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After a few decades of facilitating workshops, strategic planning sessions, and important conversations, I’ve learned some great lessons on facilitation. Some of those lessons are tough lessons learned with challenging people and/or processes. Some of the lessons are simply best practices which have worked for me and I’ve used them again and again. A couple of these helpful hints are just good lessons from life on the road. Here’s a list of tactics to try!
1. Humor creates connection. Whether you’re laughing at yourself or creating opportunities for laughing, people enjoy learning when they’re connected and laughing.
2. If you ask a question, count to 10 silently in your mind. That gives the introverts time to think about what they want to share aloud.
3. Challenge with grace. There are times to push and challenge, but never attack.
4. Create intentional movement for the participants to discuss ideas with each other. It’s healthy for the body as well as the brain. Stretch – take a short time out to do some simply stretching or yoga.
5. Remember that for some people, it’s a real risk to raise their hand to share.
6. Make other feel good about sharing their insights, questions, and opinion. Don’t shut the conversation down or the people themselves.
7. Sometimes the best learning opportunities are the most uncomfortable…and actually make you sweat.
8. Deal with it. Sometimes a rumbling train strides by, shaking the building. Police sirens may interrupt a great reflective moment. Sometimes the electricity goes out in the entire hotel.
9. Ask people for recommended articles for follow-up learning.
10. No matter how big or small, freebies are fun! Candy, water bottles, eyeglass cleaner, jump drives – all have the power to give a little boost to the group energy.
11. Ask how many people feel like novices to the topic and how many could be experts. Be sure to tap into the experts so they can share unique stories and examples.
12. Think about the food being served during snack breaks. Sugary sweets are great in the moment but create energy crashes an hour later.
13. Watch your caffeine intake. No one wants a jittery speaker/facilitator guiding conversation.
14. Everyone likes to learn something positive about themselves. Create opportunities for feedback sharing.
15. Be prepared in advance. If you’re running short on time, think about which nuggets of information are least important so you can punt if necessary.
16. Do “what if scenarios” in your head regarding attendance. My last workshop room was set for 40 people. When 90 showed up, people had to sit on the floor and/or stand for an hour. Be ready with a few options to lean on.
17. Eat local. Get out of the hotel and create some memory of the city you’re in. You don’t want your memory of a cool city to be the ugly conference room with four beige walls.
18. Packing cubes! These simple packing cubes have kept me organized and my clothes unwrinkled.
19. Load up your phone, Kindle, or other device with books and audio books from your local library. When you’re stuck during a layover or delay, you’ll have free options. Check out the Libby app.
20. Eat dessert as an appetizer.
Recently I attended a conference as both a content leader and attendee. It was a gigantic conference with over 6500 of my closest friends in attendance – HA! It’s been several years since I’ve put myself out there like that and I experienced a lot of new lessons and reminders. Here are my #20Things.
1. I am an extrovert by profession, not by personality.
2. Scroll through the list of attendees! I found an old pal from my Western Illinois University undergraduate days and we had a wonderful two-hour lunch and got caught up on our last 35 years.
3. A long drive to a conference location (three hours) is more fun with a friend – it makes the time go by faster and you get quality time to think and talk, uninterrupted by a smartphone or other people.
4. Wear comfortable shoes. Bigger conferences=bigger venues=more walking to sessions.
5. Download all of the handouts as soon as you can – you’re paying for this content!
6. It’s not cliquey to go to receptions and dinners with friends; the learning continues because they attend different sessions and share what they learned.
7. Take advantage of the conference hotels – the conference organizers coordinated shuttles leaving every 15 minutes and gave me quiet time on the way to the venue without having to think about traffic…or parking.
8. Though I was born in Chicago, it’s amazing to see it from a conference attendee lens.
9. Some session descriptions are boring, but the programs were fun and interactive!
10. Some session descriptions were better than the programs.
11. Create a to-do list of actionable items inspired by the program that you want to instigate right away as well as your learning notes.
12. People love their exhibit hall tchotchkes. I do not.
13. Kentucky bourbon and Milwaukee Bloody Marys are very popular in this exhibit hall experience. And I learned some people can actually handle those at 10 a.m.
14. Using I-Pass transponders from Indy to Chicago instead of stopping to pay tolls saves about 20 minutes and about $10.
15. Don’t brag about bringing your own transponder in a rental car and then leave it in the car upon return.
16. Don’t snub your nose at short 30-minute sessions in an exhibit hall. They can be better sources of content and ideas than the 90-minute sessions.
17. The best vendor giveaways are memorable experiences and give you a chance to actually talk with the sales people. See the photo of the on-site painting from the Reno Tahoe convention and visitors’ bureau.
18. It’s okay to leave a session before it ends if your educational needs are not being met.
19. It’s worth the extra time to go through the “hug line” to pay respect and thank awesome speakers for sharing their expertise with you and your colleagues.
20. Use the quiet downtime each morning to review your workshop notes and decipher your bad handwriting.