Friday, July 17, 2015

Adding Interaction Concern #2: Losing Control Of the Clock

Presenters should be concerned about clock management when adding interaction to a session or talk.  You can rehearse, time, edit, and somewhat control the pace of your speaking segments. This is not possible when you invite participants to engage with each other.

Or is it?

The timing of interactive elements is definitely manageable albeit less tightly than your speaking segments. You only lose control of the clock when you don't plan (1) an initial approach for managing it, and (2) alternative tactics to adopt based on what happens in real-time.

Providing structure enables the desired learning from an interactive segment (see my previous post) and it helps manage time for interactive segments.  And as you use interactive formats repeatedly, you hone in on the length and structure that groups of different dispositions require to have the intended learning experience.

So how does this work in action?  Let's look at two examples where I have previously lost control of the clock: (1) introductions, and (2) small group reporting out. I'm not alone here, right?

Introductions: Getting to Know You

You've decided that introductions are needed to break the ice. Let's imagine you're asking individuals to share their name, title, organization and tenure, and one unique or interesting thing about themselves ... in 60 seconds.  If you simply offer that instruction and then let someone begin, invariably the first person will exceed your allotted time and others who follow will do the same. Your session just started and you're already behind the clock.

Here's an approach providing more structure to help manage the time:
  • Explain you want to do quick introductions so people can get a sense of who else is present, but you don't want to spend the entire session doing so.  Tell participants you need their help to make this happen.
  • Describe (I would use a slide to engage people visually as well) the way you want people to introduce themselves, taking only 60 seconds to do so.
  • Give people 2-3 minutes to identify and note their unique characteristic.  This honors introverted learners as well as increases the odds that everyone will listen to others' intros.
  • Point out that we often don't talk in 60-second increments (heads will nod). Then either (1) model the way and do your own intro, asking someone else to time you; or (2) ask for a volunteer who thinks he can do a nice introduction in 50-60 seconds and you time.
Two key elements make this process work: (1) participants are engaged in managing the time; and (2) an appropriate intro is modeled for them to emulate.

Why do I suggest 50-60 seconds as the starting example? Because otherwise people rush through their intro as fast as they can and it defeats the purpose of the entire process. If you want to provide further structure, have a 60-second hourglass available that participants can opt to flip as they begin their introductions, enabling them to monitor themselves.

Capturing the Wisdom of Others: Small Group Reporting Out

Things can really go amiss here if you don't plan optional approaches and provide upfront structure.  The key question to initially answer is: does every group need to be heard from, and if so, to what degree? Your response provides the constraints for calibrating the time you'll use and the format that it will allow or comparably, the format you decide to use and the time it will require.

In general, I find workshop participants can listen to 3-5 groups reporting and/or about 15 minutes of total reporting out no matter how many groups.  After that they disengage and lose interest.  So even if you have time to hear from many more groups, it may be ineffective to do so.  This changes for a group of colleagues working together on a project or to set strategy. They are likely to have a longer attention span and a more active commitment to hear from others.

Here are some possible ways I might structure and introduce 15 minutes of small group reporting out to participants in a conference session I am leading:
  1. We'll do some quick reporting out after your discussions. We've got 15 minutes and 10 groups, so that will be 90 seconds/group. Note: The rapid reporting out might maintain attention spans for so many groups, but it is risky.
  2. We'll have 15 minutes for some small group reporting out. I'll initially ask each group to take about 45 seconds to share its most powerful takeaway. We'll then use the remaining time for groups to share any additional insights they think other participants really need to hear until the clock runs out.
  3. I'd like each group to record their top three takeaways in large legible print on a flipchart and post them when time is called.  I'll give you a two-minute warning when it is time for you to stop discussing and to capture what you want to share. You'll then have 7-8 minutes on your own ("gallery walk") to scan the output from other groups prior to about 5 minutes of large group discussion.
  4. We'll have about 15 minutes to capture some of the wisdom generated in your small group discussions. With more than 30 groups in the room there is no way we can do that verbally.  I'm asking you to Tweet your discussion takeaways in real-time using this special hashtag.  When we reconvene, you'll first quickly scroll through these Tweets with your small group colleagues prior some facilitated large group discussion.
  5. When we reconvene I want to gather 4-6 great takeaways from different groups, but won't be calling on each one to report out. So if you have an insight to share, I'll look to you to volunteer.
  6. Do #4 except use a Google doc.
And I always invite groups to efficiently report out that they simply "ditto" what another group has already said instead of repeating and chewing up more time: In our discussions we came to the same conclusions as group #3.  Finally, when inviting groups to report another takeaway during a second round, it helps with time management if you do so by saying: "Who has a new insight we haven't already heard that you would like to share?"

