Hi. I'm Jeffrey Cufaude.

I believe deeply that the communities of which we are part are resource-full, but we must be more resourceful in how we invite and engage individuals to be caring contributors and learners. My past experience as executive director of two national associations and as a student affairs staff member at two large public universities has informed much of my subsequent 20+ years as a facilitator, strategist, leadership conference designer, consultant, and speaker.

Five Principles for Better Webinars

It’s a Webinar World. We just live in it. 

It sure feels that way, right?

Current conditions have led organizations to exponentially increase the volume of webinars they present to members and customers. As you might expect, the value provided varies widely.

As someone who presents (and participates in) a lot of webinars, I have some simple tips that might help make yours better. My advice is not comprehensive; rather it reflects a few key principles I find helpful as a Webinar Warrior (that’s a thing, right?). 

1. Don’t make presenters multi-task. 

When attention is divided; value is diluted. Few presenters can simultaneously deliver quality content, attend to informal messages from the webinar host, and engage with the participant chat. No one should have to do so. 

Solution: Prerecord the presentation segment(s) of the webinar. This has several advantages:

  • Speaker(s) focused only on presenting great content.
  • You can re-record a segment if something isn’t right.
  • Graphics and other enhancements can be added in post-production, if desired.
  • It reduces challenge of speaker tech problems when presenting live.

2. Create greater content clarity. 

Do freely brainstorm all of what you COULD present, but then edit ruthlessly to distill the specifics into a handful (4-6) overarching themes or branches upon which you’ll hang the rest of your content. 

A simple structure—exploring a limited number of key points—helps participants follow along and reinforces what you most want participants to remember. 

Like the old five-paragraph essay, having your webinar preview the content, deliver the content, and review the content can increase the value it delivers.

Finally, federal law does not mandate webinars must be 60 minutes in length.  Shorter webinars (30-45 minutes) with concentrated content also work well. And for a one-hour webinar, I always start at five minutes after the hour to allow people coming from commitments ending on the hour to arrive.

3. Involve more people in the webinar management. 

Whether or not your prerecord content segments, you should involve more people in webinar management. Instead of one or two webinar generalists, consider a team of webinar specialists, each having one specific function: 

Marcus: Moderator 
Marcus is the primary liaison to the presenter(s) and helps open and close the session. 

Terry: Tech Support 
Terry’s sole job is to answer participants; tech-related questions. This should be done via participant messages to Terry, not in the main chat window. That window is reserved for content-related chat. 

Wendy and Wesley: Welcome Wagon 
This duo is the engine for warmth and community, greeting people by name when they arrive for the webinar and inviting them to get ready to learn. 

Carmine, Chris, and Coby: Conversation Catalysts 
Conversation Catalysts ensure your webinar has no dead air. They are on alert to pose questions if none are asked, engage early in the chat in response to presenter questions posed, and build on other participants’ chat contributions to extend the conversation.

Each of these roles is a great micro-volunteering opportunity for members of your organization. 

4. Make it easier for participants to engage. 

Webinar design must effectively facilitate understanding, learning, and application.

At its root, facilitation means one simple thing: actions that make it easier.  Effective webinars intentionally design a learning experience that makes it easier for participants to get what they need and put it to use.  Consider doing the following:

  • Draw on diverse voices and perspectives in the sources drawn from, the examples shared, and the voices amplified. I like to include short video segments featuring individuals with different backgrounds or perspectives sharing a quick case study or featuring a brief Q&A.
  • Toggle content between theory-practice, ideas-action, strategy-tactics, and general-specific. You’ll likely have participants with varied learning preferences and needs. Ensure your content and presentation covers the spectrum.
  • Use the poll function to assess learning. Polls can be used effectively in several places: at the start as a “pre-test,” throughout the webinar to assess needs or facilitate content application, and/or at the end as a review. Announce a response rate goal to prod recalcitrant folks to engage.
  • If your platform allows, use breakout rooms to let participants go deeper. Use breakouts to allow all participants to explore the same question in smaller groups, different groups/rooms explore different questions, or for "like-minded" participants (organization type, role or responsibility, et al) to freely discuss with each other.
5. Use information wayfinding in your design. 

Web sites create clear content architecture that makes it easier for site visitors to find what they seek and know where they are. Your webinar design should do the same.
  • Use the same font, colors, and/or images or graphic icons to distinguish different content segments.
  • Consider adding musical alerts or transitions to introduce chat, polling, or other participant engagement opportunities. Very inexpensive sound files ($5-$25) can be purchased from sites like 123rf.
  • Provide in advance a learning/notetaking worksheet to facilitate engagement. It could be a text outline, a mindmap, or a visual facilitation summary. If possible, use your color and image wayfinding choices here as well.
  • Provide time/topic bookmarks for your archived webinars.
Need help designing or presenting webinars or face-to-face learning experiences? 

