Guiding Conversations – Our facilitation series

Guiding Conversations – Our facilitation series

Top tips for you as a facilitator

Guiding conversations, offering provocative thought and ultimately helping groups of people get to a better result are all key elements of strong facilitation.

At Purple Monster we like to facilitate meetings in a certain way and that takes a lot of experience, a little bit of knowledge and a good dose of self-deprecatory humour, but what are the nuts and bolts of good facilitation?

A few months ago we came upon a concept called Pecha Kucha.

It is a storytelling format, where a presenter shows 20 slides for 20 seconds of commentary each (6 minutes and 40 seconds total).We found it entertaining and informative and respectfully suggest checking out the closest one to where you are as it’s a fun evening.

After seeing it Alan thought it would be good to put our methodology through the Pecha Kucha process and so this article summarises a talk that Alan recently completed and delivered in 6 minutes 40 seconds. (amazing in itself!)

You can listen to the talk here

The job of a facilitator is to run meetings or events and to make them as effective and efficient as possible. 

This isn’t simply about sticking to the agenda or watching the time; it’s about knowing when to allow conversations to carry on and when to stop them, it’s about understanding the dynamics and reacting appropriately to them, it’s about noticing the subtleties in team dynamics or relationships and ensuring they don’t disrupt or take over. This all sounds very complicated and nuanced, and it is.


In Alan’s talk he summarises some key tips to help anyone improve their skill levels as a facilitator. Here are the key points he shares…

1. Confidence

For some people, standing in front of a room of people can be very difficult.  Not for Alan, his background is as a performer but even he has stories of not preparing properly and subsequently losing his confidence.  Proper preparation builds confidence. Make sure you know the agenda, the content and what is expected of you. Even when we are facilitating a seemingly straightforward meeting, clients are often amazed at how much we want to understand about the strategy, the team, the people involved. This is all so that we can be confident in our ability to deliver what is required.

2. Check the space

Make sure you know where you are!  Visit the space you’ll be working in beforehand, or at least get there early to walk around it.  Consider how the space will be set out, is theatre style really going to help you run an interactive session? If no, then change it well ahead of the start. Understand where you will be and how that will help you both see and hear what is going on around the room so you can listen and react effectively.

3. Check the space inside your head

People are going to looking to you for guidance, that is the job of the facilitator so you need to ensure you are in the right headspace. Being prepared and confident will help but also ensure you give yourself time to centre yourself in the room and be present. Simon Sinek says nervous symptoms are the same as excitement.  If you tell yourself that you’re feeling excited then you’re halfway to fooling yourself that you are  excited and not nervous.

4. Participation

This is crucial in facilitation.  It’s not a show!  A good facilitator will encourage the group to participate.  A monologue of opinions or facts is not facilitation. How is your style helping to get stuff out of people rather than pushing stuff into them? Remember, this event is not about you it is about the participants and getting them to a better end result. Constantly ensuring that their voices are in the room is key. 

5. Inclusion

If you want the whole group to be with you, make sure you include everybody.  Don’t be selective.  You must coax the quieter members of the group to contribute but in a safe and friendly way.  Give them means to express themselves and have their voice heard.  That could be asking them to write down their opinions, rather than putting them on the spot to shout them out for all to hear.  

6. Listen

Listen before, during and after.  Don’t miss any of it!  What are people saying before the session starts?  Do they have expectations?  What are they?  During the session, play back what you hear, this encourages inclusivity and will bring the group together as well as help summarise what has been discussed.  Listen afterwards too, feedback is important both for you as a facilitator but also where the group might need further support.

7. Spontaneity

Our style is very spontaneous.  Yours might not be.  However, being flexible is critical.  Taking the conversation where the group wants it to go is very important.  This brings us back to inclusion.  Of course, it’s also your job to know when to bring the conversation back to the point in hand. There is a balance between letting a conversation carry on if it is moving the discussion forward but also knowing when to stop it if it is not helping.

8. Humour

Again this will flex depending on your personality.  At Purple Monster we do enjoy a laugh but use humour wisely. It should never be at the expense of anyone but used as a technique to help people feel relaxed and comfortable so that they are able and willing to contribute and talk openly.