Alternatives to traditional reporting out

Instead of having individuals report out to the large group, you could use the Ambassador approach I've previously written about, sending a small group representative to another table to share takeaways more intimately. This can be repeated with rotation and sharing with a second table, time permitting.  Or instead of having the initial small group conversation generate takeaways to share, you could use my Prospector approach. Here participants first mix freely with others, collecting ideas in response to a topic or question you provide.  Subsequent small group conversation passes on the best of individuals' prospecting finds.

These are just a few of the possibilities you could consider, weighing (1) the learning goals for the overall session, (2) the potential value of the content small groups are generating, (3) participants' need to hear from others, and (4) the time available for doing so. Ideally, you structure any interactive elements to give yourself the flexibility to recalibrate the format based on real-time clock management.  This means that you identify possible options as you design your session and prepare the necessary slides and other materials to give you flexibility to modify formats on the fly. Example: if groups are deeply engaged in their discussions, I might allow a bit more time for them to continue and then opt for a faster reporting method.

The clock is your friend, but only if you build a relationship with it. Plan on how you will effectively manage time in order to address the content of your session with the interaction you want to create.

I've added interaction to a 10-minute TEDx talk for 600 people seated in an auditorium and used multiple engagement formats in a 60-minute session for a couple of hundred people seated at more than 30 rounds in a convention center ballroom. It isn't always easy, but it most definitely can always be done.

Previously in this series:   
Adding Interaction Concern #1: Losing Control of the Content
"You've Got to Make Your Presentation Interactive"

Monday, July 13, 2015

Adding Interaction Concern #1: Losing Control of the Content

Perhaps the most pervasive concern I hear presenters raise when contemplating interaction is that they will lose control of the session.

Newsflash: you ain't never had it. At any given moment, people are talking about unrelated topics, scanning the program book for the next session, buying something on their smartphone, or sneaking out early to get to lunch.  But we feel like we are in control because we are the only ones providing content and we do so on our own terms. It's a false sense of security.

When adding interaction, you do transfer some control to participants because you now rely on them to generate and share relevant information with each other.  The presenter's job is to do everything possible to make sure this happens smoothly and that the interactive element surfaces meaningful content and conversation participants can apply to their own needs. Let's look at how this sometimes unfolds. 

Have you experienced a presenter introducing a small group exercise and everyone at your table just looks at each other, unsure of what exactly you are supposed to do? This is not good. It is the presenter's job to provide sufficient structure to prevent this from happening.  And different learners require varying degrees of structure and detail in the instructions in order to full engage with the interactive element. Here's a bit of what I have learned in the process of doing this myself.

An exercise I use in some sessions is to have participants think about the lenses through which they see the world and the implications of those lenses. I created it for a workshop with a group of highly creative, big picture thinkers.  The slide on the left contains the instructions I offered, and it (along with me briefly talking about how we each need different glasses or contact lens prescriptions to see 20/20) allowed most people to fully engage with the activity as I intended. The discussion was lively and the content surfaced led to meaningful insights being shared.

When I next used this exercise it was with a group of more analytical, detail-oriented thinkers.  I used the same instruction slide, but this time was met with blank and confused stares.  Participants didn’t track as well with my lenses metaphor, nor did they have a sufficient idea of what content I was asking them to generate. I had to verbally provide a lot more detail just to get the exercise started.

After this experience I created the slide on the right, improving on the original in three ways: (1) expanding the initial question posed with more examples to illustrate what I am asking, (2) visually revealing another common analogy—the photo filter—to further illustrate my intent; and (3) offering examples of my own possible responses.  This is now my default slide to introduce the exercise.  While some participants still nod with understanding when only the initial question is posed, I now see everyone else "get it" when I provide more information, including my own possible responses to the exercise.

Since then I have made one other significant modification. With the first two groups, I simply posed the question and asked them to turn to a partner and start sharing. While this worked for most people, it put a huge pressure on each participant to generate this content on demand, essentially doing it as they shared it with each other.  As a result, I really marginalized more introverted learners. 

I now ask participants to first note up to 10 responses to the question on their own, enabling introverts to reflect and do this work internally. I then invite them to stand and partner with one other person sharing some of their lenses and the possible implications they might have. This approach, one I've written about in greater detail here, is much more inclusive and has consistently produced a higher quality exercise that almost all participants seem to value. Asking participants to stand and select a partner instead of simply turning to someone near them picks up the energy in the group a bit and gives individuals some control over their conversation companion.