Preparing for Precipitating Events

Home Depot.  USPS.  U-Haul.  Lowes.  AT&T.  

When infrequent exchanges with these companies become almost daily interactions it can only mean one thing:  you're moving and are involved in a home renovation.

It’s amazing how one decision leads to a cascade of consequences and perhaps more importantly to a dramatic change in your routine.  When that first domino falls …

From the day you put your house on the market, a constant stream of promotional offers from moving companies and other related entities will arrive.  These companies discover you as a new prospect and respond accordingly.

Surprisingly though during my last home renovation, when my Home Depot and Lowes trips moved from every few months to every few days, neither of those companies changed how they engaged with me.

Behold: the power of the precipitating event.  How do you or your organization respond to them when they occur in your members’ or customers’ lives?  With a designed intervention and offer or benign indifference?  

Pattern recognition is a key element of systems thinking, but too many organizations don't put systems in place to recognize them or spot changes in them and then respond accordingly.

When I listen to association staff members talk about member data, they tend to slice and dice us by typical demographic demarcations: age, career stage, gender, etc.  That’s fine and sometimes useful, but it neglects the other opportunities that precipitating events offer to be of value.
  • Move into a middle management position and you immediately need an entire new suite of professional development offerings.
  •  Move to a new city and you would immediately value getting connected to your new community of colleagues.
  •  Switch professions and you’re likely to need a fast foundation in the new landscape in which you’ll be working.
  •  Decide you want to sell your business and/or retire and you’ll want to hear from others who have already done the same thing.
  • When a major crisis occurs you want to implement a tried and true response plan. 
  • Get laid off and you will want to leverage a variety of career-related resources.
The irony (to me at least) is that we know these events are going to occur in the lives of our customers and members, so we can easily bundle what they might value when they happen.  

What we don’t know is when they are going to occur.  As a result, we must have these offerings always visible (I’ve rarely seen web links related to the events I described above), as well as develop better signaling mechanisms to alert us of the changes and the opportunity to be of service.

Precipitating events change patterns of behavior.  

Smart companies and associations will appropriately attempt to convert this temporary change into a more long-term and sustainable connection.   Yet far too few are ready to act when the first domino falls.  Are you?

What are other precipitating events when associations 
would definitely be of increased value to their members?

Tips for Facilitating Conversation About Big Ideas and Innovations

I love to facilitate conversations and sessions that explore big ideas and possible innovations.  Reflecting on previous efforts I designed and led reminded me of some common sense tips about what they require.  The list below is not all-inclusive, but highlights some of the core considerations.

Image source unknown.
1. Determine the right time and environment. Participants need the right mental and physical space to think differently and more expansively.  Block sufficient time and create an environment conducive to sharing ideas, sketching possibilities, and that honors both introverted and extroverted processes and contributions:  Intimate and flexible space; flipcharts, whiteboards, or walls covered with IdeaPaint; food, music, and props to sustain the energy; modeling clay and other prototyping supplies.

2. Articulate the purpose and define success. Skeptics and fans alike need to understand just what the conversation is intended to produce in order to contribute appropriately.  It's hard to do the what if you don't understand the why.  Clarify the problem to be solved and/or the opportunity to be leveraged.

3. Put the conversation in context. Don't make innovation something that occurs outside of your organization's regular efforts.  Connect conversations about ideas and innovations to your ongoing development of programs and services and incorporate these discussions into your regular planning routines.

4. Leverage pre-work. To stimulate everyone's best thinking, provide core background information and a few compelling questions in advance that session participants can mull over. While some people think fast in the moment, others contribute best when they have had time on their own to reflect.  Design for both as best as you can both before and during the actual session.

5. Clarify the terms and process to be used. People need to understand the rules of
engagement, whatever they are determined to be, as well as terms likely to be thrown about including creativity, innovation, value, et al.

6. Create, critique, construct. Remember these three types of thinking (usually attributed to Edward deBono) and make sure your process addresses them in this order:
  • Expansive, divergent thinking exploring what's desirable and/or possible; 
  • Convergent, narrowing thinking selecting which ideas to advance using shared criteria for evaluation all the possibilities; and
  • Getting in action and determining and constructing rapid prototypes to test the chosen ideas with actual users.
7. Facilitate assertively when needed. What I routinely witness when facilitating ideation and innovation conversations is that participants too quickly abandon the stated process and move straight to problem-solving and implementation.  Don't let that happen.  Ensure people dwell longer in possibilities and more expansive thinking. Clarify upfront with participants that you will be assertive in not letting them step too quickly into critical thinking.