9. Know the audience

Research who you’re talking to and their current context. Understanding job roles and hierarchy is helpful but also what are their reasons for being there? Are they volunteers or has attendance been mandated? Is engagement high or tragically low with this group and why is that the case? What are the relationships like within the group – with the leader for example? All of this information will help you prepare and set the tone appropriately.

Really the secret is being there for the audience. Your job is to facilitate, literally make things easier. If you keep in mind that your sole focus is on ensuring that the meeting is productive, respectful and enjoyable then you have done a good job.

And most importantly don’t try to be something that you’re not. If you are quiet and thoughtful then be aware that quiet and thoughtful might be a nice style, but you may have to practise being direct and provide some direction. If your style is more extroverted then you will similarly have to note when to tone that down and play the quiet card.

Think of your audience, drink plenty of water and don’t let things go longer than a couple of hours before you have a break. And whilst we know that this is not heavy manual lifting and physically challenging work, it’s important to look after yourself because it’s tiring. Wear good shoes, your feet will thank you for it.

Do you want some exercises to help in your facilitation efforts? Download exercise instructions here:

A day in the life of a Monster – Alan Heap

A day in the life of a Monster – Alan Heap

“When I was a young child, one of my favourite cartoon strips was called The Numskulls. The basic premise was that there were departments in your head, that had small characters in charge of them. There was one for the ears, the eyes, the nose and mouth and so on, but the character in charge was ‘Brainy’. Disney Pixar did something a whole lot more sophisticated with Inside Out, portraying the emotions in our head as characters, which we’ve used on a number of occasions to explore behaviour. Why I bother to mention these at all, is that when I considered the task of writing ‘A Day in the Life’, it struck me that the external picture isn’t half as much fun as the internal one.

The ‘Brainy’ character that is running my headspace has an exaggerated sense of humour, a burning curiosity and a belief in creativity and imagination. The external picture is more mundane. Take a look at this typical day:

Cycle to work at PM Office; work on a variety of client and internal challenges; go to Pilates, or not; attend TEDx meeting; home for supper; maybe a little tv or play the piano and bed; Rpt.

So, here instead, is the day inside my head. (prepare yourself – Ed)

From the moment I wake up, ideas are competing for headspace.

There is usually something from the day before that has occupied my thinking and most likely dreaming time. If I’m lucky, I may wake up with the remnants of a dream that helped me think of an idea, but if not, well then the stimulus of the day will step in.

I listen to quite a bit of talk radio as well as looking at social media feeds and there will always be something stimulating thought.

But what I love most are human stories, powerful stories that move people to do good things. Greta Thunberg for example, or Steven Bartlett or Katerina Johnson Thomson or those individuals and companies helping others.

I cycle to work. I recently gave up my car partly prompted by Greta and partly by economics. It really is a very short distance, but even in the 5 minutes it takes me, a lot can happen in my head. Some of it doesn’t matter much and is the stuff of everyday.

“Must tidy the garage at the weekend. I wonder why the pyracantha doesn’t have many berries? The council should rethink the recycling boxes – four is too many. Isn’t it a shame that British Gas don’t have a depot and that their drivers have to park on double yellow lines outside the post office to collect their parts. Must lobby for better cycle lanes in town.”

I’m sure this is the kind of thing that goes on in everyone’s head, isn’t it?

But then what happens in mine, is I begin to use my imagination on one of these challenges. “Cycle lanes? Maybe but what if we had autonomous pods for the main routes and free scooters from the station? What if we had a garden walkway that lifted passengers arriving from the train station above the traffic and what if we promoted Leamington as a car free town centre and what if …?” I think you get the picture.

All this day-dreaming of course is fine, but by the time I’m in work, surely that can all be put to one side? Well, for me, it’s been more of a warm-up for work, because the challenges that we are presented by clients and potential clients every day are quite frankly more challenging than that, because they have to be put into action. As I sit typing this article, the day ahead has the following problems with which to wrestle.

