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Quick notes from a conversation about speaking and facilitation

I’m working on revising my Remote Presentations That Rock presentation because it’s going to be featured in the “Best of the Technical Leadership Exchange 2009” series at work. (Whee!) Because the content’s already available via video recordings, slides, and blog posts, I’m trying to figure out how to add extra value to the talk so that it’s worth experiencing live.

Timothy Kelpsas reached out to me with a teaser about running multiple sub-plots to help with remote listeners. I finally got to ask him what he meant. Thirty minutes was far too short! =)

Tim thinks of presentations or facilitated sessions like a movie. Just as a director might plant clues about upcoming scenes (foreshadowing) or refer to previous events (flashbacks), Tim plans short forward-looking and backward-looking throughout the session. He establishes a rhythm. And just as a director mixes up action, comedy, romance, and other parts to appeal to different audiences, Tim tries to make sure that different kinds of people get engaged in a variety of activities. He shared how he thinks about introversion and extroversion, multiple intelligences, and other preferences that influence how people learn.

For remote audiences, he keeps a few tips in mind:

  • When Tim’s giving a presentation, he imagines the experience from the point of view of someone who’s far away and who’s watching the presentation through a replay. This helps him build empathy.
  • Tim works on actively engaging remote listeners by incorporating questions and self-reflection into his talk. For example, he might ask people to think about the worst leader they’ve had. A short while later, he might ask them to think about one thing they would change about that leader if they could. This gives people an opportunity to engage with the topic, even if they can’t interact with him directly.
  • Tim also deliberately builds rapport with replay audiences. He occasionally addresses people who are listening along on the replay. This acknowledgement helps build rapport, and it helps him remember their needs too.

How can I apply what I’m learning?

Instead of repeating the same presentation, I’m going to revise it thoroughly. I know the core ideas are sound. Not only did the content get me voted into the Best of the TLE series, but lots of people have reused it already, and people tell me that the tips are very useful. Now I get to experiment with more effective ways to present those tips. Taking Barclay Brown’s suggestion to use the basic fiction plots, I’m going to revise it to use a revenge plot. (Now I’m curious about how I might pull that off, and if I’m curious, chances are other people will be curious too!) I think that will be more fun than the quest plot, and the more vivid I can make things, the more people might remember.

Building on that subplot, I can weave reflection through more of the presentation. The original presentation had a little bit of reflection up front, but the revenge plot gives me plenty of opportunities to build reflection in.

Applying Tim’s tips, I’m going to prompt myself to  “break the fourth wall” and address people listening to the replay. I generally haven’t done this because I prepare blog posts, slides, and the occasional short standalone video for replay audiences, but people might come in through the web conference archives and miss out on the additional resources. Besides, it must be possible to do a good live/replay mix, and the practice will help me with in-person presentations as well.

Also awesome: The very first thing Tim did when we connected on the phone was to sing to me. He explained afterwards that he wanted to make sure I quickly got the sense of who he was. You bet that’s sticking in my memory! I told Tim how it reminded me of when Ethan McCarty sang me a song when I dropped by IBM NY. Ah, IBM and awesome people having fun… =)

Learning more about interviewing

David Ing let me tag along on a client interview for a Smarter Cities engagement. He and Donald Seymour interviewed the CIO and other staff of a region in Ontario. In the afternoon, David gave us a crash course on Media and Entertainment to help Donald and another consultant take over that area of responsibility. It was fascinating to watch their easy rapport and interviewing style. Here are some of the things I learned:

  • Working in pairs makes interviews much easier. When David interviews, he usually asks someone else to lead the conversation. He asks the occasional question and focuses on recording notes, staying as close to the actual words as possible. This frees him from having to think about processing the words. He does this instead of recording the interview because listening to the recording would require lots of additional time.
  • Keep the conversation-setting presentation as short as possible, so you can focus on the conversation.
  • Don’t plan too much up front. Let the conversation take you to where it needs to go.
  • One-slide summaries with the question structures nudge the conversations in the right direction and help you ensure you cover everything of interest.
  • Capture notes on your computer to make it easier to share those notes with others.
  • Working with one client can be seen as self-serving. Working with several client organizations and bringing them together to learn from each other—that has a lot of value.
  • Hollywood is a strange and interesting place.

David, thanks for sharing!

Visual organizers

I love visual organizers. 2×2 matrices, mindmaps, fishbone diagrams, even more interesting ways to structure and organize ideas… Just as a wider vocabulary helps you express more when you speak, a wider visual vocabulary helps you express more when you think and draw.

Here are some sources for inspiration:

Also interesting – tools: http://www.visual-literacy.org/pages/maps/mapping_tools_radar/radar.html

Lightweight personas for ideation workshops

One of the techniques we use to help a group generate ideas in Innovation Discovery workshops is to create light-weight personas. Anchoring the brainstorming using a name, a face, and a story makes it easier for people to generate and later evaluate concrete ideas. The personas also give the group a common vocabulary for talking about different audience segments. For example, if the group defined John as a middle-aged professional concerned about healthcare issues, people can then ask, “What would John think about this?” during other sessions.

