Practical ideas for facilitating workshops & people development

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Extension virtually

In this time of Covid19 we are all looking for ways to deliver our traditional extension services in the virtual world. I’ve had lots of discussions about the possibilities and to make extension effective. A time of challenge results in change so let’s stop and think about how we can do this really really well and enhance our extension tools rather than just replace what we would have done with another on-line seminar talking at people! 

I thought I would share a few of my tips to assist with the planning and creativity. Remember engagement and learning is key so think “interactive”, take a “I’m experimenting” approach and keep it simple.

  • Define the workshop outcomes and then design the best approach, just like you would if you were face to face. Don’t get caught up in the excitement of the “virtual tools”, make them work for you. Good quality capacity building/ extension principles should apply regardless of the delivery medium
  • Resist using the word “virtual” in your promotion or title, the learning outcome is key, the virtual bit is a by-product of the times we find ourselves in.
  • Aim for small groups ie 12 people
  • Use an interactive approach – farmers like to learn from farmers and attend events to catch up with each other as much as they do the content. 
  • Set up the “How we will work together” so everyone knows how to use the mute button, put up their hand, use the chat box etc. 
  • As with any session facilitation principles apply – ask everyone to introduce themselves, use a short icebreaker. 
  • Ensure you use very very good power point presentations – maximum number of photo’s, minimum words and content –  As Peter Newman always tells me “the information comes out of the presenters mouth not the slides”.
  • 90 min chunks of time on-line is enough for each sitting (plan for 60 and allow 90 for flexibility, technology challenges and good interaction)
  • If the focus is delivery of content – aim for 15 mins of delivery followed by interaction/ discussion/ questions.
  • Use Breakout rooms so smaller groups can “make meaning” of the content they have heard and then come back with questions or comments to the whole group. Breakout rooms can be managed by an Agronomist/ facilitator who has pre-determined questions to guide the smaller conversations.
  • Don’t be afraid of sending people off to find something in the field, taking photo’s and send it in for review. Short video’s also work well, use the phone – it’s not about high quality -its about engagement. 
  • Use the Chatbox, encourage people to post comments, questions and share experiences. Save the chat and use this to provide follow up on a discussion forum or email.
  • Have a facilitator to work with the presenter, they can monitor the chatbox, assist with technology and keep close track of the time.
  • There are some great tools to assist with the virtual environment, use the ones that add to your event, be wary of cluttering or confusing with too many tools.  

Coo-ee Collective

COO-EE-Main-Version1Living in the country for most of life I have often been envious of the professional development opportunities and professional association meetings available to my city counterparts. The ability to finish work and join an event with like minded professionals when you work in regional areas requires planning, travel and time.

For years I have been using web based “on line rooms” to deliver training, facilitate and run meetings with regional participants. My first attempt was in the early 2000’s when we ran a Government funded trial using the school of the air system to provide training for rural women in South Australia. The success of this pilot and the seeing the excitement for women being given an opportunity from the home office inspired me to persist with the technology – which still often lets us down.

As the technology is getting cheaper, easier and more accessible to use I have decided to combine my passion for mentoring and developing people with this virtual technology.

And so the Coo-ee Collective has been founded! Initially Coo-ee will focus on providing virtual mentoring for groups of people in agriculture and regions, other products will be added over time.

Our pilot mentoring group is well underway with seven rural women from across Australia and one from New Zealand meeting once a month to provide support, inspiration and share ideas with each other. Susie Green from SA is one of the participants – her comments are below…

“Coo-ee Collective has overcome geographical barriers to provide me with a unique opportunity to connect with like-minded rural women from across Australia and New Zealand. It provides a safe, structured and supportive environment to share experiences and emotions without judgement, competition or jealousy. It allows participants to be vulnerable without fear of shame and support each other as we work through challenges.” – Susie Green

For more information about Coo-ee Collective follow us on Facebook  and to sign up for our newsletter 


Childlike Learning

12659575_10208358894587816_1720965870_nIn 2013 I wrote a blog about learning a new skill and related it to my attempts to learn to ski. Well I’ve been back in the snow – this time to South Korea at Yongpong reluctantly having another attempt to ski.

Sitting at the bottom of the slopes in the morning watching I reflected on what I learnt last time, three years ago. I’ve only had one practice for an afternoon in those three years in NZ so my skills have not improved greatly!

