Facilitation

Facilitation

How to introduce yourself without making everyone hate you

I recently attended a beer tasting — hard to screw up, right? But the host mysteriously chose not to begin by handing us a tasty beer. Instead, she fell into the common trap of trying too hard to justify her reason for being there by using a long, overwrought intro. She talked about passion for beer and her trips through the hops fields and her childhood experience of tasting the foam from her father’s brew... She’d clearly been watching too many TED talks and had lost sight of what her event was really about: attendees tasting beers.

Even experienced facilitators can fall into this trap and ruin their first impression. The truth is that nobody in attendance cares in the slightest about your life story or work history, and sharing it serves no purpose except to bore them, hurt the energy levels, and lower goodwill. (This also happens rather frequently in “getting to know you” meetings.)

The purpose of your intro is to offer just enough for the audience to give you the benefit of the doubt so that you can get started delivering the value they showed up for. In the case of a workshop, the “value” is in delivering your first high-impact Learning Outcome. In the case of a beer tasting, the “value” would have been in the first sip of a surprising and delicious beer.

From the audience’s perspective, your personal intro is about as valuable as hearing where the fire exits and bathrooms are located—it’s necessary admin, but not something to dwell on. Stop boring them ASAP and skip ahead to the good stuff.

From the audience’s perspective, your personal intro is about as valuable as hearing where the fire exits and bathrooms are located—it’s necessary admin, but not something to dwell on. Stop boring them ASAP and skip ahead to the good stuff.

Intros are easier than you think, thanks to the fact that the audience shows up already believing that you’re credible. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be there. As such, you don’t need to beat them over the head with your CV. All you need to do is to skip through the boring stuff as quickly as humanly possible and start proving them right by delivering value.

Of course, you do still need to tell them who you are. But it can be quite short, including only a) your name and b) exactly one relevant detail. Here are a few examples of great personal intros:

“Hey, I’m Katie. A few years back I quit my job and spent the next two years as an apprentice, learning traditional woodworking and furniture making, and now most of my home is filled with stuff I’ve made myself.”

“Hey, I’m Sophie. I’ve trained and managed high-value sales teams in a number of Fortune 500s, and at the peak was responsible for delivering $400 million per year in partnership-driven sales.”

“Hey, I’m Jacob. I’ve never done this stuff professionally, but I’ve worked on a bunch of hobby projects over the years, and I just wanted to share some of my lessons-learned from trying to apply all the advice and best practices from the ‘experts’.”

“Hey, I’m Ian. I’ve spent a couple decades freelancing, although now I’m primarily a full-time dad for my two boys. I’m going to talk about how to fit freelancing into your family life without sacrificing on either side.”

“Hey, I’m Imran. I’m mainly a programmer, but I’ve also been helping some of my friends optimise their Facebook ad campaigns, and I’ve seen that with a bit of patience and the right approach, you can usually increase performance by 10-20x.”

All of these are great: one key piece of relevant information, chosen and presented in a way suggests you have something to say which is worth listening to. If you have a brilliant stamp of credibility (like Sophie’s huge sales number or a Nobel Prize), then by all means, mention it. But the other examples above work just fine without anything like that, because they’ve packaged up whatever experience they do have into a sharp, clear, focused explanation of why they’re worth listening to.

So what about our misguided beer host? If I was in her shoes, I try something like this for the next event:

“Hey, I’m Jackie. I used to be a wine sommelier, but I’ve always loved—and have recently been obsessing over—beer. Today I’m excited to share a few of the most interesting ones I’ve found, all produced locally in Catalunia.”

Next time you’re getting ready to introduce yourself, spend a bit of time digging through your history for the single key piece of information which makes you seem most credible, and then use it as the foundation of the world’s shortest introduction. Your audience will appreciate it, and you can then jump forward to giving them what they actually showed up for: the value you promised to share.

Facilitation

Why a "three minute exercise" actually requires 10-15 minutes

Even if your exercises themselves are brilliant, it’s what you do afterwards that really integrates them into the rest of your workshop as a powerful learning experience.

