Facilitating…the art of making a task easier.

Do you always have the same people showing up for meetings?  Did you ever wonder why “everyone” is there? If someone was not there, would you even notice? The only thing in life you cannot buy is time, and to invite the wrong people to meetings is wasting everyone’s time.

How do you know who to invite?  That is the question. 

When you are creating your meeting experience, think about what you want to achieve. What is the real reason for this meeting? What is the anticipated involvement from the participants? Each of those items should be considered before you ever send out a meeting invitation.

Sharing information – If you are simply sharing information, why are you meeting? You can share information in many ways; send a memo, record a video using your phone, create a powerpoint, have a contest based on the shared information or simply record a podcast they can listen to while they are driving. Follow up with them to insure understanding.

Setting direction – If your meeting is to set direction for the future, are you including the people who are creating the direction as well as the people who will carry out the direction? Many times we forget to consider “next steps”.  For instance, we create a wonderful PSA and then we fail to determine how we will get people to listen to it. Or we create “white papers” and fail to consider how to get people to read them.

Each person at your meeting should be there for a reason. Do they have information to contribute to the content or the decisions? Do they have the responsibility to participate and carry out the decisions? Are they overseeing the entire project? You should be able to go through your invitation list and see the role for each of the participants. If you cannot reasonably decide what value they bring to the meeting, should you be inviting them? If you invite people who are not relevant to the meeting, you not only waste their time but you also waste the time of the other participants. They are not able to make the most of the time together because the level of commitment is not consistent.

If you want to learn more about the levels of engagement at meetings, I encourage you to attend a 2 day workshop, Meetings That Work. You can find more information about it at http://www.meetingsthatwork.training/  The next class is this November in beautiful Miami Florida. What a great combination – meeting tools and tips and fun in the sun.

DifficultPeopleYou have seen them. They are the people that always have a different opinion. They know the ONLY way to do something. They don’t want to even consider another way. We have all worked with them. Everyone wants to know how do we deal with that type of person?

Before you can deal with that type of person, you need to look at why do they take that hard stance? What is it that makes them feel that they are right?
Generally, people take a difficult stance for one or more of the following reasons:

1. They experienced a similar situation before that was not successful and are convinced this will not be successful either so why are you wasting my time.
2. They don’t have enough “context” information to see the big picture. Their scope of knowledge is only a portion of the entire problem, situation or project.
3. They may have some personal issues that they are dealing with that prevent them from fully participating.
4. They are afraid that they will appear weak among their peers and reports. They have a need to always be right.
5. They are afraid of failure. If you don’t do it my way it won’t work and then I will be responsible anyway.

These are just a few of the real reasons that people behave in a difficult manner. I believe there are underlying issues for most people when they behave in this way. Your meetings need to be structured to mitigate these behaviors. You may not be able to prevent them all but you can certainly start to establish a process to reduce them. Here are just a few suggestions.

1. Be sure that the people you have in the meeting are there for a reason. Don’t invite everyone. Invite only those that need to participate. If you have a group of people that simply need to be “in the know” send them a memo. Otherwise, you will be wasting time.
2. Let the group share what they feel the desired outcome of the meeting should be. What would they consider “success” of the meeting. Each person may have a totally different idea of why they are even at the meeting.
3. When you see bad behavior do something. Move around the room, go stand by the person who is having the side conversation. They will stop.
4. Be sure you have enough small group discussions built into the meeting so that they have a chance to share information with their neighbors.
5. Have a defined, interesting and engaging agenda and discussion. If the participants at the meeting are able to check their email while in the meeting, you have room to improve your meeting and agenda planning. Participants should not be interested in checking their email ( unless they are on call or in need) and should be drawn to the meeting. They should know that they are a part of the meeting and their voices and input is important.

One of skills that is growing in demand is “facilitation” skills. To be adapt at designing and facilitating meetings takes training and research. ICA-USA and ICA-Associates, Canada have spent decades developing facilitation training based on successful implementation of those methods. Consider taking one of the two upcoming classes offered by ICA-USA and ICA-Canada. ICA-USA ToP TM Facilitation Methods will show you two methods (Focused Conversation and Consensus Workshop) and one process ( Action Planning). The ICA-Canada class will show you how to determine the “right” people to have in the room, develop agendas, room set up, flip chart tips , 72 activities to use in your meetings and how to deal with difficult people.

Here are the links to the 2 Florida classes. Each of them are a 2 day workshop.