Two things came to mind

  1. The importance of practice – not surprisingly! As adults we often attend a training course and expect to walk out the door with all the skills to take on something new. In reality training course open our eyes to all there is to know about the topic and we often leave feeling like we have a whole new journey ahead. The only way to integrate these new skills into our subconscious is to practice, practice and practice some more. We also need good constructive feedback from someone we trust who has the skills we are looking to gain, someone who is able to not only “do” the skill but also able to teach. Who can you find to mentor you to fast track those new skills?
  2. The ability to be vulnerable and even “childlike” when learning something new. Being prepared to behave like a child and let go of our adult preconceived ideas – learn in a child like way. Be vulnerable – who cares if we get it wrong, it looks funny, we are not perfect or even hopeless when we start‽ (Like me on the skis) The only person that really gets concerned about this is us. Change the frame of mind to one of “this is fun and it doesn’t matter as long as I’m learning.”

2015 was a very full year for me and something had to give. Unfortunately that something was my blog. 2016 is shaping up to be similar to 2015. I will endeavour to find some reflection time throughout the year to pen some ideas and thoughts for Workshops With Wow.

I hope you have all had a great start to the year and 2016 full or learning!


Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 4.19.11 pm

When it comes to getting the word out there, social networks like Facebook offer a great way to engage with potential customers and stakeholders.

Not only is Facebook the second most visited website in Australia, it boasts the greatest audience engagement of any site, giving you access to a market that has a higher reach than even commercial tv.

On top of this, as a platform Facebook offers paid advertising tools that are second to none, which can give you feedback and metrics that will help you better target an audience as well as learning how effectively you’re conveying your message.

To help you communicate online, I’ve compiled a few tips to get you started.

  • Engage with your audience. Ask questions, promote discussion, and prompt people to share or like your posts. By doing this, you’ll improve your engagement with your audience, and increase the likelihood that they will see future posts that you make. Facebook displays messages based upon what they think each individual user will want to see – making likes and comments an important metric for building your brand online.
  • Think about mobile users. The average Facebook user checks the website 14 times a day on their phone alone – so if your post or content is too long, or too hard to read on a phone, you’ll never connect to them.
  • Use multimedia! Video and well produced photography are incredibly popular formats on Facebook. With more than 4 billion video views on Facebook around the world each day, putting out interesting content will get people interested, and will mean that they’re more likely to spread the video or image to their friends – which is free advertising.
  • Mix things up. Change your cover photo regularly, and keep a stream of fresh content coming. Cover images especially rate highly in the Facebook newsfeed, and help give you more visibility.
  • Use the timeline to your advantage. Add major events and dates for your business – this will help people search for and find things related to your business, and makes you look more legitimate in terms of search engine visibility.

Happy Facebooking!

Guest post by Alice Long, Communications and Marketing Coordinator at Ag Consutling Co.
For more information about how Facebook can help your business contact Alice at or via the Ag Consulting Co Facebook page

The power of mentoring

sharon mentoringGuest blog by Sharon Honner

How many of you have been to Bali? Yes I have been to Bali too!

I was there a couple of weeks ago with my four beautiful children. While we were there my oldest daughter and I visited a butterfly farm and in the nursery we were able to witness butterflies emerging from their Chrysalis, it was an amazing experience.

What does a butterfly farm have to do with Mentoring? As I pondered on what I gained from being a mentor it hit me that one of the most rewarding aspects for me is watching my mentee transform as does a butterfly.

So how did I end up being a mentor? In 2004 I was fortunate to win a bursary to attend the Rural Congress for Women in Spain and as part of that experience I set myself a goal to give back to industry that had supported me to attend.

The first step was, as a volunteer, to join a National Reference Group. At one of the first meetings in Melbourne we had a guest presenter on Mentoring.

My eyes lit up, what a wonderful way to give back to industry; however what I wanted to know was what underpinned being a great mentor?

The lady who presented at the meeting shared that for her it was the art of coaching, so full of enthusiasm, I promptly did some research and enrolled to complete coaching training, from that day forward the coach approach has underpinned the way I facilitate, deliver workshops and mentor.

There are several significant people in my life who have believed in me and given me the confidence to give something new a go. They also have challenged my thinking. On reflection this would have been what I refer to as INFORMAL mentoring.

The downside for me of informal mentoring is that often the relationship is not declared as a mentor/mentee relationship. In fact sometimes INFORMAL mentoring may simply be that I have chosen some-one that I admire to role model myself on or I may choose to support some-one who I can see potential in.