  • Conceptualise an event for 500+ global leaders that will herald a shift in thinking, ways of working and strategic direction and ‘bring to life’ what that will mean for the leadership. Must be experiential and ‘different’ to the usual conference fare.
  • Design three elements for a learning event which will tackle a variety of topics, including the organizations’ D&I agenda. Consider using improvisation to ‘lift the learning off the page’.
  • Answer a brief for a global communication programme to embed a new working philosophy across the widely spread business units. Consider the different channels and media options to reach deep into the organisation. Must be ‘inspiring, fresh and dynamic and shift thinking’.
  • Design a virtual conference for 200 globally dispersed members of a function. Key messages must be landed effectively and must be ‘interactive and engaging’.

What comes next is something I am well known for at monster towers, but thankfully not known for anywhere else. I take a couple of pens and do a bit of drawing.

There’s no set process here, it just helps me swirl the idea around a bit, develop it and explore tangential notions and offshoots. Now this stream of consciousness may lead somewhere or nowhere, but by now the drawings and notes on the whiteboard will be developing nicely and subsequently be causing some hilarity in the office.

We have fellow monsters who are professional artists and really can draw amazing things.

Clearly, I can’t, but I don’t let this stop me trying.

Whatever has come out of this process, still needs to be properly tested and the long-suffering monsters are entirely familiar with the words “Can I just ask you to try something out for me? I want you to imagine that …”

The most powerful thing about imagination and the creative process is that there really isn’t anything to block it, except your own limitations of thought. I’m sure that much of this comes from my background in the performing arts, where things like small practicalities are not impediments to success.

As a young man I played a small part (flying trapeze) in a production at The Royal Opera House, where half of the opera chorus were flown above the stage whilst singing. I promise you, there was just about every possible objection raised to this happening, but it still did, every night. Most things at a conference seem relatively straightforward, and often a little tame after that.

I was once told by improvisation guru (and I don’t think that is too strong a word for Ben Benison) that you should never be fearful of ideas because ‘you’re not responsible for your imagination’.

Now you are responsible for editing and deciding what to share in a public forum, but there is a joy in unlimited thinking, and it is surely the thing that leads to incredible breakthrough ideas. It can also lead to mistakes and unsuccessful experimentation, but whatever the results, you have still learnt something.

As I come to the end of a typical day, proposals will have been created; ideas shared over video conferences; event agendas will have been developed and all of it will have been undertaken with a lot of laughter.

There might well have been some frustration, a few doubts about the validity of the ideas and most likely some ‘lively discussion’ about how they might be brought to life, but all the while, the key character in my head has been following the narrative and is busily crafting the next part of the story for the evening or perhaps the following day.

He’s already poised with a new idea ready to put into the machine. ‘Leadership insights from musical theatre’. Yeah, I know, crazy right?

I hope you have enjoyed just a little glimpse into the day inside my head and if you would like to put this lively imagination to use, then do give us a call.

It’s almost time to head home and, as is also very often the case, a song has popped into my head. It’s one of my favourites from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, sung by Gene Wilder in the film, it’s called Pure Imagination.

I can’t claim to live in a world of pure imagination as he does, but I really like to spend as much time there as possible and help others get a glimpse into theirs too occasionally.

I am involved locally with a plan to develop a ‘Creative Quarter’ in our town, all around the area where our office is based. It’s proving quite difficult, as ironically, no one can quite imagine what it is. I can, but I think this time, I may need someone else to draw it.”




If you want to tap into Alan’s creative and artistic expertise then drop him a note

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A guide to better communication…what?

A guide to better communication…what?

“The guide to better communication…what?”

“I said the guide…oh never mind”

Over the last few weeks we’ve shared 4 communication exercises with you offering you a FREE download of each exercise so you can run them yourselves with your teams. I know, our generosity knows no bounds. We’ve done:


All of these exercises encourage conversation. Some are about the sharing of stories, others are more concerned with building rapport.

But all our communication exercises are designed to build connection, with the aim of bringing about better communication. We all know how important that is in any relationship we have, not just at work.

So, if you need a reminder of any of the exercises we have listed above, then just click on the link and you’ll get all the instructions as to how to run them.

Also, if anything isn’t clear or you have a suggestion for another great communication exercise, then please get in touch. Here a quick reminder of some other exercises that we have brought to you this year.

