Practical ideas for facilitating workshops & people development

Archive for the ‘Workshops with Wow’ Category

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!


Love them or hate them icebreakers are a good way to build trust and used well create a positive group group atmosphere. There are lots of activities to use as icebreakers and if you google “Icebreakers” you will find lots of ideas available on the internet.

Why use them:

  • to help people relax and share their ideas
  • to break down social barriers and perceptions
  • to energise and motivate the participants
  • to help people think creatively
  • so participants get to know something about the others in the room
  • to get the introverts involved

Some tips

  • Make the icebreaker relevant to the workshop topic. For example in a leadership workshop I will often ask the participants to think of someone they admire as a leader and share some of the characteristics they observe in that person.
  • Picture cards are useful tools. St Lukes Innovative Resources in Bendigo Victoria have a great range of cards available. In our recent resilience workshop we asked the participants to choose a card that represented resilience to them and explain this to the group as part of their introduction. I have a great set of goddess cards which are fun to use with women’s groups.
  • In technical workshops make the icebreaker relevant to the topic of discussion. “What do you find exciting/challenging about X?” or  “What previous experience have you had with X?”
  • With groups of people who work together on a regular basis I ask them to share something the other members of the group wouldn’t know about them. This often leads to great discussion in the breaks and deepening of relationships through new connections.
  • When working with a group of farmers a simple question (if appropriate) might be …How much rain has everyone had in the last week?
  • If you are asking something that requires a bit of thinking time – provide the thinking time.
  • Some facilitators ask the group members to talk in pairs and then introduce each other. This can work well, my advice is to check in with the person being introduced to make sure what is said is accurate and if there is anything they would like to add. It can be embarrassing to be wrongly represented as a result of someone else’s perception.

What other fun icebreakers do people use in their workshops? Anyone game to share in the comments?

If you would like to follow this blog by email, enter your email address in the space on the righthand side of the page.  You will be send an email and you must click confirm to be added to the list. 

Co-facilitation with Wow

I often co-facilitate, sometime with someone I know really well and have well established rapport and understanding and sometime with someone new. It adds another dimension not only for the participants, I have the great opportunity to watch and learn from someone else.

Co-facilitation is great for groups and for the facilitators the benefits include:

  • Different approaches will appeal to different participants
  • Provides the ability for one person to be focused on the group process and participants while other facilitates
  • Facilitators can manage their energy – hopefully be less tired at the end of the session
  • A blend of skills, knowledge and experiences
  • Opportunity for one facilitator to work with individuals at times while the other works the room
  • Its particularly good to have more than one facilitator with large groups who are working as small teams during the day
  • Learning from each others way of operating

For co-facilitation to work really well spend time establishing the ground rules before you start

  • Have a well developed and agreed session plan
  • Be clear on each persons role. Who is doing what when and who is the lead when.
  • Be clear about sticking to time frames. Flexibility with time can work as long as this is discussed prior. Personally I put a lot of effort into preparation and to have my time cut significantly through poor process is very frustrating and compromises the ability to facilitate well.
  • Stay focused in each others sessions – determine what you might be watching for in the group, in each other and about the process.
  • Bouncing / value adding or interrupting …  determine what are your boundaries around this. Done well it can appear seam-less and be very effective, done poorly the participants will be frustrated and observe frustration in the facilitators. Set up some signals for engagement and withdrawal (or to shut each other up!). This can be a simple as a “I’ll throw a question your way if I need your input”. Be respectful of each other.
  •  Allow time for feedback afterwards. What worked well? What could be done differently? Be open and honest with each other – this is a great way to develop skills and learn from each others way of operating. Analyse the process and how the participants reacted to it, were the defined outcomes met?

Powerpoints – a few alternatives

Death by Powerpoint… we have heard this comment so many times and yet not much changes …many presenters continue to rely on powerpoint presentations.

They do have their place, however sitting through a whole day of powerpoints is tiring and I don’t believe a very effective way to learn. They work in a “telling” relationship such as a conference presentation where you are presenting facts or data.

In a facilitated workshop using adult learning principles where ideas are drawn from the group there are other effective ways to discuss information and facts.

When I reflect on the conferences I have attended over the years the presenters I remember are often the ones who didn’t use a powerpoint and were able to get their message across in a simple effective way using tools like flip charts and drawing on the audience.

What can we do instead?

  • Flip charts – plan your presentation and use the flip charts to get your message across as you go. I personally prefer to use flip charts rather than a whiteboard as the sheets can be put up around the room and referred to as required (Once the whiteboard has been cleaned the information is lost).  Participants have told me they like the sheets to be put up in order so they can reflect back on the discussion and draw on the previous information as needed.
  • If you are not confident enough to draw them up as you go pre-prepare the flip charts – think about the material you would use on your powerpoint and develop some flip charts with some of the information on them prior to the workshop. Use the group to build the remaining information through an inclusive discussion process. The participants will have ownership in the discussion and are more likely to leave the workshop remembering the concepts you were aiming to impart.
  • If you are presenting the same information over and over, how about having some posters made up with critical information or models, these can be put up around the room and referred to as required.
  • Use a combination of flip charts and powerpoint – only using the powerpoint for essential visual information such as graphs or diagrams. Remember the “B” for blank button which turns off the powerpoint so the focus can be on the facilitator or others in the room when required.
  • Find some you-tube clips that deliver your message in a few minutes and then discuss the material with the group – capture their ideas on a flip chart.