This year I was a Mentor for the YWCA SHE Leads Program. What excited me about the YWCA program is that it’s a FORMAL Mentoring Program. As a volunteer I appreciated that it gave me a start and a finish point.

  • Our relationship was declared and I was very privileged and honoured to be partnered with Dr. Lisa Bailey, Programs Manager, RiAus.
  • This gave us the opportunity to discuss how we were going to work together giving our relationship the best opportunity to be beneficial to Lisa.
  • For example we discussed: what were Lisa’s goals, what motivated her, what were her current challenges, where we were going to meet, when we were going to meet, how we were were going to communicate.
  • Also for Lisa how will she know our relationship has been of value?
  • For me also because Lisa was sponsored by her workplace it was important Lisa, her Manager and myself met to discuss what his expectations were and also the importance of confidentiality in our relationship.

It is my understanding if someone attends a workshop and then returns home or to the workplace if they do not implement their learnings 80% of that knowledge is lost in 3 months. When you are looking at Return on Investment that is a scary statistic.

Adding coaching or in YWCA’s instance mentoring to a program enables participants to retain up to 90% of their learnings.

Speaking of learnings, I enjoy bringing my own learnings to Mentoring, whether they are good or bad.

As Mentor I bring wisdom, however it is important the Mentee learns by finding their own solutions. An example is that as we support our mentees in reaching for the stars, ask them to take a moment to think about what if things don’t pan out how they had planned. What are their contingency plans?

When I first met Lisa I thought wow I know nothing about science and I have been paired with someone from a pure science background. This brings me to something else I value about mentoring. The skills and strengths I bring to a mentoring relationship doesn’t have to be within my industry, it can be across any industry, and by doing this, it keeps me fresh because the way I think is being constantly challenged.

In summing up what Mentoring gives to me – It is much more than the transfer of knowledge and insights.

I am passionate about women developing their leadership skills and if I can support some-one to reach their goals then I will beam from ear to ear.

Mentoring gives me the opportunity to reflect on my own goals, practices and learnings and deepens my personal leadership and coaching style, it challenges my thinking and keeps me fresh.

To all the prospective Mentors and Mentees may you do as a butterfly does …. emerge and spread your wings.


Group size

2012-12-04 15.11.36In the last few months I have facilitated groups varying in size from 25 to 6. What’s the best group size?

For me this depends on the outcomes required and the importance of a collaborative outcome.

In a perfect world my group size is 12 …

  • They are easily broken into groups of 3, 4, 2 or 6 …
  • Building the group at the start of the session is relatively easy with 12, people are happy to share thoughts and experiences. Once the number exceeds 12 the time taken to build the group trust is longer and some quiet members of the group will not interact at the whole group level at all.
  • I like to use U shaped tables in a workshop and this also works well with groups up to about 12. With more participants I perfer round tables with groups of 5 at each table. Each table can then be treated as “one” with table discussions feeding into the overall.
  • I encourage people to move around during workshop sessions – setting this up in the “How we will work together” so after each break we sit next to someone different. This assists with generating new ideas and thinking as well as creating networking opportunities for the members of the group.

Venues can be challenging depending on there shape and size – often not giving us the choice we would like for room set up. I prefer to see the venue before the workshop – however this is not always possible when travelling long distances.

The most challenging venue we have facilitated in was an old town hall in country Queensland – the floor was wood and the acoustics terrible. Bad venues can have a big impact on the outcomes of the workshop – as was reflected in the evaluation sheets from this particular one.

Extension Adoption Program

The GRDC Extension, Adoption, Training and Support project is open for expressions of interest until October 30th. This project builds the skills of experienced advisers and researchers in adoption, extension, evaluation and communication processes. It aims to reduce the time frame from from research to farmer practice change.

In it’s third year 8 advisers will be selected to participate in the program which includes

  • A three day workshop in Canberra where participants develop a comprehensive understanding of GRDC and build skills and knowledge in personality types, adoption, evaluation and extension theory and frameworks.
  • A three day field tour providing exposure to new technology and research as well as an opportunity to apply the theory discussed in Canberra.
  • Webinars to further develop skills and discuss learning and outcomes.
  • Mentoring and coaching with the project team

Participants will develop an action plan and apply their learnings in the field as well as mentoring a younger member of the industry. An ongoing network will provide the opportunity to continue sharing skills and knowledge amongst the group post training.

