Practical ideas for facilitating workshops & people development

Archive for June, 2013

Building rapport … and sheep?

2013-04-20 11.44.12What does shifting a mob of sheep and building rapport with a group have in common? Good question!

I am often asked how to build rapport with a group of people … and have been reflecting on how I do this when facilitating.

From my childhood I shifted sheep on the family farm with my parents and continue to do so with my husband Bill. We were bringing the sheep home for shearing a few months ago … a good time to reflect and think. I was observing the mob, watching for the leaders, preparing for the break away when we got to gate and keeping eye contact with the “rogue” who was waiting for the opportunity to lead the others off in the wrong direction.

Powers of observation built up from childhood – scanning and watching for body language, making eye contact when required to hold attention, looking out for the signs of discomfort, boredom or time for a rest… developed subconsciously over many years. Skills learnt in one situation, which perhaps I have taken for granted, and applied to a different situation with equal success.

Just like the sheep groups of people will often have the rapport leader, the one the others copy and take the lead from. If you have the opportunity to sit an observe a group watch for the matching and mirroring of gestures and body language. The person leading is most often unaware of the role they are playing. When the facilitator is also in rapport with the this person the rapport is developed more quickly with the group. Being in rapport provides the opportunity to really connect with people, enhancing the whole learning process.

To develop the your skills of observation take some time out when catching public transport or take time to sit and watch large groups of people, look for the body language – train you eye to pick up on the signs of frustration, boredom and interest.

When at the front of the room it’s important to be present for the group, silence the “voice in your head” and be there for the group, watch for their signals. After a while this becomes innate and without realising it we are picking up the vibes of the group. If you are co-facilitating check in with each other about what you are each picking up from the group and reflect with each other afterwards about the rapport.

Go beyond merely communicating to ‘connecting’ with people. Jerry Bruckner

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“Being up the front”

IMG_3930Being in front of groups of people can be a daunting place until we get used to it. This blog aims to provide a few tips to think about when you “up the front”.

  • Be aware of your body language and what you are portraying to the group. As scary as it might seem being videoed while presenting or facilitating gives you a really good concept of what people see from the other side.
  • Move around the room with purpose.
  • Moving towards people who talk too much can help to quieten them down.
  • Make eye contact with your participants. Connect with each of them many times
  • Keep your body still – don’t sway, step back and forth or overuse body movements.
  • Use gestures to make a point, once again with purpose and intent. If you are the type of person who talks with their hands be aware of this and manage your gestures.
  • Be aware of what you do with your hands, putting them on your hips can be confronting to people. I often hold a marker pen as this makes me aware of my hands and stops my tendency for putting them on my hips or over gesturing.
  • Let your passion about the topic or activity show. Passion provides energy for the group and is contagious.
  • Breathe … while this might sound so simple when we are under pressure we often “shallow breathe” which makes us more up tight. Do some deep breathing exercises before you start and if you feel yourself getting up tight take a moment and breathe deeply. I remember clearly one of my first public speaking occasions where I started to speak and suddenly had a terrible headache … I had stopped breathing. I rushed through the experience and left feeling very unhappy with my presentation, if only I had remembered to breathe!
  • There are lots of great books about presenting to groups which provide useful tools for managing nerves.

The most powerful public speaking training I ever experienced was with a wonderful woman called Tessa Bremner. Tessa has trained politicians to make speeches in parliament and comes from a background in Theatre  Tessa facilitated training for several groups of rural women I was working with, she made the training fun and interactive. It was amazing to see the growth and development of skills of the women in only one day. Other than breathing and warming up before presenting, the tip I always carry with me from Tessa is to create a circle of light. Imagine a circle of light on the floor where you will stand, step into that circle and stand tall, imagine the circle is safe and provides confidence to you in your role. While working in the circle nothing else matters except the role you are in at the time.

Connect with your participants, spend time establishing the group at the beginning of the session to help you establish connection. I like to feel like I am member of the group who is guiding them through a process.

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