Facilitator Tips – The importance of asking good questions

Facilitator Tips – The importance of asking good questions

Asking good questions as a facilitator

As we examine the role of a facilitator and impart our advise and guidance we have so far…

Covered some top tips for you to consider

Looked at YOU and ensuring you are confident in your own style.

Talked in depth about making sure the audience/group are the main event, not you.

And this week we look at the importance of asking good questions. This links well with last week’s article. If you’re asking good questions, then the group will be engaged, committed and happy to answer anything that you might throw at them….well, not anything!

 

You can and should prepare questions before the event, but often things will change in the moment so you have to be flexible and ready with the right approach rather than a set pre-prepared script.

Actually, it really is a mindset. Are you asking open questions that elicit a response?

  • What are the sorts of question that will prompt discussion?
  • Will your question push the momentum along?

So what do we mean by ‘good questions’ and why are they important?

The session will have a purpose or as we like to call it a ‘super objective’.

This phrase comes from our old world of the theatre where the great Russian acting teacher Konstantin Stanislavsky encouraged his actors to know the super objective of each character which then was split into smaller objectives. It’s from where we get the old joke, ‘what’s my motivation?’ But the thinking is sound and still works here as a facilitator.

Everything that we are doing in the session should ultimately be in support of this goal. If it’s to gain more clarity then shape your questions around that. If it’s to ensure leaders know what is expected during transformation then frame your questions to support that goal.

Not only will it focus the session but you’ll also be ready in a couple of weeks to play Konstantin in Chekov’s the Seagull. 😊

Purple Monster has a background in the theatre. This often means that we are naturally curious. You need this when looking for those good questions.

Curiosity is perhaps a more useful skill for the facilitator than creativity because by simply opening up your mind to the possibility of a new, different or tangential approach will provoke different thoughts in your delegates. And those thoughts can come from anywhere, if you’re looking out for them. Wildly creative and esoteric ideas might not be the best way in for everyone.

Remember it’s your job to ensure all questions and conversations are supporting the end goal. Simply asking delegates how they feel about the topic/change might only touch the surface. If you are not asking good quality questions when you have committed to a facilitated session, then you might have simply sent a questionnaire.

Your questions need to provoke a different train of thought.

  • Get the audience to explore their own preconceived thoughts and feelings. Get them to discuss it privately in small groups and ask them to précis what they heard in their small groups. Reportage of your groups’ thinking is much less personally exposing than being asked to articulate your own thoughts in front of any group.

 

  • Stretch them to consider things in different ways. Ask one group to start discussing a subject and note down their thoughts around it. Then ask the next group to visit the first groups’ output and question and add to their initial work.

 

  • Push them all to contribute. Some people may be quiet but that doesn’t mean they don’t have an opinion. Ensure you are always asking individuals their thoughts. It’s tempting to listen to the first, perhaps most forthright opinion, but quieter people may need your help in being able to share their thoughts too.

We can’t list here ‘great’ questions. You have to work that one out for yourself, but ensuring that you are in service of the super-objective and including everyone in the room while at the same time retaining your own sense of humour and authenticity will take you a long way when facilitating any session.

The last word perhaps should be left with the great Russian playwright Anton Chekov who perhaps had the best answer to the ultimate question, ‘What is life?’.

“You ask what is life? That is the same as asking what is a carrot? A carrot is a carrot and we know nothing more”.

Good luck!



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Facilitator Tips – Developing your own style

Facilitator Tips – Developing your own style

Developing your own style of facilitation

 

This article looks more closely at YOU. That’s right! It’s you I’m talking about.

We are going to start thinking about how you develop your own facilitation style. One that you feel comfortable delivering and one where you are confident in being your authentic self.

Being confident makes a significant difference to your success as a facilitator. Not everyone has natural confidence especially when faced with an expectant room of delegates, so here we share with you some practical ways you can help to increase your confidence when it comes to facilitating a group of people.

Confidence is a very precious commodity and it can visit us and leave us without knowing and at the most inopportune moments. So how can we mitigate against those losses of confidence by understanding better what makes us feel ‘in flow’ and ‘on our game’?

Confidence comes from a combination of experience and understanding. It is very hard to stand in front of an established group of people, often subject matter experts themselves, if you don’t have the necessary understanding of your subject.

Any inkling that you are ‘busking’ it or you haven’t done the preparation will undermine your integrity as a facilitator. You may not have the experience of course which is a hurdle to overcome but by ensuring you are well prepared, you are at least halfway to ensuring that you can speak with authority.

You can only gain experience by doing and so making sure you take every opportunity to test out your skills will incrementally improve the experience part of the equation until you are equal with knowledge and experience and are now operating more confidently.

 

How to build your confidence

As a facilitator you are not expected to be, nor should pretend to be, the subject matter expert.

A level of content and audience understanding though will help to give you some context for what you are doing and why. By asking informed questions, provoking interesting discussion and gently keeping the session on track and on message will allow you to keep the session under control helping you to build rapport more effectively with the audience.

Take time before the session to research and prepare which will build this understanding.

 

Be Practical

Walk around the space you’ll be working in. Be familiar with it.
Test your voice in the space, do you need a microphone?
Check the technology. Each room is different. Leave time to ensure your laptop works, you have the correct leads and your slides can be seen
If you need sound, make sure you have back up speakers if the on site av lets you down
Make sure all those technical gremlins are tucked away and you have tested the tech, the slides and all support materials.

 

Rehearse

NEVER turn up on the day and it be the first time you have said the words you have prepared. In your head you sounded great right? And of course, there are those who do think they have the ability to wing it, but we strongly recommend you don’t follow this route.