What I just described is part of the core work we do when adding interactive elements to a session: determining how to structure the conversation and introduce it so that participants can easily engage and generate the content you wish them to share. To do so: (1) consider how participants might normally process information or receive instructions, (2) examine the nature of what you are asking them to do and how they might view the exercise, and (3) generate the most inclusive framework to support people in having the intended conversation.  This often means that we create structure for an exercise that differs from what we might need if we were participating in it. In other words, we have to look at adding interaction through the participants' lenses and perspectives, not just our own.

Lecturing or talking at participants indeed allows us a greater degree of control over the content. But it keeps individuals passive and doesn't allow them to share their own ideas and insights with each other, something that many participants and conference planners increasingly value.  The opportunity for us when designing a presentation is to calibrate an appropriate mix of the expertise we can contribute and the knowledge that participants possess. 

When introducing interactive elements to engage participants' perspectives, presenters must provide sufficient structure so that the learners can conduct the conversation we invite them to have (either with themselves or each other) and that valuable content and insight will surface during the interaction.

During a lecture or presentation segment, we only learn what content resonates with learners when we actually present it to them. The same is true for introducing interactive elements into a program: only through experimenting will you glean what works with what learners and how to best structure the interaction for success.

Next in this series I address the other control presenters rightfully fear losing: control of the clock.

Previously in the series: "You Need to Make Your Presentation Interactive."

Thursday, July 09, 2015

"You Need to Make Your Presentation Interactive"

Conference planners exhort presenters to include

more interactive elements in their sessions. 

Many remain wary of doing so.

If you have a learning and instructional design background you can forget how intimidating adding interactive segments can be to individuals more accustomed to primarily lecture or presentation segments.  For starters, they probably don't think in terms of segments.

Having coached a fair number of these wary subject matter experts, I’m sharing advice I offer them (and that I take heed of for my own presentations) in a three-part series this month.   

Much has been written about the adult learner and learning in general. It would be foolhardy of me to try and prove in a blog post that interaction is valuable when books and dissertations address the topic. Trust me. Ample research affirms the value of engaging adult learners in sharing their own expertise and experiences, and that more active engagement with content leads to greater retention and application of material. 

But for some people almost any mention of interaction immediately recalls icebreakers or other exercises that they associate with being touchy-feely. This association is something presenters need to consider when selecting interactive elements and inviting participants to engage with each other, the subject of a future post. 

So what do I mean by interaction and engagement? For my purposes, I will use those terms fairly interchangeably.  In doing so, I mean any time that a presentation (keynote, workshop, et al) shifts from participants passively listening to a speaker (soapbox) and becoming more actively engaged (sandbox) with themselves, with each other, and with the presenter.  

The biggest misperception I want to correct is that interaction equals extroversion.  This is why some eyes roll when presenters announce their session is interactive: people fear having to share things with strangers and engage in activities in which they may feel socially awkward.  Because we have such a bias that participation = speaking, speakers often default to extroverted formats that do indeed marginalize more introverted learners. For a quick introduction into honoring these more quiet and reflective individuals see Susan Cain's book Quiet or her TED talk.

Instead of equating participating with speaking and always engaging people in extroverted ways, think of interaction as any learning format that enables participants to connect with and explore the presenter's perspective, their own experiences and ideas (and those of other participants), and the potential connections among them. Applying this mindset means a reflection worksheet that participants complete individually (introverted process) is interactive … as is any conversation they might have with others about the responses they just noted (extroverted process).

This is why adding interactive elements is so important: it deepens participants' exploration and engagement with the content. It engages them in making sense of the presenters' insights and measuring them against the experiences of others.  It involves them in answering the "so what? now what?" questions that lead to application and change. And because participants have diverse preferences about how they like to learn, we want to engage them in varying ways as well.

In the next post, I'll examine the concern some presenters have about losing control of the content if they add interaction.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

15 Questions to Liven Up Conference Learning

Conferences can help participants make connections and realize greater value from the learning experiences offered by inviting them to reflect and distill periodically during the event.  below are 15 questions that presenters, sessions moderators, or emcees could draw from to do so during one of your future conferences.

