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Reflecting on how to prepare for workshops

Now that I’ve shifted to wearing my consulting hat, I’ll be giving more presentations and facilitating more workshop sessions on Web 2.0, collaboration, Generation Y, and other topics. I have a couple of sessions to prepare and deliver over the next two weeks. I thought I’d take some time to “sharpen the saw” by planning how I can do this more effectively.

I need to organize frequently-needed concepts. For example, I often talk about multi-generational workplaces. Organizing key messages, case studies, and other material will make it easy for me to see at a glance which points are relevant to an intended audience and customize the presentation accordingly. A mindmap or outline is one way to do that.

I need to scan what’s going on. Most of the discussions and case studies for my areas of interest appear on blogs. Investing time in expanding my reading and organizing my notes will pay off later, when I can refer back to stories and examples I’ve seen. I can also analyze previous presentations and discussions to look for talking points and results.

I would like to organize my presentations more effectively. I often find interesting charts or explanations in other people’s slides, and I sometimes reuse my slides as well. I would like a visual way to organize those slides so that I can easily include them in presentations Microsoft Sharepoint allows Powerpoint 2007 users to organize individual slides in a slide library, but I don’t have access to that, and I may move to a Linux/Mac setup soon. One thing I can do is to build a master deck of slides (possibly broken down by topic), keeping track of the provenance of borrowed slides in the speaker’s notes.

The ideal scenario would be: The team tells me about an upcoming workshop. I retrieve my notes about that industry, and I do a search for new information about the company. I select some basic talking points with screenshots and case studies that they might be interested in. I put together a brief presentation designed to be a conversation-starter. I deliver this presentation, and we brainstorm scenarios or ideas. I document the results and my notes afterwards.

Okay. Bringing it back to my two upcoming workshops… For the first workshop, my role is to help the client learn more about Generation Y. We have some material around this already thanks to our work with other clients, and there are some thoughts out there as well. For the second workshop, my role is to help the client learn more about incorporating Web 2.0 features (community, rich user interfaces, etc.) into a website. They’re also somewhat interested in Generation Y.

For each workshop, I need to:

  • perform an industry scan to find examples from their industry and related industries
  • review past presentations to see if there are case studies, statistics, or talking points I can reuse
  • review past discussions to find ideas
  • brainstorm
  • organize the presentation
  • prepare the presentation

This will be fun!

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!

Trying out visual notetaking at a workshop

The more I draw, the easier and more fun it gets.

I helped facilitate a client workshop last week. During one of the exercises, the lead facilitator took notes on an easel. I needed to make a copy of the notes so that we could build on the results in a breakout session. I thought I’d experiment with visual note-taking on another easel, as I’d been having fun taking personal visual notes throughout the workshop.

The lead facilitator filled seven pages with phrases and keywords. I used icons and keywords to take notes, filling two and a half sheets. This was great because we were running out of wall space! <laugh> It was also easier for me to move the sheets to the next room—bonus!

I seem to be developing a quick visual vocabulary: trophies and gold stars for rewards, fire for enthusiasm or passion, and so on. That made it easier to keep up with the discussion.

Working with drawings made it easier to connect related ideas, too, because I could draw circles and connect them with lines in different colours.

Four people came up to me individually to compliment me on the drawings. Yay! =)

Next step: Instead of just using a grid of images+words (which is like using bullet points on slides! ;) ), I’d love to explore other ways to organize the information. Visual metaphors will be fun to try.

No public pictures of the session, but I’ll see if I can take visual notes for something public!

Reflections on the Innovation Discovery workshop in Boston

Last week, I facilitated my fourth Innovation Discovery workshop. I learned a lot! Here are a few quick reflections:

  • The account team was amazing. They briefed us on participants’ backgrounds and passions, and that helped us shape the agenda.
  • Planning was helpful, and I’m glad I joined the meeting. We set aside Wednesday afternoon for team preparation. Everyone reviewed their sessions and gave feedback. I felt nervous as the most junior person in the room commenting on other people’s presentations (particularly, ahh, asking questions about a VP’s upcoming presentation), but we came out with better work because of all that, and I learned tons in the process.
  • Tag-team facilitation rocks. I stumbled a little during my persona exercise because the structure I’d chosen wasn’t a great fit in terms of energy and flow, but we got back on track with a little prompting from my co-facilitator and another Innovation Discovery team member. That really helped, and I ‘learned a lot more about facilitation by watching how we improvised.
  • Visual note-taking was fun and effective. I took graphical notes (icons + keywords), and participants liked it a lot.
  • Presentation style improvements are percolating through the organization. Although some of the presentations still relied on bullet points, a number of the presentations were aesthetically well put-together. =) There’s hope!
  • Downtime was good. I decided not to try to schedule anything in the evening. The extra space and quiet helped me stay energized throughout the workshop.