The persona ideation exercise is great for sparking energy and getting people to stand up. It can be used in different places, and it can become a running theme.

  • Beginning of workshop -Defining personas - talking about characteristics and challenges: Who are the target segments? What are the gaps? What’s the worst-case scenario?
  • During the workshop – Brainstorming: How can we apply the ideas discussed in the previous session and other ideas we generate to build an ideal scenario for each of these personas?
  • End of the workshop – Evaluating and summarizing: Which of the parts of the ideal scenario can be implemented easily, and which take more effort? Which potential initiatives serve which personas, and how well?

Structure of the session:

Goal: Concrete vision, ideas for initiatives

Input: Light-weight personas which we flesh out with the help of the clients during the workshop session.

Output: Scenarios for each of the personas, and possible summary of key initiatives to explore in the next session.

Preparing:

  1. Identify a few persona types that reflect the client’s target audiences, with the planning team’s help. Ex: entrepreneur, parent, student, and so on.
  2. Look for pictures through Flickr Advanced Search (check all the checkboxes related to Creative Commons so that you can search for commercial-use modifiable photos). Stock photography sites such as sxc.hu and stockxpert.com are also useful, although I prefer to use Flickr because the people and situations look more real than posed. Put the pictures into a presentation, one slide per picture, with proper photo credits. If possible, crop the picture so that only one person is in it, and scale it up so that it fills the slide.
  3. Review the pictures and select which ones will be used. Aim for a diverse mix that represents the target audience well in terms of ages, professions, races, etc.
  4. Give the personas nicknames for reference. Use names that are easy to remember and spell. Alliteration is fun to use and makes names more memorable (ex: Bob the baker). Label the final slides with the nicknames in a large font, so that the names can be read from a distance. Adjust the photo contrast if necessary.
  5. Print full-colour copies of the pictures with names. You can post these next to easel sheets taped to the walls for brainstorming. If you have access to a poster printer, you can print large sheets of paper with the picture and the name at the top of the page.
  6. Finalize your persona presentation. Your presentation can be as simple as flipping through all of those pictures one by one, or you can show them all together if there’s space on the slide.

During a break before the session:

  1. Tape up 1-2 easel sheets per persona. Spread these around the room, making sure that there’s enough space for people to stand and talk. Have at least one blank set of easel sheets just in case you need to create a new persona on the fly. If you have plenty of space, put up more easel sheets.
  2. Place markers, Post-it notes, and masking tape near the persona groups. Different-coloured markers and notes give people flexibility.
  3. If you want (and you don’t have too many personas), post the persona pictures next to the easel sheets.

During the session:

  1. Explain the structure and flow of the session (goal, input, output, and the next few steps).
  2. Very briefly review the personas with names, faces, and light detail.
  3. Review the different personas, pointing them out around the room. Ask people to define the characteristics. You can change the characters completely at this point, or introduce new ones. A co-facilitator (or coworker closest to the poster) should jot quick notes about characteristics.
  4. Find out if you need additional personas. Use the blank pages you’ve set aside or repurpose a persona that didn’t click.
  5. Review the personas with the characteristics again, pointing them out around the room. asking people to move to the one they want to focus on. See if you can get people to take responsibility for reporting back at the end. Consider the balance of people among the different groups.
  6. Explain the structure again: people are going to figure out what that persona’s “moment of truth” is with the organization (key customer experience?) and walk through what that scenario could be in 2-3 years (or whatever the workshop’s vision timeframe is). Point out the markers and the notes. Encourage people to move around to other personas they’re interested in contributing to as well.
  7. Give people a time limit. Split up into groups. Walk around and facilitate, asking questions.
  8. Remind people when the time limit is almost up.
  9. Get the groups’ attention. Ask them to briefly tell their persona’s story based on the brainstorm. Take public notes on the different initiatives that can enable that scenario. These notes can be used during the analysis portion.

Analysis (can be done in another session or by another facilitator):

  1. If there are a lot of common initiatives, do the next analysis as a large group. If there are separate initiatives, let people continue the analysis from there.
  2. Let each group (or the large group) discuss which initiatives can be done by either organization separately, and which initiatives need collaboration. Help prioritize the initiatives in terms of perceived effort and benefit. Capture the results in a table.
  3. Review the results with the team.

After the workshop:

Summarize the persona characteristics and stories (may be bullet-point form) in the workshop output document.

Lessons learned:

  • Don’t offer too many choices, because clients may just want to have all of them.
  • Don’t give personas too much detail, because clients will benefit the most from personalizing them during the workshop.
  • Don’t be afraid to revamp your personas entirely.
  • Don’t panic. =)

Facilitation: Thinking about the ends and means

I want to learn more about facilitation. What does better facilitation look like? Thinking about that will help me figure out what I need to learn and how.