  1. What one thing, as a result of what you just heard, might make the most difference in your organization if it was successfully implemented?
  2. What’s your elevator speech, a headline, or a possible Tweet you could share that would highlight your core learning from this session?
  3. What ideas, practice, or thinking has provoked the strongest negative reaction from you so far? Why is that?  What learning might be waiting for you if you explore your strong reaction a bit more?
  4. Thinking about what was just shared in this session, what’s a small step forward you could easily take, one that would get you in action about a bigger idea or goal you want to pursue?
  5. How will you contribute/are you contributing to others’ learning during sessions? What more might you be able to do?
  6. Great sessions often inspire questions you need to explore further with others. What’s a question that the conference (or this session) has inspired for you so far?
  7. What is a common theme emerging from the sessions you’ve attended and the conversations you’re having? What might it mean for your efforts?
  8. What’s the most provocative perspective or idea you’ve heard so far at the conference? What do you make of it?
  9. How are others’ experiences you’ve heard similar/dissimilar to your own and those in/of your associations? What might that mean?
  10. What, if anything, might you be doing that is getting in the way of your own learning? How can you manage this so that it doesn’t happen?
  11. What’s the conversation you most came here to have with others?
  12. Just like a car needs major maintenance at certainly mileage thresholds, periodically so do are associations need some major work.  Based on what you’re learning at the conference, what major maintenance might your association most need to address?
  13. How are you capturing not only what you are learning, but who you most need to share it with during the conference or after it concludes?
  14. Leaders leave legacies.  Based on what you are learning, what might you now want to add to your legacy as a leader for your association?
  15. What do you still need to learn from the conference and how are you going to ensure you do so in the time remaining?

What are other questions you find helpful to facilitate learning during a conference?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What If Everyone Could Facilitate?

In far too many organizations, facilitation is still seen as something an external consultant or internal manager or leader does instead of a core capacity and contribution that everyone should be capable and confident of making.

I want to change that.

When more people see themselves as capable of being facilitative—whether they are the designated leader of a meeting or conference call or simply contributing as a participant—better results become possible.

I have been teaching others how to facilitate for most of my professional career.  But the number of groups who can bring me in to do such trainings has always been limited by both their budget and my time.  No more.

I've created a Facilitation Fundamentals Training Resource Kit that contains content outlines,
slides, and handout originals for 21 individual content segments.  You can mix and match them in any combination to create your own workshops and training sessions of various lengths.

The content I selected is essential to the work of facilitation.  The formats and exercises I outlined are ones I have honed in dozens of presentations with learners from diverse professions and industries.  In short, the content works and it is what people benefit from learning. 

If you want to enable more people in your organization to see themselves as facilitators and to take greater ownership over the quality of discussions and decisions, I invite you to examine this three-page PDF highlighting:
  1. the 21 content segments in the kit
  2. a sample outline for one segment
  3. sample segment combinations for workshops of various lengths
The complete kit, including a one-hour virtual consultation, is $695, less than the cost of what many organizations charge for a one-day facilitation skills workshop.  You can customize your order and add an additional consultation hour and/or have me present a half-day or full-day in person training using materials from the kit.

If you know you are ready to build the facilitation capacity in your organization, you can place your order here. You will be invoiced following purchase and the materials will be provided once payment is received.

P.S.  I detest blatant self-promotion and rarely use this blog to make offers like this.  Regular topical posts resume immediately.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Resisting the Instinct to Try to Overcome Resistance

How do you overcome resistance to change?

No matter the audience, the profession, or the industry, this has been one of the most common questions I've encountered this year.

Resources that offer insight are abundant.  My sampling of them finds that they tend to focus on how to overcome objections or conquer the resistance.  Anecdotally most, but not all, seem to frame the issue as a win-lose proposition and offer counsel on how to ensure your proposed changes win against those who oppose them.

I once drew heavily on these resources when responding to this frequent query, but lately I've found the framing less helpful and its possible answers too limiting.  A current home renovation has helped reshape my thinking.  Bear with me while I explain.  

I live in a late 1890s home in Chatham Arch (come visit!), a historic district in downtown Indianapolis.  A variety of municipal codes and historic covenants determine the appropriateness of both new construction and changes to the exteriors and ground of existing properties.

Historic district guidelines aren't intended to stop change from happening. They are meant to ensure that any changes implemented preserve what is considered to be essential or appropriate character of the neighborhood and its individual properties.  While many options are available for most changes, I don't have carte blanche to just do anything to the exterior of my home as it stands in relationship with the rest of the neighborhood.  What I do has an effect on my neighbors, as well as the overall character and appearance of our neighborhood, something which affords us a premium on our property values.

That's why my house seemingly has more than one front door.  The "front door" closest to the street is the original door, one that now would open into my master bedroom instead of the original living room.  That door can never be removed because it preserves the clear sense from the street of my home's history.  Subsequent entrance doors and the porch come from a 1950s addition. Would I like to replace the old unused front door with a wall? You bet.  But I live with it as it is because I respect what the guidelines intend to preserve.
How might your conversations change with those individuals you identify as change resistors if you instead thought of them as conservationists or preservationists, individuals with a commitment to preserving something they believe matters a great deal?  What might you learn if you inquired about the meaning they associate with whatever they don't want changed?  What are they concerned might be lost if the proposed changes are implemented?