Many people end up spending this amount of time on short exercises, but for all the wrong reasons. For example, they lose a few minutes on awkward group formation, and then another one or two when they have to re-explain a poorly written exercise prompt. Then, afterwards, more time disappears when they aren’t able to quickly and effectively bring an active crowd back to full attention. These sorts of “facilitation friction” delays are bad news, hurting your energy levels and tempo without giving anything back in return.

You should work to ruthlessly eliminate all sources of facilitation friction, and then put the recovered time toward its proper purposes: stand-and-share (where a subset of students share their thinking) and follow-up discussion (where you add relevant commentary and corrections).

These activities both sound simple, and you may already be doing some version of them. But I’ve seen countless facilitators mess up the details and massively undermine the purpose of what they’re trying to achieve.

Stand-and-share has a couple important requirements:

  • The sharer must be standing, since that signals to everyone else that they’re supposed to be listening

  • The sharer must turn to speak to his or her peers—the rest of the audience—and never reply directly to you

  • (Optionally) The sharer should be rewarded with a quick bit of applause

This means that your first “volunteer” isn’t going to be a volunteer at all. Rather, you should single someone out who you know is happy to be the center of attention, and then you’re going to (gently) throw them under the bus by interrupting them and using them as a facilitation example. It sounds like this:

You: “You guys back there seemed to have a lively discussion. Susan, would you mind summarising some of the stuff you were talking about for us?

Student (probably still sitting in her chair, and in a normal speaking voice, answering your question): “Sure. We were saying that—”

You: “Wait wait. Could you please stand up where you’re at, so we can all see you? And turn to the class—you’re sharing it with them, not me. Perfect. So what did you discuss?”

Susan continues sharing. If she slips back into speaking to you, redirect her back toward the class. If other students are still distracted, you now have the moral authority to cut them off without seeming harsh, since they’re now ignoring a peer. Once she’s done,lead a quick round of applause, say thanks, let her sit down, and then chip in your own commentary, if desired.

Too often, teachers will allow a student to answer directly back to them, which degrades the “class discussion” into a 1-on-1 conversation. This is low value for everyone else in the room, and gives them permission (or at least a strong temptation) to zone out, check their phone, or continue talking to their group.

By using firm facilitation corrections on a first “volunteer” who you know can handle it, you set a precedent for everyone else to do the same. And you show them that contributions are rewarded. You also make audience contributions a centerpoint of the workshop (since you’ve “given them the stage”), as opposed to a marginal side-discussion.

Instead of having every group present (which gets extremely tedious), you should simply grab volunteers (or “volunteers”) as needed until you feel that the major talking points have been exhausted. If you did your job of walking the room and listening during the exercise itself, you can hand-select groups who you know were working on the sorts of things you want to touch on during discussion. This ensures that the after-exercise discussion is high-value and keeps to the Learning Outcomes that you’re intending to deliver. Over the course of the workshop, ensure you’ve asked every group to present at least once, so nobody feels left out.

If you want to hear from a particularly shy participant, you can make it easier for them by priming them about what to say:

“I heard the group over there saying something interesting about the drawbacks of digital tools. Jeremy, would you mind standing up and talking us through why your group wasn’t so sure whether X is all it’s hyped up to be?”

The more constrained you can make your prompt, the easier it will be for someone to give you a sharp answer. Or, if you’re talking about something personal and sensitive, you can ask folks to anonymously share what they overheard, as opposed to sharing their own thoughts:

“Who overheard something in their group that was interesting or different? (A few hands go up. You single someone out.) You don’t need to tell us who said it, but can you tell us a bit about what it was, and why it stood out to you?”

If you aren’t sure who to call on next, you might follow the advice of the facilitator of UX workshops, Sophia Exintaris:

“Encourage anyone too quiet, but active with their eyes, to speak.”