I’d be keen to hear others ideas about powerpoint and what could be done instead.

If you would like to follow my blog enter your email address in the space on the right hand side, you will be send a confirmation email and you must click on confirm before you are added to the email list.

Rural women – reflections

This blog includes a few reflections on returning from a wonderful trip facilitating workshops with rural women in NZ.

While in NZ I was asked about the differences between rural women in NZ and Australia …mmm  …not a lot would now be my answer.

  • Many women on farms fall in love with a man and find themselves married to a man, a farm and his family. They  often find themselves in positions of farm administration, book-keeping, marketing and being the farm Gofer – not necessarily using their training, skills or their strengths. Sometimes doing tasks they do not enjoy. A recognition of what these women do bring to the business and community will raise happiness, increase business success and, I’m sure, improve marriages.
  • There is enormous value in bringing like-minded women together to share experiences and provide them with the opportunity to talk about their businesses. Women have often told me that facilitated sessions for rural women provide a unique chance for them to focus on themselves and their businesses.
  • Women enjoy the opportunity to build their skills in a safe supportive environment – both business and technical skills – before they will feel safe to integrate into the mainstream agricultural sector. Over the years many male deliverers have commented to me about the though provoking questions they receive from a women’s group. The same women will tell me they wouldn’t ask those questions in front of males because they perceive their knowledge of agriculture to be less than the men.
  • Programs like First Steps, developed  by the Agri Womens Development Trust, provides a valuable time for women to focus on themselves as individuals and put aside the “roles” or “hats” as wife, mother, daughter, farm worker etc and develop personal plans for their future and their role in their farming business.
  • Many farm businesses do not include training or professional development in their budgets – this is an important shift that  we can make.

I strongly believe investment in training our rural women will ensure vibrant rural communities, family businesses as well as environmental sustainability.

NZ rural women with wow!

It’s great to leave a workshop with that feeling the two days has made a real difference to people’s lives. That’s the Wow for me!

The First Steps,workshop in Masterton NZ did just this. Observing the changes in body posture, the light in peoples eyes, the goals that were set and shared, the “Ahah” moments and the closing comments delivered with passion……left me feeling Wow!

This fabulous workshop has been designed utilising the detailed research carried out by Lindy Nelson of the Agri-Womens Development Trust in New Zealand. Lindy teamed with a psychologist to develop the program and a pilot program was facilitated in 2011. I feel very fortunate that Lindy trusts me to facilitate the first national role out of her program.

The workshop provides women with an opportunity to focus on themselves and their own development for the two days. They explore their values, passions, skills and strengths.

Transferable skills are determined – recognising all of those wonderful skills women have developed in their many volunteer capacities; kindy committees, playgroup, school groups, community events, as well as in their farming businesses; doing the book-work, farm work, marketing and so on… these are all very real skills that are transferable into new ventures,the workplace or industry leadership roles.

The women spend time reviewing the constraints they face with particular reference to the constraints Lindy identified in her research. Options to manage and minimise these are discussed and documented. Everyone leaves the workshop with goals set and an action plan developed ready to take their next step.

I am looking forward to working with more wonderful NZ agri-women over the next week as we roll First Steps workshops at Taihape and Asburton.

I’d love to see Australian women have the opportunity to participate in a program such as First Steps. for more information about the Trust and Lindy or like the Facebook page

Workshops with rural women

I love working with rural women. They are a generous audience who appreciate what you do for them, particularly if you work with them to determine their unique needs.

As a rural woman myself I have been fortunate to work with many groups of women for many years. I am particularly excited to be heading off to New Zealand on Sunday to work with the Agri-Womens Development Trust facilitating their “First Steps” program. This program is a two day exploratory workshop for rural women who have developed skills/strengths within the context of their rural communities, family and farming lives, who are now contemplating making changes to their lives, and taking their skills to a new level. These women are often the backbone of their communities, involved in organising, fund-raising and are usually self-starters.

New Zealand is fortunate to have Lindy Nelson – a self starter! – who has developed the Trust. More information can be found on the website

The Partners in Grain project has also provided me with a unique opportunity to pursue my passion of facilitating women and young people in the Grains industry. This project is funded by GRDC has been successfully operating in Australia for 10 years providing regional training opportunities.