Online facilitation

At work, I organize online brainstorming on specific client challenges. It’s a good idea, and there’s plenty of room for improvement.

The results of a perfect discussion would be:

  • Clients get the results of the brainstorm and think, “These are great ideas from different industries! I hadn’t thought of that combination before, and I want to learn more about those examples.”
  • We find interesting people whom we could involve in the preparation of the face-to-face workshop and future workshops.
  • We hear about relevant resources and examples.
  • Participants are happy and energized about the opportunity to work on client challenges.
  • Participants discover other people with similar interests, broadening their networks and continuing the conversation.
  • The discussion results in at least one initiative that the client chooses to explore further.

The challenges include:

  • Agenda flow: Still haven’t figured out how the Idea Lab results can best support the in-person workshop
  • Summarization: The account team doesn’t have time to do this, so I can take responsibility for the first draft instead, and then it’ll be easier for them to revise it. Are there more effective ways of presenting the information than the laundry list of ideas we currently have?
  • Deep vs broad: How do we balance deep insights from subject matter experts with broad insights from cross-industry experts?
  • Time: Participants may not be able to spend a lot of time thinking about the brainstorming questions, so we sometimes get surface answers

The factors I can influence are:

  • Reaching out to cross-industry communities for breadth: For example, HorizonWatch and the Web 2.0 for Business community are good to draw on.
  • Phrasing questions: What kinds of questions can bring out the mix of responses we’re looking for? How can we prioritize the questions?
  • Summarizing results: How can we better organize and present the information?
  • Using and developing tools: Last year, I developed mail merge and calendar entry enhancements that were very useful. How can I help further improve our processes?

In-person facilitation

In our face-to-face workshops, I occasionally help with the ideation segment, particularly for clients interested in social networking or Generation Y. We usually use a persona-based wild success story approach. Clients do their own visioning in workshops. How can we add value?

The results of a perfect session would be:

  • Energized and happy clients
  • A clear, coherent story that includes potential initiatives that can be explored and prioritized in the next sessions
  • A common vocabulary of personas for evaluating ideas

The challenges include:

  • Me sweating ever so quietly in front of the room
  • Infrequent opportunities to practise facilitating

The factors I can influence are:

  • Learning from other consultants and workshops: I can learn from brainstorming and persona-based techniques
  • Building a library of personas: so that I can pull together a persona deck quickly
  • Experimenting with where the session is in the agenda: Earlier = more shared vocabulary. Maybe start with persona definition and worst-place exercise?
  • Simulating workshops: How can I rehearse these things so that I can experiment with more ideas in less time? Can I do them in my spare time, perhaps with other audiences?

Visual facilitation

I like drawing. Visual notes are fun to make, and other people find them interesting too. I’d like to get better at many different facets, like visual recording and visual facilitation.

What would better look like?

  • Diagrams and graphic organizers help me think about things and share those thoughts with others.
  • During a workshop I’m scribing, clients and other participants like and learn from the visual record of the discussions
  • During a session I’m facilitating, the graphic structures make it easy for people to brainstorm and organize on the fly
  • When I’m summarizing results, visual tools make it easier for me to highlight important points and help people understand.

The factors I can influence are:

  • Practising visual recording and brainstorming: There are plenty of personal opportunities to practise that, hooray! Ideas, teleconference calls, talks, recordings, thoughts, blog posts…
  • Collecting graphic organizers and practising using them
  • Preparing more graphic versions of other presentations could be a good way to practise visual facilitation and summarization

I’ll share my notes in the Facilitation category of my blog. Looking forward to the adventure!

Learning more about facilitation

In 2010, I want to improve my facilitation skills. Facilitation is a large part of the consulting that I do at work, and I can see how good facilitation creates value. I’m frustrated by the limits of what I know and can do, and I’m looking forward to learning more. I’m particularly interested in three areas:

  • facilitating better online discussions (especially asynchronous ones)
  • doing visual facilitation and visual recording
  • helping people brainstorm wild success stories and worst-case scenarios

My work focuses on brainstorming rather than conflict resolution or other applications of facilitation techniques, although I’m also interested in facilitation of group processes in order to improve collaboration.

If I improve my skills, I can use that foundation to help figure out more effective patterns for virtual facilitation and collaboration.

In order to learn more about facilitation, I plan to:

  • proactively take on more responsibility for facilitating discussions at work, including doing the background research and helping prepare the deliverables
  • read and reflect on lots of resources about in-person and remote facilitation
  • collect templates and processes
  • practice visual notetaking and facilitation during meetings, conference calls, and talks
  • reflect on and share lessons learned from the workshops and idea labs we do
  • shift more of my talks to interactive formats
  • build mentoring relationships with people who can help me plan my learning

I plan to share what I’m learning with you through blog posts, sketches, lessons learned, and talks.

Looking forward to the adventure!