When I have adopted this mindset in my conversations with "resistors," I've found the discussion feels more welcomed and far less adversarial.  I have heard stories about what people care about and what they don't want to see lost.  And in many cases, I've been able to separate the meaning of what they want to preserve from the form with which they associate it … offering alternatives to how we might incorporate their insights and improve on a proposed change.

Progress and preservation can be complementary if only we take the time to consider both perspectives.  Changing minds sometimes requires honoring hearts.

Additional resource
The language we use and the frames we adopt dramatically influence the choices we make.  I have found How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey useful in helping me think about alternative language and frames. PDF summary here.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Behind the Scenes: Designing an Interactive 60-minute Session

Yesterday, I presented a 60-minute session at ASAE's Marketing, Membership, and Communications Conference in Washington, DC.  After I finished, a participant asked about my session design process as she has to do a similar session in a few weeks.  I thought others might find a behind-the-sscenes look to be of interest.

  • Topic: Cultivating Engagement and Transforming Results Using Lean Principles. Download slides here.
  • Audience: association marketing, membership, and communication professionals; predominantly from associations with 31-50 staff; often in a director-level position; heavy on Millennials and Generation Xers. Some consultants and business partners also likely.
  • Audience size: Unknown in advance as participants select from five options, but my session was assigned to two ballroom sections set in crescent rounds with a capacity around 250. I ended up maxing out my seating with another 10-15 standing at any given time. I had expected 100-120 to attend.
  • Timing: 60-minute concurrent session (11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.) on first day of conference. The day opened with a general session and keynote (9-10 a.m.) followed by the first round of concurrent sessions (10:15-11:15 a.m.). Lunch in the exhibit hall followed my session.
  • Handouts: available online in advance, but I assumed most participants would not download.  I brought copies of my "lab" worksheet so each table would have a couple to work on during the practical application segment. 
  • I've spoken on cultivating engagement before, but never using this content or for this type of audience, so this was a new experience in many ways.
Some of my design thinking considerations and assumptions
  • Attendees will value practical more than theoretical given their organization size and job responsibilities, but will still want some new twist or fresh insight to stimulate new thinking. Conference mantra for education is: Shake up business-as-usual!
  • Because of the diversity of attendees, I should provide options in any practical application exercises so they can do work they find meaningful.
  • Since the session is late in the morning, include some "get up and move" early in the session and a hands-on component in the final third.
  • Create some sort of practical tool or template for participants to use with their colleagues to help inform their actual work after the conference.
  • 60-minutes is short, so my actual presentation segments need to be concise, and I need to plan for overall tighter clock management than usual.
  • Many attending will not know lean principles, so I need to introduce them, but really focus on their application to cultivating member engagement versus fostering a deep understanding of them overall.
 Basic flow for the session

These design thinking considerations and assumptions led me to the following flow and formats for the session:
  • Quick poll: is the session content "need to know" or "nice to know" for you and your organization?  I wanted to get a quick pulse of how serious the need was for people attending, as well as illustrate how insight from a simple question (a point I would stress later in the presentation) can be used immediately.
  • Framing the session: like plated appetizers at a reception where you won't always get the ones you'll like most and you're bound to leave a bit hungry.  I used this analogy to help shape expectations for what I could deliver in 60 minutes.
  • Three major content segments: (1) defining success for cultivating member engagement, (2) introducing lean principles with a practical association example for each, and (3) applying lean principles and our success definition to three association "defining moments" using a worksheet I created.
  • Very brief Q&A (time permitting) and/or me summarizing and reiterating my core thinking.

Learning formats

For content segment #1, I used my multi-stage Prospector approach even though I had never done so in such a short time block.  The format is simple: pose a critical or compelling question, let individuals form their own responses (1-2 minutes); invite them to stand, mix, and mingle one-on-one, sharing their respective responses (4 minutes); return to tables and each share one response or observation from their prospecting (5 minutes).  I like how this approach honors both introverted and extroverted learners, gets people up and moving, and quickly engages them with diverse perspectives.  Plus, since I knew the "lab work" would be done at their tables, I didn't want the opening interaction to only include talking to those same people.

I closed this segment with my own response to the original question posed, framing it as a premise that I believe holds great promise for cultivating member engagement.  Knowing that my assertion would likely differ from much of what was just shared, I invited participants to "try it on for size' during the subsequent work in our session, but to feel free to use their own success definition.

Content segment #2 introducing the five lean principles and a practical example of each was a short presentation segment followed by a couple of minutes of Q&A.  Total time elapsed was about 15 minutes. I chose to illustrate lean principles with actual MM&C conference examples since it would be one experience we would all share.

