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Monday 26 October 2009

Facilitating the unplannable

(aka, my view of how my "Getting People Onside" workshop at LIANZA09 went. I've written before about planning and about rehearsing this workshop.)

  • A set of slides to structure my intro/warm-up

  • a bunch of topics on A3 paper for people to cluster around and discuss

  • an egg-timer to keep track of time with

  • a bell to ring to prompt people to move between topics every ten minutes

  • a box to collect email addresses in for those who wanted to join a mailing list to continue the conversation after conference

The conference organisers arranged for the room to be rearranged beforehand from "theatre-style" to "cabaret-style", which terminology provided a certain amount of mirth to my colleagues in the days leading up to conference. We ended up with nine tables, each furnished with chairs, mints, and writing pads. I estimate about 60 people turned up, which was a great number.

I started off by introducing where I was coming from with this topic - basically that conference tends to give you all kinds of great ideas, except that you can have all the good ideas in the world, but if you're not prepared and able to deal with the various obstacles/resistance to change then they may well sink without a trace; so this was a time to think positively and brainstorm about how to be prepared.

We did some warm-ups next. First, the "Mexican Wave" - because we didn't have time to introduce 60+ people, I got people to just call out their first name as my arm swept around the room, and then we repeated that with a couple of other simple questions. It didn't go as fast as I'd intended: partly because the shape of the room made it unclear where my finger was pointing, partly because we all fell into turn-taking mode instead of the babbling whoosh I'd envisioned, and I wasn't confident enough to really get more energy in there. But it still worked and I think achieved its purpose; certainly when we moved on to brainstorming how to respond to the "50 Reasons Not to Change", everyone was quite happy to participate.

And then we split into 10-minute groups. Well, actually 9 minutes for each one, because I had a close eye on my timer. :-) I kept the 'ground rules' up on the slides during these, following a suggestion from the rehearsal. I sort of hovered and spent a few minutes at each table, occasionally sticking my oar in but mostly just listening, and it was all very cool. Some of the keywords I'd come up with as conversation starters were interpreted differently by the participants than how I'd intended them, but that didn't matter in the slightest of course. During the last 10 9 minutes I passed around my box for email addresses.

Finally we spent five minutes getting someone at each table to report back a highlight or two; and then some kind soul helped me gather all the notes people made while brainstorming, which I've now duly transcribed.

I was really happy with how it went, which of course is all down to everyone's participation - it was exactly what I'd hoped for when I proposed the session.