Facilitating workshops: What I learned from doing a trend overview

We had an excellent workshop earlier, and I’m looking forward to typing in the notes from people’s worksheets. My part of the workshop was a one-hour session on key trends in web channel delivery, and it prompted great discussion and plenty of ideas. Here’s what I learned from facilitating that session.

The goals of the session were to:

  • warm up and stretch the participants’ imagination,
  • set the tone for the innovation summit,
  • establish common understanding, and
  • generate ideas.

I chose eight trends that I thought were most relevant to the client. These trends were:

  1. Personalization
  2. Mashups
  3. Syndication
  4. Recommendations
  5. Real-time communication
  6. Social networks
  7. Learning
  8. Collaboration

For each trend, I followed this structure:

  1. An example drawn from the intranet or Internet
  2. A short description of the principle
  3. Some ideas for applying it in the client’s context, referring back to the goals mentioned in the previous presentation
  4. Quick questions
  5. A few minutes of individual brainstorming using worksheets: participants thought of ways to apply the trend to improve their organization’s website
  6. A short discussion about ideas and other thoughts

Here’s what I think worked really well:

  • Connecting the trends with the goals identified in a previous presentation reinforced the links and provided more structure. This is similar to call-backs in humor, where references to previous material strengthen the effect. If you can find ways to refer to previous presentations, that makes the connections smoother and stronger.

  • The worksheet allowed participants to take notes, brainstorm ideas, and jump-start the discussion. It was a simple worksheet with a guide question and eight rows of labeled boxes, one box for each trend. Jim Coderre suggested it at yesterday’s walkthrough, and it worked out wonderfully. We collected the worksheets at the end of the first day of the workshop so that we could summarize them. Provide note-taking aids and use them to help people individually engage with the content, then use that to start the discussion.

  • Selecting related trends instead of wildly separate trends allowed the participants to anticipate some of the trends, possibly cued by the overview slide and by the worksheet they had in front of them. For example, when we discussed personalization, some of the suggestions included aspects of syndication and recommendations. This made it easier to acknowledge and reinforce the way they were putting the piece together. It also helped build momentum. When we needed to move along faster, we could refer to some of the later topics that they were interested in (“Right! Let’s move along so that we can get to the part on social networking.”) Build anticipation into your content structure.
  • The clients responded to and appreciated the energy and enthusiasm I brought to the session. I love facilitating sessions on trends and idea generation because I enjoy the conversation. I love showing people that they have great ideas, and I love showing people the connections between those ideas and other things.

    There are two parts to being able to do this. The first part, I think, is that I’m generally quite a happy person, so it’s easy for me to bring that initial energy into workshops. The second part is that I love encouraging people and I love weaving those connections together, so that’s how the energy builds up. If I start with that initial energy and I can get to at least some people in the group who give me back that energy (and more), then that compounds throughout the session. If I had been tentative or nervous during the session, I doubt that the session would have been as effective. It works well with presentations, and it works even better with interactive sessions. Bring energy and enthusiasm to the session, and build on that energy as you go through it.

Here are some things I’d like to improve next time:

  • I’d like to figure out how to capture worksheet notes while still making it easy to hand the worksheets back to the right people. Maybe add names and e-mail addresses? Maybe just remove the expectation that the worksheets will be returned, and instead give back the summary document with everyone’s input?

  • We had great discussions around the trends, so we trimmed some of the challenges/opportunities discussion from the end. Looking back, though, all of the trends were interesting for people, and I didn’t spend too much time giving the background for each one. Maybe I should plan for 10 minutes for each trend instead, and reduce the scope even further.

Looking forward to sharing more as I learn about facilitation!

  • hmw

    Hi,

    depending on the number of participants you can print a number two times on the worksheets.Then make a cut with scissors so that the participants can rip off one of the numbers. This gives some privacy to the participants and some additional work to you ;).

    Regards
    hmw

  • http://michaelmakis.com Michael Makis

    For the worksheets… If you had the ability to have everyone connected to the internet you could have the worksheet in the form of an online survey with a review option for the participants to re-use their answers as needed and a submit option for capturing the results. It would provide the same general timing, but might take away the old school paper and pencil feel as well as associating another cost.