What can I do to prepare the ground for an even better next time?

  • Explore facilitation techniques. The more I know, the better I can plan and the better I can improvise. The deeper I understand, the smoother things will go.
  • Limit personas. We presented a large number, hoping that they’d prioritize a few. The clients responded to all of the personas quickly, and wanted to keep them all. Eep! Lesson: Limit the personas we present up front, then add more as necessary. Printing photos on letter-size paper instead of posters might make this easier.
  • Continue building a visual vocabulary, and experiment with visual metaphors. Practice, practice, practice!

This was lots of fun, and I look forward to making the next one even more awesome. =)

Figuring things out on the fly

Dark blazers are a newbie facilitator’s friend. No one could see me perspire as I wondered what to do. My session wasn’t working. The exercise structure I picked didn’t fit the energy and interest of the room. I needed to improvise.

Fortunately, my team helped me out. One of my colleagues asked a question that was really a hint about one thing we could try, so I latched onto it. That was better, but not quite all the way there. He suggested something else, I wove that suggestion in, and that worked. People got up and discussed the personas. At the end of the session, one of the clients asked if all of that would be summarized and sent to them: value!

It’s scary getting up there in front of a group, but it’s a darn good way to learn. My team helps me stretch and learn by giving me opportunities to facilitate workshop sessions and coordinate online brainstorming conversations. Over the past two years, I’ve surprised myself by having opinions, ideas, and even answers when people ask me about topics. And it’s awesome doing this with experienced people who can step in and smooth things over.

Maybe this is why large companies can be great learning environments. You’re surrounded by people with years of experience and a vested interest in helping the team succeed, so you end up learning tons along the way. =)

Book: Beyond Booked Solid

Beyond Booked Solid: Your Business, Your Life, Your Way Its All Inside
Michael Port, 2008

(This link is an Amazon affiliate link, but if you’re near a public library, take advantage of it. I borrowed this book from the Toronto Public Library. =) )

Michael Port’s follow-up to Booked Solid focuses on how to grow your business beyond yourself, and is an excellent read for people interested in taking the next step.

I’m curious about the A3 Reports he describes on pp. 61-62. The A3 Report summarizes a business situation on a single sheet of 11.7”x16.5” paper. It would be interesting to use this structure to think through personal situations as well. =) (I guess I’m weird that way.)

  • Title of report, name, and related information
  • Theme/objective
  • Current situation analysis
  • Root cause analysis
  • Alternatives
  • Recommendations
  • Future state picture
  • Implementation plan

On page 94, he also provides some tips on making things happen, and then he fleshes them out over the next pages.

  • Collaborate.
  • Adopt practices for exploring a variety of perspectives.
  • Coordinate meticulously.
  • Listen generously.
  • Build relationships intentionally.
  • Have clear intentions.
  • Develop habits of commitment making and fulfilling.
  • Tightly couple learning with action.
  • Call on your talents.
  • Bring your passion to the project.
  • Embrace uncertainty.
  • Have a compelling story for your project.

On page 146, he offers tips and outsourcing work to other firms. He firmly believes that you shouldn’t outsource in a way that creates a single point of failure for your business. If you work with firms and document your systems well, you can get back up and running after unexpected difficulties.

On page 173, he makes a particularly good point relevant for public speakers. He says, “Before I give a speech, I need to be careful not to try to create a particular energy. Instead I tap into the audience’s energy. We all need to tap into the energy of the people we’re working with. There’s only so long you can be an energetic cheerleader for a project if the people around you need to be manipulated into corresponding energetic responses. I’m sure you’ve all thought how your energy level rises around people who are excited about the work they’re doing or, for that matter, how your energy lifts with someone who has a zest for life.”

Another good take away can be found on page 177, where he advises, “Schedule fun once a day — after your normal working schedule.” This not only helps you include your productivity by encouraging you to be more efficient, it also helps you manage your energy.

Worth reading, particularly if you’re interested in scaling up.