* Top Facilitation Methods – ICA – USA, http://bit.ly/1Udds20
* Making Meetings Work – ICA – Associates http://bit.ly/2aCt5iL

ice-cubeWhat is your meaning of ICEBREAKER? For most, it is an activity designed to familiarize the group with each other. Sometimes it goes like this. “Tell me your name, your role and why you are here today?”. Be careful that you don’t start the the meeting off with data that everyone already knows. If you are facilitating a group of people who know each other, you don’t need to introduce them to each other or ask them why they are there. Most likely they are there because someone told them to come and I”m not sure you want to start off your meeting with those answers! You don’t want them to say, “here we go again, another stupid meeting”.

Keep in mind the participants, and their familiarity with each other. The ice breaker is meant to get people used to speaking aloud in the group and to be comfortable with their voice. If someone speaks during a meeting in the beginning, they are more likely to contribute throughout the meeting.

Designing a meeting is like writing a play. Each scene is carefully crafted. The difference is that the actors write their own scripts! You, as a facilitator need to consider what do you want the group to achieve at the end of this meeting and how do you want them to be different or evolve as a result of this event.

Design your “icebreaker” to have meaning that contributes to the outcome of the meeting. If you are meeting over a project that has just been completed, your “ice breaker” can be a discussion around what do the participants remember most about the project. It could be a reflection on how has this project completion affected them or their departments?

If you are looking for “ice breaker” activities, consider the “reason” you are doing it. Is there a communication problem with the group? If so, an ice breaker than brings to light communication problems that can then be discussed as a group, and takes the “blame” off the group for having bad communication. They may recognize habits they personally experience during the discussion and debrief and you can then develop a list of what makes “meaning and effective communication”?

Think about each of your activities and write down on paper, what do you hope to achieve by each one? It will shed some sun light on your design and keep your ice breaker from melting in the sun.

Nothing could be further from the truth, but so many times that is the impression we give people when we refuse to seek others opinions and input.

Many times we “think” we know the answer to our questions.  Therefore, we don’t ask.  We feel that we understand other situations so well that we don’t need to ask them.   We don’t need to survey them.  We don’t need to tell others  what they think is important.

When you don’t seek out feedback you are missing out on….

  1. Letting others know that you value what they think.
  2. Taking the time to put yourself in others “shoes”, empathize with them, their situation and points of view. You may even get a “new view” yourself.
  3. Asking for others opinions, and listening with intention to what they say.  Seeking to understand the meaning in their words.
  4. You miss the opportunity to develop a trusting friendship. Showing that you value someones’ opinion is the truest form of appreciation and respect.

When you fail to ask others what they think, you are short-changing yourself.  You have only one set of experiences  to base your assumptions on….your experiences.  Everyone experiences life differently, has different realities and different answers.  It is up to you to invite others to share their point of view and their answers.  You may even surprise yourself with the answers you receive.  You may find out you really don’t know it all.

Virtual Engagement Basics

virtual meetingThere is a limited amount of time in every day. We can’t recreate lost time and we can’t buy more time. Maximizing the benefit of any engagement, virtual or in-person will not only minimize frustration of participants but will also engage the participants. Engaged meeting participants do not “check out” and help to create the end product of any meeting encounter.

How do you decide the best engagement methods for virtual events? Here are guiding questions to help you deliver your desired level of engagement.

Is this a delivery of information that has already been decided and you are simply sharing the data?
– Save everyone’s time and deliver the contents via PDF document, recorded video presentation or self directed PowerPoint. There is no need to schedule participants time to all meet at the same time if you simply want to deliver information. You would be better off to schedule a future meeting to “debrief” on the document. What did the recipients “hear” when they read or viewed the document. How was it received? What stood out for you? What are we missing in this effort?

Is this a “committee or board” meeting where the participants know each other?
– Let them engage among themselves during the presentation by allowing them to use the “chat” functions built into technology. You would not have an in person meeting and then tell all of the participants to not talk to each other, so why stop them in a virtual setting?

Do you want feedback and participation during the meeting?
– To engage the participants you need to keep their attention. If you are concerned about “audio feedback”, keep the participants microphones muted and ask them to “chat” or “text” their questions. If you need to un-mute individual people you can. Today’s software allows for individual un-muting as needed.

Let your participants choose their own best methods
– Allow participants to use the best technology for their purposes. Again, most webinar services allow for a combination of phone or computer headset or speakers (voip). Allow your participants to choose which works for them. If you are muting the participants, it will not matter which option they choose. There is nothing more frustrating than to have to tie up a phone line to simply “listen” to a webinar. Listening can be done with computer speakers and leaving the phone line for “communication”.

Be intentional about each of your meetings. Plan them in advance and decide how best to maximize the investment of each of your participants time. How can you get the most engagement and participation at your meetings? What can you do to inspire the participants to tell someone what a “WOW” meeting you hosted virtually?

Are you really neutral?

As the CEO of your organization, is it possible to lead your own organization’sI-BadMeeting strategic meeting and remain neutral? Do your biases show through even in the most subtle ways?