Applications are open for the 2013 group, expressions of interest close on the 30th October. To download the EOI form

Or watch the You-Tube

RIRDC Rural Women’s Award – Reflections

The RIRDC Rural Women’s Award opened on August 1st. This is a great opportunity for Rural Women across Australia to receive a $10,000 financial bursary to implement their Award vision. Each State and Territory winner and runner-up also has the  opportunity to participate in the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) Course and will be supported to develop an individual integrated leadership plan. I strongly encourage women to apply, it is a wonderful chance to develop skills and take the next step in your life journey.

I was fortunate to be involved in this fantastic Award as the SA winner in 2004. It benefited me in many  exciting ways including leadership opportunities, career development, expanding my network and through mentoring. I was just stepping out of a career in public and private  rural training to work with Bill in our business, Ag Consulting Co, developing my own place in the agricultural consulting world.

My project involved developing a facilitated learning group for rural women, becoming accredited to deliver the Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI) and being mentored to develop my career and leadership vision. As I reflect back over the last 8 years there are many direct links back to the award. Some of these ……

  • Working with Lindy Nelson and the Agri Womens Development Trust in New Zealand is a result of Lindy searching the internet as she completed her research project on rural women’s leadership. Lindy found the information about the award and the  the training I was doing. A phone call followed and three years later I am now travelling to NZ to facilitate programs for Lindy to develop women’s leadership skills.
  • The mentoring I received with Nicola Deakin not only assisted me in focusing on my career, her experience in coaching and NLP has seen me complete training in both, as well as becoming licensed to facilitate coaching training. We now build coaching and mentoring into our training and projects where ever possible to ensure learnings are implemented.
  • The MBTI training has been amazing – I have lost count how many times I have facilitated this workshop over the last 8 years. I have contextualised the content for farmers, advisers, researchers and resellers. This understanding of personality has influenced my interactions at all levels including facilitation techniques, coaching and  workshop delivery. It has become a standing joke in our home – and what personality type is that person mum?!
  • Leadership opportunities following the  award included chairing Government committees, and  it gave me the confidence to take on roles such as Chair of the Ag Excellence Alliance, National Chair of Partners in Grain and to apply for the Board of the GRDC.

So girls give the RIRDC Award a go! Nominate yourself or someone else this year so they too can enjoy a wonderful journey.

For more information vist the RIRDC website

The picture is a group of women in NZ at a recent First Steps Program.

Feedback… some more

Thankyou to the 32 people who are following my blog, I really appreciate your support.

I have been working away at this for 6 months now and this will be my 25 post .. quite an effort for someone who 12 months ago had never really read or followed a blog! For this I must thank Alice, my wonderful daughter, who got me started on the social media journey.

My book remains about 60% complete … work keeps getting in the way. Maybe over the Xmas break I will get time to write some more and the blog content will help with some of the gaps.

I would love some feedback from my readers about my blog

  • What have you enjoyed?
  • What would you like more of?
  • What would you like less of?
  • Is it worth your effort and time and mine?
  • Would you recommend workshopswithwow? please explain…
  • What other topics would you like explored in the blog?
  • Any other comments ……

Thanks again for your support and I appreciate any comments – either on the blog or email me

I look forward to hearing from you.

Workshops …Smart phones?

In a recent workshop the group defined the group guidelines and decided phones should be on silent. OK I thought thats phones dealt with… No not so! Smart phones bring a whole new meaning to phones in workshops.

Not only did this some of the members of this group check their emails, send texts and share website they also took calls during the session –  in and out of the room during the workshop – yes they had their phones on silent – did that mean they participated? Certainly not as I would hope.

Smart phones bring a whole new level of discussion to the group guidelines about what is OK and what is not? We are focused on social media and e-communication and expect immediate responses, answers and information. This brings a whole new level of discussion about how we manage phones and calls in workshops and meetings.

In my world it’s OK to take emergency calls during a workshop, in the breaks check messages and make calls  – whats an emergency?

The impact on me as the facilitator was challenging, participants missed key messages, escaped when activities where planned and didn’t engage in the learning.

iPad’s in workshops is another topic … I have heard of them being banned in meetings because people were spending more time answering emails than focusing on the meeting. In this world where we are trying to reduce paper iPads provide a great tool for meeting papers and note taking – however it’s another discussion that needs to had at the start – whats OK and what’s not.

Next time when phones are discussed in group guidelines I will highlight the smart phone and what “phones on silent” really means to the group!

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