8. Let user behavior be a catalyst. Thomas Stat, formerly with IDEO's Chicago office,
reminds us that innovation often begins with behavior, not pre-determined ideas.  If you carefully observe member or customer behavior without judgment and with deep empathy (try this IDEO exercise on Creating Empathy Maps), the rich story their actions tell will instruct you on where innovation may be needed.

9. Use disruptive premises to evoke creative possibilities. Once you've identified the opportunity areas to pursue, use disruptive hypotheses or unreasonable provocations as suggested by Luke Williams in his book Disrupt. Ensure the questions posed for exploration are "beautiful" as Warren Berger defines in his book A More Beautiful Question Doing so will help shift the subsequent creative thinking away from the traditional solutions and into potentially more inventive and interesting areas.

10. Introduce cross-disciplinary ideas and thinking.  Chances are others may already have generated ideas or solutions that you could adopt in principle and/or adapt in practice.  Solicit insights and resources (and challenge participants to do the same) drawn from outside the organization, profession, or industry.

11. Listen for concepts behind ideas.  No matter how assertively you facilitate the process, our inner critics emerge too quickly in the discussions.  When you hear people reacting negatively about a specific idea (example: there should be set office hours), identify its underlying concept (example: flexible work schedules) and ask what other ideas people might that relate to it. This keeps the creative energy moving forward and is a technique called Concept Fan by Edward DeBono. Watch a short Prezi on the concept fan process.

12. Identify opportunities to experiment.  Seeking small wins (James Kouzes and Barry Posner).  Try stuff to learn what works (Jim Collins).  Making little bets (Peter Sims).  Normal innovations, not just blockbusters (Rosabeth Moss Kanter). Name your innovation guru and each has his or her own way of trying to quickly get us in action and in the process of discovery.  Instead of trying to 100% plan our way to success, we need to move quickly from planning to playing with some of the possibilities we have identified.

13. Your choice. What is a relevant principle or practice your experience suggests should be added to this list?


Looking for sample outlines and activities to facilitating big conversations about ideas and innovations?  This PDF contains dozens that I created for ASAE's InnovationTalks. 

Contact me here if I can design and facilitate an ideation/innovation session for your org (or help you design and prepare to facilitate one yourself). 

This is an update of an earlier post.  

Toward Less Painful Panels

I attended a panel discussion recently that could have been a much more powerful learning experience.  An inadequate session design and a limiting room set shackled the interesting panelists.  Panels are always tricky, but they are a staple of industry conferences, so it is high time we made them more compelling. 

How Panels Commonly Unfold
Marketing for most panel discussions highlights the topic, maybe the questions that will be explored, and the panelists who will speak.  The actual programs usually begin with logistics announcements, promotional info, and introductions of each panelist.  At the program I recently attended this ate up 20% of the session time block: unacceptable.

A moderator then poses a question and often each panelist responds.  Better moderators help connect individual responses and/or offer some thoughtful follow-up questions or comments.  This is repeated numerous times for the bulk of the program and then the floor is opened for Q&A. Generally only a handful of people in the room get to pose a question.  

In this framework, I feel lucky as a participant if I get 2-3 insights to take away when much more is possible in a 90-minute session.  Plus the format is repetitive and flat, leaving audience members sitting passively for far too long and then only giving a few individuals a chance to pose questions.

What Panels Could (Should) Be

As a learner I want to hear the equivalent of content concentrate not diluted generalities ... insightful and provocative comments from a diverse (that's a key word) mix of panelist perspectives and experience a lively conversation among audience members and the panelists.  Ideally it feels free-flowing instead of the slow staccato rhythm many panels engender.  

Much can be improved in moderator and panelists prep.  While Guy Kawasaki and others have offered great tips on being a better panelist, we really need to rethink the conditions in which panelists and audience members are placed.  Otherwise we are just making the best of a less than ideal situation. 

We must better equip the audience to engage and interact. 

Get likely attendees in the conversation sooner by having panelists share some of their ideas/content  (1) in the marketing materials, and (2) in a panel preview.  By including a key insight or assertion from each panelist in the marketing material, you can arouse more interest (and probably attendance) than just the usual listing of names and titles.  It promotes a flavor of the conversation that might unfold instead of just the credentials of those conversing.

A panel preview should then be shared fairly close to the panel date, offering each panelist an expanded—though still concise—platform to share more views.  The preview could be a short YouTube video, a few slides with synched audio, a couple of social share, or a PDF file with brief written commentary.  The goal is to seed the conversation in advance so that it can begin immediately when the program starts.

Participants should Tweet or submit questions and reactions based on this advance sharing of content.  The panel I attended said no one did so for their discussion, but I cannot find anywhere that we were invited to contribute ... not in the marketing and not in my confirmation, two places where that invitation should be prominently displayed.  