The third segment, the lab or practical application segment, was introduced as a 10-minute table exercise using my worksheet. Participants could choose both how they would do the work—individually, as one table, or in any combination—and which association defining moment to practice with: you just joined, you just registered for a conference, you just completed a volunteer interest form. Wanting this exercise to both have value and unfold quickly, I first offered (taking about 4 minutes) one possible set of responses to the worksheet categories for someone who just joined an association.  My hope was that this concrete example would accelerate the practical application conversations.

After reconvening people from their small group work, I had 8 minutes remaining, time for three questions and my closing.  Of the unaccounted minutes,  the initial polling and framing of the session used about 7 minutes.  Transitions between segments probably used the others.

What I Would Do Differently

After I get the evaluation feedback, I'll know best how I might modify the session if I ever was to present it again under very similar conditions, but here are my current observations:
  • I feel most of my designing thinking considerations and assumptions were fairly correct and that the general session design was successful in stimulating some fresh thinking and providing a useful tool for attendees to refresh their own efforts in the workplace.
  • I'd probably try to limit and tighten my presentation comments even more in order to sneak in a few more participant questions.
  • I can improve the worksheet based on watching people use it.  I'd add a bit more detail and revise some headings; include the exercise instructions I shared only on a slide; probably include on the worksheet the concrete example I shared verbally as doing so would support visual learners and be available as an ongoing reference; and I'd bring enough copies for every participant.
I hope the participants experienced the session as focused, hands-on, and fast-paced—but not rushed—as that's what all my design planning and prep was intended to create.  While I'd much rather have done this session in a 75- or 90-minute time block, I feel good about what we were able to do in only 60.

I'm happy to answer any questions you might have about this design or designing interactive sessions in general.  Tweet them at me or post them in the comments.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Building Community Takes Time

Getting to know you,
Getting to know all about you.
Getting to like you,
Getting to hope you like me.

—Anna in The King and I

Can we ever learn enough about our friends, work colleagues, or collaborators? Probably not. That's why so many organizations engage in retreats and other teambuilding sessions: to strengthen interpersonal relationships and effectiveness.

When we think about how much time to spend on icebreakers and other teambuilding, the answer should be tied to the nature of the work and the participants doing it as I've written about previously: Given the work we must do, the timeframe for doing it, and the relationships among the people doing the work, what, if any, ice needs to be broken?

But I increasingly worry we treat building community in working groups and teams as a one-time commitment, something we frontload and relegate to the first board meeting or a staff retreat. Then we immediately move on to the real work.  But ongoing work on the quality of relationships is what makes all of the other work possible.  As Daniel Kim so elegantly outlines in his model for organizational success: the quality of relationships is the base (and basis) for the quality of thinking, actions, and results that follow.

If you share my sentiment that learning more about each other needs to be an ongoing and sustained commitment, here are three practical suggestions.

Involve participants in the design and facilitation of any activities.

Too often, team members find icebreakers being done "to them" or "on them" instead of with them.  While it is natural for a CEO, department chair, board president, or external facilitator to lead community-building activities, it in no way is a responsibility they alone own.

Why not rotate the responsibility among all the participants … letting individuals, pairs, or small groups each design and facilitate a community-building activity?  To ensure appropriate continuity among these efforts, engage all participants upfront in a discussion of what they would define as a worthwhile exercise. The simple question found on the nametag at the start of this post is the one I often use to support this exploration.  You may also find it helpful to share a one- or two-page list of resources for icebreaker and teambuilding activities. The side benefit is this helps develop everyone's presentation and facilitation skills.

Leverage the power of one single question.

I frequently facilitate sessions where participants already have good working relationships and our time to deepen them with an intentional activity is limited.  What I have discovered is that one well-crafted question can unleash significant conversation and insight, as well as deepens interpersonal connections.  Building a short list of compelling questions you can turn to is a worthwhile endeavor.  A few that have worked well for me include:
  • Tell me about an experience that significantly shaped your idea of what it means to be a good professional and/or your work ethic.
  • When have you felt most completely in sync and engaged with a group of people? Why? What made that possible?
  • A year from now, after we have spent significant time together, what would I probably have learned about you that would be beneficial for me to know right now?  See this post on creating an owner's manual for yourself for a related, but more substantive activity.
  • What is a misperception or misunderstanding of you that others sometimes have? Why do you think this perception develops?
Ensure that discussions and activities honor both introverts and extroverts.