In order to save on consulting fees, many organizations rely on employees to facilitate important direction setting meetings. Think about the last time that you facilitated a meeting for your own organization. Where you as excited about putting forth that idea that you know was going to cause increased workloads for staff?

A strategic planning session should not be taken lightly. The investment in the planning, pre-work and selection of an independent, neutral facilitator will pay dividends for years and will help to set the course of the future of the organization.

overtalkerRecently I attended a meeting and a discussion began about communications and culture. It was suggested that we, in the US, talk to fill silence and that other cultures are more patient. This can lead to frustration in communications and the difficulty of getting all of the voices heard.

At the risk of over generalizing, these simple questions may enlighten you to consider the groups in which you are facilitating conversation. This is not meant to be judgmental, simply a study in culture that may help to create a better understanding and patience.

If you would like to receive a copy of the results, be sure and fill in your name and email address so that they can be sent to you.


Technology of Participation from Youth Empowerment Studios on Vimeo.

Sign up for the October 20-21st, 2015  ToP Facilitation Methods in Orlando, Fl.

Complaining is easy.  Negaticomplainve conversation is the easiest for most people. (1) . Sometimes the first reaction to any conversation is the adversarial opinion. Why?

Why do we automatically do that? Is it because we don’t agree with what is being said? Or is it we truly don’t care about what is being said and it is way to halt the conversation? Do we want to be last heard and first remembered?

I used to find myself doing that on occasion. Okay – more than on occasion. At least that is how I used to be. I have changed my thoughts process and you can too.

Allow me to share my “before and after”, as an example for you.

Here is the scenario: A friend tells me that they are getting a dog.

My internal thoughts before:
Why would they want to get a dog. It is a lot of work and will pee on the floor, poop on their shoes and cost them a lot of money. Just when they get used to and attached to the dog, it will get hit by a car and then they will be sad. Why would anyone want a dog?

You can see that I used to belong to the “Association of the Miserable”.

My new internal thoughts are:
The dog will be a lucky dog because they have a nice back yard for the dog. The dog will be able to sleep in the house with the kids. I myself would not want a dog. If I did have the perfect dog, it would be fun to take it on walks. They will enjoy taking the dog on walks, petting it and sharing it with their friends and family. The dog will give them joy in their life. Maybe they need something in their life that is always happy and forgiving. Maybe I will get their dog a “welcome home” doggy present. I always have liked going in to the dog store and now I have a real reason to shop there.

What would happen to the world, your neighborhood, school or just your family if you could change how you think? Change how you process information. It is possible, and not all that hard!

Learn this method of Focused Conversations along with ways to build consensus and action planning in the ToP Facilitation Methods 2 day class in Orlando, October 9-10, 2014.  Tell someone that you know belongs to the “Association of the Miserable”.   Sign up at www.ToPFlorida.org

#focusedconversation #ICA #ToPMethods

(1) The Art of Focused Conversation, Brian Stanfield, for the Canadian Institute of Cultural Affairs

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is always bumpy until you get above the clouds…..How can you get above your clouds?

As I look out the window of the plane, I imagine the clouds are my “obstacles”. Getting above the clouds insures a smoother flight and a more pleasant journey to my destination.   But getting above the clouds means you, like a pilot,  have to plan the most direct path that makes the time most efficient, fewer bumps and air pockets. I liken this journey to my life in general.

As you do, I have too many things to do.   The next great idea is always being added to my list. Tasks that are fun always want to inch their way to the top of the list. Items that seem daunting find their way to the bottom, and yet, they may be the most important. It isn’t that I don’t know what my ultimate goal is, it is just that the “clouds” get in the way.

How is your life’s “to – do” list? Is it filled with the things you most desire yet are farthest from accomplishing? Does the daily life get in the way of living?

This daily challenge of getting done what is “next” keeps us from doing what should be “first”. We don’t even take time to identify what would be the smartest, most efficient item that leads us to our goal in life. We are just too busy.

If you examined your life goals and learned how to navigate around, through and over the clouds, how would your life be? Would it be more fulfilling? Would you feel like you were gaining ground towards your ultimate goal? Despite the daily grind you would feel that little bit of progress that keeps you gaining altitude?

Join me in a one hour free webinar to explore getting thru the clouds. We will do a brief overview of our flight plan, determine the best flight path to your ultimate goal and how to gain a little altitude daily and break thru the clouds. Bring your goal to this meeting and we will together develop a flight plan.

Sign up today for the one hour webinar,  and share this with your friends.

Can’t make the live webinar, no worries, email me  and we will let you know when the recorded version is ready.

#ToPMethods  #ICA   #Facilitation  #ActionPlanning

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