Once you’ve started hearing the students’ thoughts, it’s easy to chip in your own. This makes your contributions feel less like a lecture, and more like a back-and-forth conversation. And as a (huge) bonus, this all works to identify folks who are stuck on an unknown-unknown or a confidently held false belief.

Exercises should never consume extra time due to weak facilitation, prompt design, or crowd control. As with everything, even the simple steps need to be facilitated properly in order to work. Once you’re doing it right, your post-exercise stand-and-shares are a goldmine of great discussion, and are a splendid use of those extra minutes. This post-exercise discussion is your chance to solidify and spread the learning. It’s how you extract the value from your exercises. It’s super important, and great fun once you see how well it can work.

Facilitation

Want more charisma for your next presentation? Bring your own clicker.

Regardless of whether you’re giving a boardroom presentation to 5, a workshop to 50, or a keynote to 500, you really ought to buy and bring your own clicker. I know it sounds silly, but it matters far more than you would ever expect.

Without a clicker, you’re a goat on a rope, chained to your laptop and physically trapped in the room’s “charisma dead-zone”. Without a clicker, your computer acts as a physical wall which splits you from your audience and draws away your eyes and attention. As such, a clicker massively improves your perceived charisma. And since you can never count on a venue reliably providing them, you really, really ought to buy and bring your own. Let’s dig into exactly why it makes such a big difference.

According to The Charisma Myth, charisma isn’t an innate quality, but is rather something that you project through a combination of warmth, presence, and power. Since you’ve been invited to teach and are introduced as an expert, you’ll rarely be lacking in “power”. But both warmth and presence need to be built from scratch each time you step in front of a new audience, and trapping yourself behind the podium absolutely obliterates your chances to do so.

Strong “presence” means that the audience feels that you’re completely focused on them, and that there’s nothing in the world which is more important to you than they are. This comes across naturally when you’re standing at the front of the stage, with nothing between you and them, speaking right to them, human to human. But what do you think happens if you’ve got a podium, a laptop, and an infinitely distracting screen right in front of you?

To be “warm” and “present”, you want to be as close to your audience as possible. Without a clicker, it’s impossible to escape from behind the podium.

To be “warm” and “present”, you want to be as close to your audience as possible. Without a clicker, it’s impossible to escape from behind the podium.

Strong “warmth” means that you seem friendly, approachable, and humble. If you’re all “power” and no “warmth”, then you come across as impressive, but also hostile, arrogant, and unapproachable. (Having all warmth and no power, on the other hand, makes you seem weak, flimsy, and overeager to please. You need both.) Stepping out from behind the “protection” of the podium goes a long way toward making yourself seem vulnerable, human, and available to your attendees. They’ll feel more comfortable asking questions, and more comfortable revealing their own weakness.

My very favourite clicker is the humble  Kensington Wireless Presenter . It works on every computer I’ve ever tried, is great value at $30, is easy to use without looking at, and—most importantly—it automatically powers itself down when you replace the USB dongle, which massively saves on dead batteries.

My very favourite clicker is the humble Kensington Wireless Presenter. It works on every computer I’ve ever tried, is great value at $30, is easy to use without looking at, and—most importantly—it automatically powers itself down when you replace the USB dongle, which massively saves on dead batteries.

Although charisma is a big topic with plenty to talk about, here are the top “quick fix” tips:

  • Get a slide clicker and stop standing behind your laptop

  • Get a wristwatch and classroom timer and stop using your phone as a clock/timer (holding a phone makes you seem cold and distracted)

  • If you assign exercises, walk the room while students are working and listen in on them thinking and talking to each other (helps warmth and presence, and also helps you teach better)

  • Let people finish asking questions before you jump to answer them

  • Watch videos of yourself teaching to see where you fidget and pace, and then get rid of whatever you’re fidgeting with

Projecting charisma isn’t about faking your personality or turning into a superstar. It’s just about making small changes to your behaviour (and your equipment!) which cause you to come across just like you already are with your friends: friendly (warm), competent (powerful), and there for them (present). But you need a clicker. Get one!