careful plenary questioning, can be very powerful. Try to avoid nurturing a dependence on you – dependence is a form of collusion based on low responsibility, and one that might feel comfortable to you and them.
d. Working in a facilitation pair is powerful, and limits any projection to one of the pair usually, which leaves at least one of the two free to carry on working (though that isn’t much fun for the person who is scapegoated, and that needs careful debriefing, see below). A shadow consultant role (where one facilitator doesn’t do much up front) is another option. Think how you prepare in a new pair with this checklist.
e. Finally, there are some top notch methods and ideas for agendas  in large meetings.

Other ways to prepare so you increase your insight and options for informed, resilience action include:
a. A key step is to acknowledge and try to reduce any group anxiety – maybe even by naming it.
b. Be aware of the possible power battles that may occur with you or others – maybe ‘irrational’ ones (eg transference, as you remind them of someone else).
c. Read around the topic such as this paper I commissioned in a role I did a few years back and this from a good book. There is lots online about large group dynamics too.
d. Do a course – there are lots, and I am happy to advise.
e. At the meeting, if things are tough, imagine you are in a glass chamber where the dynamics can’t reach you, but you and the group can see and hear everything.
f. Practice thinking under the surface, with various iceberg (and onion!) reflection techniques! Get into the discipline of thinking what might be going on that you can’t see – or that others won’t discuss (the proverbial ‘elephant’)
g. Rehearse Heron based tactics – what options do you see, for example .
h. Get into the best shape for the day – intellectually, emotionally, physically – taking care of your energy.
i. Use techniques that promote engagement and responsibility – open space methods for self-suggested sessions for example.
j. Never work with a group that has had a drink!
k. Maybe think of ground rules that are authentic to you and helpful to the group – eg “I have designed today to appeal to as many as possible, if things are not right for you at a particular moment try a bit of discomfort for a while, but tell me if you are close to panic”, “no side conversation please unless you are helping a non-English speaker” and “we are working to be balanced – between structure and freedom, chaos and control, big and detailed picture thinking, logic and emotion, positive and negative reactions – please say if that balance isn’t working for you”.  You can then use SPOG (see two blogs ago) to guide your response to any challenges
l. Maybe try to be a bit playful – really! Play involves transitional objects, or toys. Children play to handle their anxieties, as adults humour, games, getting outside, being kinaesthetic can help too!
m. Journal your thoughts and feelings before, in breaks and after meetings. Try meditation too.
n. Undertake supervision as well – with an expert coach.

So, don’t fear the dark side – and as with de Bonos six thinking hats, the black hat can be the most useful.

It is all about balance. Try positivity first, but be prepared…

When you feel dumped on – think, what might be going on here?

May the force be with you!  Do work to bring your hope and light and wisdom to bear.

My Moderation Checklist

Facillitation, MeetingsNo Comments

I was speaking with a friend and client earlier. We were chatting through our respective approaches to moderation.

After some syntactical knowledge exchange we came up with the checklist – which regular readers know will have made me very happy.

If you are booked to ‘moderate’ are you clear what you being asked to do?  Do they want you to facilitate, for example, see this tweet - the big difference being how far you suggest the agenda and lead pre-work such as surveys and speaker coaching…and maybe the propensity to split a large group into smaller conversations too.

And are you clear what sort of moderator the client is expecting – a sage, joker or host? And can you do what they are asking – best to say no at the start than be found out as not very funny or wise!

1) Prepare well
- Do you know how the speakers have been briefed (what have they been asked to do, for how long, is there breathing space between them for you to use for a comment, humorous aside, summary etc?). The bigger and more formal the meeting the more important it is for all speakers to have been rehearsed…by the event company probably, though you might want to get involved too, which can cause tensions with others who don’t see the importance of this (both speakers and conference organisers).
- What is your pre event routine…depending where you are on our reactions assessment, things like making sure you sleep well or do not arrive with a coffee OD after a party the night before, really matter. Personally I like to try and get 8 hours sleep, go for a run, do a short meditation and visualise the day – all before getting on site 2 hours before it is due to kick off.  You can see I try to get to bed early the night before!
- Know your contingencies – for example if the day is flat or you go over time…use a buzz group or shorten a Q&A.

2) Know how you will set the tone for the whole meeting.
- First things are fateful and what you say and do in the first 10 minutes really, really matters. If you run through housekeeping and just introduce the first speaker the die is cast, the day is lost – the meeting is almost certain to be passive and dull unless you are lucky to have totally brilliant speakers.
- As an expert moderator you might want to include your SCQ early on. In our Brilliant Thinking Made Easy course Ross shares the Minto Pyramid. This starts with Situation, Complication and Question. You might wish to outline what you’re hoping to discover as you listen to the days proceedings – you can then keep referring back to what is emerging for you and keep asking the group about it too.
- As a performer you might want to tell some jokes – and even other types of moderator might want to find some smirkful segue
- As a community builder finding out a few things with a show of hands can make a huge difference even when you don’t have time for any sort of small group discussion that would meet the facilitation principle of “all use their own voices in the first 10 minutes”. For example, my ‘human pie chart process’ asks who has travelled the furthest, what first languages are spoken, who knows less than 10 people and who over half, what job roles and organisation types are represented etc.

3) Keep track
- Keep an eye on time – are you on schedule for breaks, key time points?  Do you know where you have flexibility to catch up? (eg Q&A sessions, long breaks etc)
- Do track speakers as they work through any slides – reminding a speaker who looks like they are going very slow at around half way through their allotted time.
- Do notice and use in real time what is happening in social media about the event, for example hashtag comments on Twitter. These sort of illustrations make great segue!