Even the most gregarious among us can sometimes perceive icebreakers as forced fun.  But trepidation about forced disclosure is often more common among more private or introverted individuals.  When designing a community-building moment, we need to ensure it will not cause any participants to automatically shut down (see this post about challenge and support for more info).

My tactics for doing so include: letting people reflect and write responses on their own before sharing with others; letting people "opt-in" to when they share rather than always going around the room in order; modeling the way with my own responses to show an acceptable level of self-disclosure; and using formats that allow multiple one-one interactions instead of one-many when individuals feel the glare of the spotlight more.

An example of the latter is one of my current favorite activities: Fishing for Feedback.  I deal people a hand of five Go Fish cards (you can use index cards), each affixed with a random adjective.  Participants mix and mingle for about five minutes following the instructions provided.

We then reconvene and individuals share their chosen adjectives, volunteering to do when they are ready.  A brief discussion about the importance of sharing perceptions and feedback often follows.

You can download a PDF of the 80 adjectives I use here.  Simply copy the page on to 80-count return address labels, affix to cards, and you are good to go. A variation I sometimes use is to distribute a full-page of adjective stickers to each participant and then give them a few minutes to affix appropriate adjectives to others' nameplates (on front or perhaps inside where they stay hidden).  Individuals are then invited to simply react to the feedback they just received.

I hope I've convinced you that a continued emphasis on increasing the quality of relationships with our colleagues and collaborators is paramount to long-term success. If you have other approaches you have found successful, please share them in the comments.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Great Opening Sessions Light a Fire

It's the opening general session of a major conference.
What does that session need to do for those in attendance? For the sponsoring organization?

I've been thinking a lot about this after delivering the keynote at a fair number of opening sessions this year.  Too often general sessions feel like generic sessions, defaulting to a very tired template: Welcome. Announcements. Parade of insider talking heads. Sponsor thanks. Some awards. Keynote speaker. Dismissal.

Great opening sessions require a far more strategic and intentional design, one that embraces their significant role in an event's rhythm and the attendees' experience of value.

I'd like to suggest that a great opening session is an accelerant. It takes the natural kindling of participants' desires—to connect, to learn, to conduct business, to find solutions, to celebrate—and turns it into a roaring bonfire.  Sponsoring organizations need to consider
  • this mix of potential participant needs and aspirations; 
  • if some are more valued by their attendees (hopefully, a data-driven insight); 
  • what general session formats and components can accelerate participants receiving real value for each of the desires being addressed in the session design; and
  • how every single component of the session design and logistics can be tweaked or reinvented to be a greater accelerant.
Every. Single. Component.
Every. Single. Decision.
Designed, not defaulted to standard practice.

A few examples:
  • Accelerate community-building by sectioning off seating (by geography, functional responsibilities, organizational size, et al) so people can opt to be near like-minded colleague.
  • Accelerate learning by having multiple speakers addressing core topics or critical issues in shorter formats (IGNITE, Pecha Kucha, TED, et al).
  • Accelerate both recognition and learning by honoring accomplishments in a way that both celebrates the award recipient, but also makes explicit what other attendees can learn and apply from their efforts.
  • Accelerate connections by facilitating introductions at the onset and having participants join with a few others to discuss a non-threatening, but compelling question. My current favorite:  What is an experience that has significantly influenced your idea of what it means to be a good professional?
  • Accelerate learning by having a reactor panel of industry pros who comment on and engage with the thinking of a traditional opening keynote speaker if you have one ... connecting the speakers ideas to specific practical application opportunities.
  • Accelerate solution-finding with a running slide deck as people arrive, one that spotlights common challenges and organizational resources or member solutions. Or post a common challenge and let people text or Tweet a solution with responses displayed in real-time.
The possibilities are endless if you take the time to apply a simple, but powerful principle: design your opening general session to be an accelerant for the value participants seek.

What are example have you seen that accelerate learning, connections, and celebration in an opening general session?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Help Your Presenters Embrace Diversity and Inclusion

Note: I wrote the following article for ASAE-The Center for Association Leadership, and it was published on April 6 in their Associations Now Plus members-only resource. It is used here with permission and ASAE retains the copyright.
 A full commitment to diversity and inclusion means that an association’s educational programming—and the speakers providing it—reflect the learning community. Here are some practical steps associations can take to help presenters prepare sessions that reject assumptions about the audience and meet diverse attendee needs.

Association resource materials for speakers traditionally include key dates and deadlines, room and AV logistics, and suggestions for slide and handout presentation. Some also include basic tips on adult learning and how to create more engaging and interactive sessions.