Working in local regions can bring its own set of challenges. Here a few of my tips for working with rural women;

  • Find a local champion who shares a passion for learning and community
  • Research local events, school events etc  – don’t expect women to turn up if the local school has sports day!
  • Run the workshop from 9.30-3.00 allow women time to get the children off to school and pick them up afterwards.
  • Ask the group what they would like to learn and adjust the workshop to meet their immediate needs.
  • Check about catering, tea and coffee. Support the locals and ask for local catering – choose a local group that’s important to your audience.
  • Check what’s available at the venue and what you need to bring – country venues may also need setting up so allow plenty of time.
  • Due to distance it isn’t always possible to see the venue prior to the workshop so ask lots of questions. Run through a check list about – lighting, heating/cooling, floor covering (acoustics) size etc.
  • Talk to your local champion about promotion of the event. What is the most effective communication mechanism for that district – school newsletter, community newsletter etc.
  • Having a flexible approach and being baby friendly provides an opportunity for more women to attend your training event.
  • Finally – always finish on time – school pickups are important!

If you would like to follow my blog enter your email address in the box on the top right hand side of the page. You will be send a confirmation email and need to click on the link to receive my weekly blog via email. 

Things to play with in workshops

I love to see creativity in workshops.

Providing things for participants to play with like pipe cleaners and stress balls is so simple and so effective.

Pipe cleaners can be made into all types of objects, fiddled with, rolled around fingers and the great thing about them is that they are quiet!

I’m always amazed at the adults in my workshops who are delighted when they discover the pipe cleaners are not on the table for a mysterious facilitative activity but are simply there to play with.

“Great, I won’t be sitting here clicking my pen!”

For many of us its a long time since we sat in a school class room all day, we are used to being busy, active and having things to do with our hands.

Kinaesthetic learners tell me their learning increases if they are busy doing something, and this includes playing with toys. It may appear like they are not interested or participating in the program; experience has shown me this is not the case.

Cheap shops provide a great array of soft toys, balls and blocks which can be put on the tables. They add a sense of fun and lightness and assist with creative thinking.

Recently one of the participants collected all of the pipe-cleaners at the end of the workshop and asked if she could take them for a meeting the next day!

Make the learning experience fun, enjoy the outcome and the creations!

Workshops with just the right pace

Getting the pace right for the participants can be an art in itself.

A fellow facilitator and I recently participated in a training workshop, and as facilitators do, afterwards we discussed the process of the training as much as the material we had learnt. We both discovered that for us the pace was a bit slow. This lead to an interesting discussion about what is the right pace and the right pace for whom!

Our reflection on our own learning styles was that we are quite fast paced learners and like things to move along reasonably quickly. This lead us to the thought that were we facilitating in the way we like to learn. … so did that mean maybe we were too fast for some in our audience?

One of my goals in facilitation – from many years ago – was not to have people falling asleep in a session. I decided this counted as a personal failure – so my reflection was ….has this goal lead me to increasing the pace?

Since the dicussion I have taken note of the participants in my workshops and carefully observed their behaviour as a way of checking on pace.

I now check pace by:

  • observing the group carefully for signs, are they looking bored, flustered or appear engaged in the disussion and activities
  • asking someone in the break – so simple – choose a couple of people whose behaviour you may have noticed and someone that appears to be traveling OK.
  • have a question on your evluation form and ask the pace question – use a scale so a simple cross on the line will do.

Be aware of your own preferences and speed and how this might be influencing your style.

When participants say to me…  “Oh is it afternoon tea time already – gosh the day is flying past” …I think  – great – they are engaged in the material and activities and the pace must be about right for them. They are in flow and not noticing the time.

What’s the right pace for you?

Please add your stories or ideas in the comments with this blog.

To follow workshopswithwow enter your email address in the space on the right hand side of theis page. Each time I write a blog it will then appear in your in box.

Tips for managing energy in workshops

Having the opportunity to observe a workshop is a great chance to watch the energy levels of the room and think about how to manage this effectively.

I believe keeping the energy up is the facilitators responsibility. I like participants to leave at the end of the session fired up with energy instead of drained and tired.

Some tips for energy management

  • Let your passion for the topic show. Passion breeds energy which will flow into the group.
  • Move, have the room set so you can walk into the centre of the room
  • Use different mediums – flip charts, activities
  • Use power point as little as possible
  • Move people around for different activities encourage them work with a variety of people
  • Ask people to sit in a different spot in the room, next to someone else, after a break.
  • Think about attention spans – how long is yours? apply this to the group
  • Use your voice to express a point, tell as story.

Enthusiastic participants add energy to the room,use this to enthuse others and not to dominate.

Be aware of the after lunch flat spot – about 2pm. This is a good time to include an activity which includes moving as well as using our brains. Be careful of asking the group if they would like to do an activity at this time. As humans we often take the path of least resistance when feeling flat, our role is to motivate them to get their energy back.

When the participants are flat be aware that sitting with them (on the same level) may also affect your energy. You need to make a conscious effort to stand up and move around putting energy back oonto the group when participants are flat.

When workshops end mid afternoon its even more important to get through the afternoon flat spot with an activity. I want my particiants to leave on a high not on a low. They are more likely to encourage others to attend if they leave full of enthusiasm.

Please share your ideas as comments.

If you would like to sign up to receive this blog via email enter your address in the space on the right hand side at the top of the page.

Tag Cloud