We developed Purple Monster conversation cards earlier this year. They’ve proved to be really popular and we’re looking to update and adapt early next year so watch this space.

They are a great way to start a meeting, letting everyone know how you’re feeling without having to stand up and talk about it!

Then later in the year we shared Charles Green’s Trust Equation with you.

Having spoken with Charlie himself he appraised us of a really nuanced but important thing to remember when using his equation. The trust equation is a way to measure trustworthiness – how much trust can you place in others and how much might they place in you.

This is a simple but important focus area because of course, trust is a big subject that contains much complexity, whereas trustworthiness is more simple a concept to grasp.

The three elements on the top measure the strength of that trustworthiness and the element below the line is what puts the relationship to the test.

Consider each element separately and then divide the top 3 (numerators), by the bottom (denominator) to give you an idea of the strength of trustworthiness in any relationship. We explain all in the Trust Equation article.

We are sure that people have probably been thinking this for years but something about our working lives in the 21st century seems a bit more hectic than ever.

Calendars are full before the week has even begun. Everyone seems to be on back to back calls. Meetings where even if everything is discussed in 30 minutes, still seem to last the full 1 hour.

Finding time to build better relationships and have better conversations can feel difficult.

Where can you fit it in?

  • At the start of a meeting/call. Spend 5 minutes just sharing something personal – ask questions of others talk about mundane and trivial things.
  • Use our conversation cards. Ask everyone to take 5 minutes to draw themselves (stick men are totally acceptable) doing something they enjoy. If working remotely, take a photo and share it on your main comms board.
  • If having a weekly, monthly meeting face to face, then start the day with one of our exercises before you get heavily into PowerPoint decks.
  • If having a one to one, take a look at the trust equation before you go into that meeting.

For some of us, this stuff is easy. For others it’s much harder. Please be mindful of that and be inclusive.

Remembering to be inclusive alone is a great start to developing more healthy relationships, enhancing connection and building trust.

And once you’ve done that, you will find problem solving easier, decision making more collegial and shared experiences will help to build rapport, a sense of belonging and who knows, you all might even become more productive together.

Happy chatting!

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Engagement Exercises to try #4 – Storycards

Engagement Exercises to try #4 – Storycards

Exercises to try #4 Storycards
Once upon a time…

We’ve shared with you GROUPS; ABC; and Listen, Check, Summarise; all of which help enhance our communication skills and, more than anything, build connection, and help to make the start of any meeting a little more human. This is only a small selection of exercises that we use when running events and workshops, and we hope that you find them useful!

Our work is always about the human connection. Whether that’s human to human, human to brand, human to mission statement, human to company vision; it all starts and pretty much ends with us, the people. The humans.



The way we communicate is critical. And one of the best ways to share information is through stories. Stories have been the currency of communication since the beginning of time.

Each one of us would most certainly be able to name several people who are great storytellers and whom we admire. People who are skilled at grabbing your attention, drawing you in and sweeping you up onto the journey with them. There’s only one way to get better at storytelling and that’s to practise. So, here’s an exercise that easily helps us do just that.

This week we will share our exercise ‘STORYCARDS’. (Yep, it is another ingeniously named exercise!)

How to play

It’s a straightforward exercise done in pairs. Stretching your mind to think quickly about a random topic. Requiring you to be in the moment, flexible and, ideally, articulate!

To help you along with this exercise, we have a lovely free download for you of some of our favourite cards. Just click here to access it. Alternatively, you might want to create your own set.

Part 1

Get into pairs. Decide who is A and who is B.

If you have taken advantage of our free download, you should now have two sets of cards- Storycards part one and Storycards part two.

Like any good story, we begin at the beginning; Part one. Person A turns over their first card and must immediately begin telling person B a story about the word that they read on their card. The idea here is to be quick and spontaneous- it doesn’t matter what comes into your head, just start talking! Give person A 30 seconds and then it is time to move on ot the next card- remember, just go with it!
This first round is simply a single word. so get ready, and off you go!

As each story is told, person A should begin relaxing into this ‘off the cuff’ storytelling and hopefully there should be plenty of laughter too! After person A has told a few stories (probably 3 or 4) person B takes the remainder of the part one cards and it is now their turn to be the storyteller.