Yet additional guidance in a critical area too often is missing: designing for the composition and culture of your learning community. Although this may be particularly valuable to presenters from outside your organization, even internal subject-matter experts can benefit from more specific instruction on how to design and deliver a session that not only is inclusive of the diverse participants they will address, but also reflects a genuine commitment to diversity and inclusiveness as core values. Learners want to both see themselves and hear themselves reflected in session content and delivery. 

Here are a few examples of what associations are doing to help presenters prepare.

Guidance and Orientation

LeadingAge Illinois, like some associations, includes a brief statement in their speaker guidelines “to sensitize speakers to the potential diversity in the audience.” It urges speakers to review their course content and style for inclusive language, professional content versus personal beliefs, and potential sexist, discriminatory, or similarly insensitive language.

Presenter standards from the Promotional Products Association International also include advice on introducing panelists in a non-sexist manner and avoiding visual aids that show people in stereotypical roles. The latter echoes encouragement from the LeadingAge Illinois statement to “make no assumptions about those in the group other than a common interest in the content area delineated in the printed meeting materials.”

One way to prevent speakers from making assumptions about attendees is to provide them an accurate profile of their audience. No doubt you orient new employees to key elements of your profession or industry, demographic data about your membership, and some of the cultural norms that may be unique to your organization. Speakers would benefit from the same insights.

As a presenter, I find it useful to also receive detailed event or conference profiles that provide similar information for the specific conference community. Several years ago, I benefited from conversations with staff at the Foundation to Prevent Blindness about what types of visuals I could use effectively given the range of sightedness in the audience. Based on their guidance, I included more and differently designed visuals than I would otherwise have used.

Other orientation materials could include
  • a glossary of key terms and acronyms to use (as well as ones to avoid) and other tips on appropriate language.
  • insights about learner preferences that you have gleaned from previous evaluations.
  • a brief overview of the current environment for your profession or industry (trends, challenges, opportunities) to help presenters customize content with the most relevant examples for your current context.  
Speakers can be more inclusive of diverse attendee needs and interests when you provide specific information to help shape what to include and what to exclude in their content and delivery.

Broadening Participant Perspectives

To help its subject-matter experts and other presenters infuse equity and inclusion into their conference presentations, ACPA-College Student Educators International created a guide, 10 Steps for Designing and Facilitating Inclusive Presentations at Conventions/Conferences, and addressed the steps in speaker-prep webinars. Dr. Kathy Obear, a diversity educator and organizational development consultant who led the development team for the guidelines, describes them as a “proactive step to help presenters develop formats, curriculum, and facilitator techniques to better meet the needs of an increasingly diverse membership.” 

While the ACPA guidelines help prepare speakers to design more inclusive sessions, Obear says they also are intended to “help facilitators infuse issues and images in presentations that help participants deepen their multicultural competencies and challenge implicit, unconscious bias.” In other words, presenter preparation should include planning how to help learners broaden, deepen, and be more inclusive of the perspectives that they themselves consider.

Doing so is both art and science. Associations should engage speakers in sharing advice with each other about strategies they use to challenge the potentially limiting perspectives of participants on ways that facilitate growth and learning.

A Self-awareness Checklist

In my undergraduate coursework as an English major, one of my instructors taught my class to proof our work seven times, each time focusing on a specific variable: tone; spelling, grammar, and punctuation; cohesiveness of argument; and so on. Associations looking to help busy presenters design and deliver more inclusive presentations may be wise to create a similar checklist, one that includes such proofing criteria as inflammatory or unhelpful language, diversity of content sources referenced and examples offered, visual portrayal of people and groups in materials, and presenter confirmation bias. Until diversity in presentation design and delivery is your default, a checklist is a helpful tool to make sure you aren’t missing a critical program enhancement.

Other presenter support—such as webinars, online resource centers, and speaker coaching—can address these same opportunities but in more specific ways. To make tangible improvements in their programs, analytical and more detailed-oriented presenters will appreciate having “before and after” examples of infusing inclusion into a session design, a particular teaching technique, or even a slide. 

Finally, associations should consider including a speaker-prep workshop at their conferences to continually build the capabilities and confidence of their members to be better presenters and learning facilitators.

The Person Behind the Presenter

Statements, tips, and checklists can definitely enhance a speaker’s presentation mechanics so that sessions better exemplify an inclusive design. But every presenter is also a person, and for these mechanics to have authentic meaning presenters may need to do their own inner work related to diversity and inclusion. 

That work has value beyond the conference itself. As Obear aptly notes, “Most organizations are preparing members to serve increasingly diverse populations locally, nationally, and globally, so their members may want more knowledge and skills for better serving others across all group identities.” Evidence that an association is truly committed to equity and inclusion should include support and learning opportunities for the person, the professional, and the presenter.