Practise your key points. Say them out loud. In the office, meeting room, your kitchen! It doesn’t matter where, just put the words out there. You might find it useful to record yourself on your phone. Listen back and really hear yourself. What tone works best? Which words need more impact? This preparation work is crucial to your success and confidence.

 

Your inner voice

Look out for this little devil. Your own internal monologue can undermine yourself if you let the doubts creep in. You can have done all the prep brilliantly, but then a voice inside your head starts to freak out! Alan advises to remind yourself that nervous symptoms are the same as excited. Telling yourself you are excited can fool yourself into forgetting the nerves, which, by the way, are totally natural to have. If you’re not a little bit nervous then perhaps you might be approaching it all a little too casually.

 

Reading the room

Last week we advised you not to try and be someone you’re not. Just because you saw a facilitator make loads of jokes, does not mean you should do the same. Equally if you know yourself to be a more serious type, you might like to find some light-hearted moments throughout the day. This is where a very big part of your skill as a facilitator has to come into play. You should always be on the lookout for what is happening in the room. Is your style appropriate for the group that you have?

 

  • Are people engaged?
  • Do these people need a break?
  • Is somebody being very quiet?
  • Is somebody dominating all the conversation?
  • Does it need another voice in the room?
  • Do you need to change the state or atmosphere within the room?

You will need to keep your eyes and ears open throughout your session to ensure all of the above are being monitored. Keep your radar open at all times and dial up your own levels of EQ. The role of the facilitator is to keep the group focused. Allowing them to voice their opinions without going completely off piste. The focus must be on the group! Not you.

Ensuring that you have prepared well and made sure the content, approach and tone of the session all match will increase your levels of confidence and will go a long way to running a successful session.

And one last piece of advice…give yourself the odd day off. All that nervous energy and ensuring you’re keeping everyone engaged is a long old day. You’ll sleep well if you’ve done a good job.

Good luck!

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



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Being a facilitator rather than a presenter

Being a facilitator rather than a presenter

Being a facilitator rather than a presenter.

Last week we spoke about the steps needed to be a more effective facilitator. So this week we are going to consider how you can include everyone in your session and ensure that every voice is heard equally and without prejudice.

 

 

 

Whilst it’s easy to talk about inclusivity during conferences, workshops, meetings and so on, it actually takes more deliberate effort than you might think to be able to call any session genuinely inclusive.

To be able to include people in discussion, encourage them to talk and contribute requires more than a happy accident. It requires deliberate and focused intent and a small helping of daring.
We hear so often the phrase ‘death by powerpoint’ but it isn’t ever the technology that’s at fault…it’s always the speaker, and more accurately the intent behind what the speaker is saying. If you wish to genuinely engage people then you have to plan with that intent. You must create time and space for voices other than your own. If the main presentation option seems only to be you talking at the audience, it may be worth considering the following possibilities:

  • The audience talking to you
  • The audience talking to each other
  • Individual members of the audience addressing the rest of the audience, instead of you

You also need to create meaning and a reason to connect. It’s lazy to assume that what you have written as your topic is sufficient on its own to provoke meaningful interaction and discussion. Instead, consider exactly what it is about your talk or presentation that would have real resonance for your audience and would make them want to interject or answer any question that you might pose to them. This also means that you have to know the answer, or at least part of an answer, to this question:

Who is the audience and what is the context in which they are listening to this talk?

Do you know something about their opinions, their attitudes and their historical circumstances? If you don’t, make sure that you take the time to read up and find out. If that’s not available to you, then ask them directly. If you know very little or have no time to find out beforehand then follow these simple golden rules:

  • Be bothered
  • Be interested
  • Be curious
  • Connect

Just the term, ‘speaker’ is dangerous and misleading because it implies that this is all that is necessary to engage and include an audience, but it clearly isn’t. What’s most important is the need to listen and show that you’re listening.

Your eye contact and body language will always show people whether you’re interested and listening to them or whether, I’m afraid, you are just self-absorbed.

So finally a short story, because it wouldn’t be one of our articles without at least one story.

“Yesterday, on the aeroplane, a gentleman was helped to his seat by a member of the cabin crew and was seated next to us as he folded up his white stick. He immediately made contact with Robin and I (Alan) and told us a little about why he was visiting Valencia. It transpired that he was a big fan of Moto GP and was taking a trip to meet some of the riders and teams who had been in Valencia this past weekend as part of the final race of the season. He told us a great deal about his life and the challenges of being at first partially sighted and now, totally blind.

He also announced with some pride that he was a ‘talker’. And he was!

Subsequently we learnt a great deal more about his life in Lancaster as a young boy, his working life with HM Treasury and his eventual retirement. He also shared one of his most profound insights which was when his sister revealed to him that he was a serial complainer and everyone else in his life was beginning to get very tired of it. So he changed his behavior, stopped complaining and tried harder to appreciate the things around him. This initially made him approachable and good company.

However, although he is a good talker, he is I’m afraid a terrible listener and after about 60 minutes, we suggested that we perhaps could halt our conversation for a while and catch up again after a small snooze. He immediately took the hint and proceeded to speak to the gentleman on the other side of the aisle for the rest of the flight.”

Sometimes being inclusive requires you to tell people that enough is enough and it’s time for someone else to take their turn.

This could very well apply to us all in our role as a facilitator, by the way. Those that don’t either feel confident to speak or don’t feel what they have to say has sufficient merit or are just too polite to interrupt anyone else deserve their opportunity to speak too.
In short, leave space, leave time, leave room, try and leave your ego at the door and above all else, be a generous listener which will go a long way to making you a more inclusive facilitator.

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



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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:



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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:

GROUPS
ABC
LISTEN, CHECK, SUMMARISE
STORYCARDS

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.

Discussion

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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