Part 2

We now move on to part two. Make sure person A now has the Storycards Part two deck. Similar to before, they are to turn the card over and begin telling the story that comes to mind immediately. The twist here is that the cards contain prompting sentences. This build from a single word to a sentence encourages our brain to think a bit bigger, but in the confines of our exercise, to retain the speed and impromptu thought.

Again, after person A has had a few tries at telling stories, hand the rest of the deck to Person B for their turn.


When everyone has had a few turns at part two of Storycards, it can be fun to get some of the stories out into the room. Do encourage people to share their friend’s best stories as there will almost certainly be either hilarity or just a collective wow’ moment which are always a nice human way to kick off any session.

Of course, we don’t expect anyone to share anything they are not comfortable with- Let people stay safe in their pairs and don’t expose anyone too publicly.
All in all, this is a great way for teams to get to know each other better. And a good starter exercise for anyone interested in improvisation. So if you fancy giving this a go at your next team meeting, download our free sample pack of Storycards and give it a whirl!

We would like to finish off our favourite quote on stories, the brilliant Brené Brown calls stories, ‘Data with soul’. We like that.

Download a pdf workshop sheet of our Storycards exercise.

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Engagement Exercises to try #3 – Listen, Check, Summarise

Engagement Exercises to try #3 – Listen, Check, Summarise

Exercises to try #3 – Listen, Check, Summarise

Building on the ABC exercise that we gave you last week. We proudly present ‘Listen, Check, Summarise’. If anyone would like to suggest a sexier name for this, please send your suggestions to George:

This is another thoughtful, considered exercise which works well with people who are responsible for managing others. But also, great for teams to try together, again developing trusting relationships and empathy amongst colleagues.

We make it a little complicated, just for fun really!

The aim of the game

The aim is to develop greater listening skills and be able to communicate what you’ve heard accurately.

How often do we mis-read emails, text messages or misunderstand someone’s tone?


The set up

It will take about 5 mins to set up, and a maximum of 10 minutes to run.
Ask the group to split themselves into smaller groups of 4.

Each team member names themselves, A, B, C and D.

Ask A to face B, and C to face D. It should look like they are facing each other as if on a train in a seat of four. 2 couples facing each other.


How to run the exercise

Ask everyone to think of a customer interaction that has gone wrong…’think of a time when you had a bad experience as a customer and tell your partner.’

Round 1

It’s up to you, but let’s say you give everyone 2 minutes each to tell the person opposite their story.

So, once you’ve heard your partners story. You need to ‘check’ you’ve heard it correctly. Ask your partner if you’ve got the main points correct. Then once confirmed, ‘summarise’ your partners story back to them.

Now swap over. Repeat the listen, check, summarise as per the second part of the diagram on Round 1.

Round 2

Turn to the person at the side of you and share the story you just heard. NB, this is not your own story, but the one your partner just shared with you.

See part 1 on the diagram. So, A tells C and B tells D. Listen, check and summarise.
Then swap over, part 2 so C tells A, and D tells B.

Finally, Round 3

This is the best bit! You now ask the teams to work diagonally across each other, by all means ask people to swap chairs if they need to!

So, A tells D the story they just heard in Round 2 (which will be their own story 😊)
B tells C. Listen check summarise.

Then C tells B and D tells A. Listen check summarise.

There may be laughter and excited chatter when running this exercise. Others will take it incredibly seriously. After all, you are responsible for someone else’s words.

Top Tip…

There are 4 stories, each team member will hear 2 different stories and finally their own story played back to them.


  • Ask the group about the exercise. How hard was it to concentrate on listening to begin with?
  • Did that change when you were telling someone else’s story.
  • Were you distracted trying to listen or correct details in what you were hearing elsewhere?
  • How did the story change? Were there details left out?
  • Were there things embellished?
  • What does this say about the nature of communication?
  • Ask people for their insights and get them to share with the big group!

You could run this exercise with a small team at the start of a meeting, or you could use the mechanism with perhaps a different question at a much bigger event to get the room to buzz with the fun of sharing stories.

Download a pdf workshop sheet of our Listen, Check Summarise exercise.

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