Questions and comments could again be collected on-site using social media or being written on index cards.  Heck, let's have people write them on sheets of paper, crumple them up, and then throw them at panelists to get the energy level higher in the room.  Whatever it takes.  Let's get as many voices into the conversation even if they are "voiced" by the moderator on behalf of the participants. 

We have to design the format and the room for conversation not exposition.

Panel room sets are as predictable and outdated as wood paneling in your basement.  Both need to be replaced and refreshed.  Straight-line seating on risers immediately leads to personal pontification delivered from one to the masses.  And when you are a panelist on a stage, it's difficult to connect with people seated parallel to you, individuals you can't even look at directly.
  • Let's try setting a room fishbowl with the panelists in a center circle, facing each other in a conversational boxing ring.  Include extra chairs among the panelists that audience members can claim to briefly join the conversation.   
  • How about a fashion show set with panelists roaming the runway sharing their viewpoints with each other and the participants?
  • Maybe mimic the House of Commons environment and have panelists take center stage on all four sides, facing each other and surrounded by audience members. 
  • Or let them really get on their soapbox and stand on soapboxes stationed among the audience members and recalling the town criers of yore. 
  • If you must use a traditional room set, at least launch the program with each panelist using Pecha Kucha or an Ignite format to introduce all of their thinking ideas in 6 minutes or less and then open the floor for facilitated conversation.
When I attend a panel, I come to learn from the experts, not just listen to them.  It's time we design for an engaging conversation, one that our current mindset and room set rarely allow.

P.S.  About panelist intros.  I don't want to listen to them voice basic biographical info that I could be given in writing or that could be displayed on the screen.  Let them share something personal, something that allows us to connect to them as people instead of their resumes.

This is an update of an earlier post.

Thinking Differently About Volunteering

I think we need to reframe the way many organizations currently view volunteers. They see it as something that only “some people” may do. But as The Decision to Volunteer noted, many members say they are volunteering in ways beyond how the board often defines volunteer involvement (positions, formal service, etc.).

What if we think of volunteering as something everyone should do because it is one of the most significant ways to build a strong professional network, to connect more to the professional community in general, and to receive more value from being a member?

That’s how most highly engaged volunteers would describe their experience: you get more when you give more.

If we start with this premise: everyone will want to (or should want to) volunteer, we would enact a very different method of invitation and engagement:
  • The membership application would solicit your volunteer interests and the talents and time you have available to contribute. 
  • You’d be contacted personally within a set time (say 5 business days) to extend an invitation to contribute. 
  • We’d look for more real-time micro-volunteering opportunities during major events like annual meetings. 
In short, we would organize the enterprise for 100% volunteering.

Would we achieve it? Probably not. But in creating the system to enable and support it, we would most likely diversify the number and perspectives of people volunteering and the ways in which they contribute.

And we could also more intentionally engage non-members in connecting with and contributing to the community in limited, ad hoc, volunteer responsibilities as a means of diversifying our membership recruitment efforts and results. “Come initially to contribute on an issue you care about. Then join and stay for the community and content."

If we want to achieve radically different results, then we need to start with radically different premises and assumptions.

Seven Questions to Move Things Forward

If a picture is worth a thousand words, some words combine to create very valuable picture in the form of questions, ones that consistently help a group get unstuck and make decisions leading to better results.

While the seven I offer below from my facilitation experience may not have the sheen of Peter Drucker's The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization, each one has proven invaluable time and time again in helping people accomplish more.
  1. What is it that we believe we are here to do today?
  2. What holds us back from what we know needs to be done, and how can we eliminate or minimize how it constrains us?
  3. What are the most important results we need to achieve (for this effort)?
  4. What other perspectives or opinions might enhance our discussions and/or with whom do we need to share what we talked about today?
  5. What is most important for us to discuss, but people might be unwilling or unlikely to bring up?
  6. Where do we have agreement about what needs to be done, and how can we build on that to get in action and move forward?
  7. What is the most significant commitment to act that we can all make with conviction right now?
I generally try to surface participants' responses in a transparent way with each individual sharing his/her own perspective.  In some limited cases though, the only way the answers can comfortably be shared is if the process is anonymous.   In those instances, I distribute index cards and have participants write their responses.  I then verbalize each one to the group. Some of the questions certainly could be surveyed anonymously in advance.

While anonymous input surfaces the content for further conversation (a critical short-term win), the fact remains that people didn't feel comfortable sharing their opinions outright (a critical long-term need)To address this I almost always engage the group in a discussion of that reality by posing an additional question when the timing seems right:  What would need to change in order for everyone to feel comfortable owning and freely sharing their opinions instead of having to contribute them without attribution?

What other questions have you found really help a group with its work?


Looking to enhance your facilitation skills (or know someone who is)?
Let me help.