4) Managing conversations
- Are you a fan of Buzz groups – these can work even in large events. But in the wrong hands (or at the wrong event) are a bit naff.
- What about setting a question for the group to take to coffee – and asking for a few responses to it later?
- And what about asking people to hand in questions, comments to you on paper (a sort of conversation with you!) – you can read out some on arrival. You can even get them to try and throw them in as paper planes for a prize if you are feeling playful.
- I am not a fan of stacking Q&A to the end of a whole morning or afternoon…I sometimes suggest what I call the “seminar sandwich” – with Q&A or table work etc every two speakers….
- The degree of ambient light in the room (natural or artificial matters)…the more light the more you are signalling interaction and less a show. Sometimes those working on the AV side of an event don’t get it when you ask for more house lights. Some clients like the theatrical darkness too. By the way, so do I for some things (eg a selection of photos with music before a start, a video after a break etc).

5) Knowing how to manage panel discussions
- This is the hardest thing for most moderators – especially after lunch! However a lively and interesting panel can be THE event highlight.
- Be clear how far this is a broadcast show or really a chance to engage the audience. Panel discussions are more of a “sell and tell” event format, less of an “engage and shape” one – so if you don’t think it is relevant say so and find other uses for the time (NB though, a ‘pure’ moderator doesn’t challenge the client agenda and ‘merely’ seeks to bring it to life).
- I recommend choosing a TV or Radio interviewer (news anchor, chat show host etc) you admire and who you think has a relevant style, and try to imagine what they would do – tone of voice, sort of interactions, how they play guests off each other. Give it a go.
- Do you want to play it nude or natty! Do you want to dive straight into the discussion or start with some witty CV summaries…”And in her last/on twitter job Lisa said…” to kick it off.
- Try to avoid pre prepared reflections to start from each panel member. At the most you might allow some quick, spontaneous comments from each member of what they have learnt if the panel is about the day – or what they are wanting to discover/explore if the panel is a new topic.
- How will you engage others in the audience – will you leave the stage and bound around with a mike, or use runners?

6) Capturing the event
- how far are your comments part of the record?
- who is capturing the meeting and how – video, cartoon, narrative record (idenk style for example) etc.

Once again, be authentic. However, as a rule of thumb, plan to take 1 or 2 risks a day, things that are out of character: what seems safe is often the most risky thing to do, for a dull day is lethal…it won’t be neutral. It will be good – or bad. Try to bet on good.

From nightmares to no cares

Facillitation, MeetingsNo Comments

In my one to one coaching I often use a framework adapted from scenario planning. I get clients to describe 4 futures they think they could encounter (and possibly create): the Dream, the Disaster, the Default and the Do-able. When coaching someone to develop their facilitation skills and repertoire, I find that the disaster scenario features prominently – where things could go horribly wrong looms large. Our online facilitation skills assessment has a tenth category that surfaces these fears – and that ‘facilitation nightmares’ section regularly reveals low scores!

So what are these nightmares? The same ones come up time and time again and include these four:
1) Will the group start talking – “there’s no energy, will they interact with me?”
2) Will I be able to stop them – “will some people go on and on, boring everyone and distracting the process?”
3) Will they fall out – “how do I stop them getting into conflict with each other?”
4) Will they reject my agenda, will they reject me – “what if I don’t know what to ask them to do or they don’t like it?”

Which do you worry about the most?  For me, you might be surprised to know, is 2).

What would you do?

In my facilitation training we explore lots of top tips for these. Briefly, a few of my favourite tactics are:
i) Too Quiet: Get people to work in pairs or trios within the first few minutes of starting – and whenever the mood seems flat
ii) Too Talkative: I find that humour, reminding all of the time and seeking other peoples views works
iii) Too Argumentative: See conflict as good (something to be harnessed and embraced even, not avoided), and frame the day as about exploring different views…and then methods like the six thinking hats, Thomas Kilman, scenarios, hexagon mapping, iceberg, polarity management, dilemma resolution, the idenk agree/differ process kick in!
iv) Too Resistant: I like using the SPOG process…

The ‘SPOG’ method is helpful when you experience sustained pushback to your suggestions:
 Summarise the Situation
 Propose a process, maybe sharing the alternative options you see too
 Outline the output you believe it will achieve
 Gather the views of the group: what do others think of your suggestion? Check what they think might be useful to do…

[And a more facilitative alternative: Before you share your view of what to suggest next you might call time out, tea or set up a trio – to create you breathing space or time to go over things with any colleagues or client. This can lead to a version of this called SGPO where you jump straight from 1 to 4 – and then maybe back to 2 and 3 after some conversations in groups or trios – and with your co worker. We are firm believers in the ‘power of pairs’ to help at times just like this! ]

And what can be done to avoid nightmares?

There is lots to do in rehearsal – the second D of the 4Ds of Facilitation (design, dry run, do it, debrief)…and one of the 13Ps too!

And in the heat of the moment..
A. First think about what is going on – what are your hypotheses for what is happening under the surface (see the iceberg or Deep Think model here  – maybe even working this explicitly with the group)
B. Explore your options: using the Heron framework and this list from one of the best facilitation books

C. Have a go!
D. Then reflect: what went well, what would you have done differently, what are you curious about (what do you think might have been going on), what will you do next (you can journal this process with a pen and paper in a book to keep or type in an e-file)?

The more you do this, the easier it gets. Building your capacity to reflect regularly after a session increases your chance of seeing alternatives and options ‘in the moment’.

And revisiting the promise of this blog: from Nightmares to No Cares? Well not quite, but less worry is certainly possible!

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