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!

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!