Practical ideas for facilitating workshops & people development

Making happy sheets happy!

2013-10-15 16.02.21Evaluation sheets are often called “happy sheets”… often there isn’t anything “happy” about them! Participants groan and instead of leaving the workshop energised and reflecting of a great workshop they leave with a form to complete and a groan.

Evaluation is critical for the facilitator: to report to management, improve our skills, complete a project report, further develop the workshop etc. How can we lighten the process and make the happy sheets happy?

I thought I would share some of the techniques we have been using and would love to hear some ideas from others.

Make the evaluation a group activity. Write up 4 or 5 targeted evaluation questions on pieces of flip chart and put them up around the room. Divide the group into groups of 3 or 4 and ask them to discuss and complete the pages. A simple advantage of this is movement – often workshops involve a lot of sitting, getting people up helps the blood flow and increasing thinking. Everyone will remember different aspects of the workshop and have different perspectives, groups discussion allows the workshop to be reviewed by a team and further deepen some of the learnings.

If flips charts aren’t an option, or the rooms size won’t enable moving around, I often ask people to work with the person sitting beside them and complete the evaluation sheet together. Once again the discussion adds to the depth of feedback.

A dart board approach can be used where people rate various aspects of the workshop by putting a cross on a dart board – with the bulls eye  meaning “the workshop was spot on”. A dart board can be drawn up on a flip chart at the front of the room and everyone files past and completes it. Once again some movement and interest at the end helps to keep the energy levels up.

A quick method with a larger group that works well with the sticky wall is ask participants to write their expectation on a piece of A5 paper at the beginning of the workshop, at the end they take their expectation off the wall and comment on how well this has been met.

A final tip is to ensure there is sufficient time in the agenda to carry out the evaluation effectively – don’t rush it or make it the final activity. Finish off with a closing comment or brief activity that leaves participants with a sense of energy so they head home saying “Wow that was a great workshop!”

How do you make evaluations “happy”? Please post or email me your ideas and I can include them in another blog.

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May 2014 bring all you hope for!

Grab attention with song!

IMG_0919What do we typically do in agriculture when we want to attract attention to a topic?

We data dump! We write a fact sheet or an article to publish and try to  deliver as much information as we can on the issue.

If we compare this to other industries …. when they want to grab our attention they use marketing and incorporate emotional hooks to really make us notice.

Its called advertising.

Look at the latest car advertisement. Where’s the data? Sure. it’s available but to grab your attention, the marketing team has hooked into some emotional link you have to the vehicle that will make you feel good about your decision to purchase.

My husband, Bill , a farm consultant and farmer has tried a similar approach to communicate the serious issue of herbicide resistance – by using a video parody of the Gotye hit “Somebody I used to know”.

Bill has combined two very basic elements that we all relate to and enjoy, being  humour and music , to alert people to an impending herbicide  resistant weed issue that is on the doorstep of every farmer who has wild radish on their property.

Follow the link below …..

We would love to have your feedback on the parody! Please post your comments on the blog or email me

Please share the parody with your networks. The video has been produced for the Ag Excellence Alliance Social Media project funded by the Commonwealth Government’s Landcare program.

This will be my last blog for 2013, thank you for your interest and feedback during the year. I will start posting again in late January.

All the best for a wonderful Christmas and start to 2014.

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Making groups hummm

imagesI’m often asked to facilitate committees that are not functioning as well as they would like to be. This is often a result of the group having lost it’s sense of purpose, or common vision and not having clear guidelines to operate within.

When I reflect on the groups and committees I have been involved with over the years one comes to mind as being an exceptional group to work with. What was it about this group that made it exceptional?

  • It had a clear vision and purpose – we all knew what we where aiming for and were all on board with the vision.
  • The plan was produced inclusively and we followed through.
  • We all agreed on “how we will work together” and this framework guided our meetings and how we behaved outside of the meetings. This included simple items like starting and finishing time, reporting in, how we would communicate outside of meetings etc.
  • Roles and responsibilities were agreed upon, clearly understood and most importantly committed to.
  • The outcomes we were aiming for were clear, achievable and measurable.
  • It was fun!! I looked forward to my involvement with the group, we had a laugh at meetings and enjoyed each others company.
  • The group provided me with personal gains – personal skill building and networking.
  • Strong inclusive leadership
  • We celebrated our success – once we had reached our vision we celebrated what we had achieved and wound up the group.

My observations are backed up by research by Ian Plowman (2008) who identified the following as key indicators of a healthy organisation

  • Continual injection of outsiders
  • Social cohesion
  • Interest in individuals and group development
  • Member involvement
  • Youth education and diversity
  • Leadership rotation
  • Open mindedness
  • Internal and external communication

What examples of healthy groups and committee’s do you have? What have you seen work well?

Please email ( or post your comments.

2013-04-04 16.21.18Evaluation of projects is not always done well. Good quality feedback not only provides information for reporting it also shapes the future of programs.

As part of our GRDC Extension Adoption Training and Support Program we work with Jeff Coutts and conduct regular surveys to monitor progress as well as developing case studies with participants. The information collected has assisted us to modify the content of the program and improve relevance to our audience.

Mike Roberts has been preparing the case studies for us and has put together the following article as an overview of the outcomes from our program. I thought I would share this with you as an example of an evaluation method which can  then be used to promote a program and also because we are very proud of the outcomes that are being achieved.

Rave Reviews

Are you an experienced advisor or researcher interested in practical ways to turbo charge your effectiveness in adoption, extension, evaluation and communication processes? This GRDC funded course is about to open up its fourth intake and if the rave reviews from the first three years of operation are anything to go by then you’d better be quick to apply for one of the eight places available for 2014.

This program aims to reduce the time frame from research findings becoming available to actual changes in farmer practice. Successful applicants can expect the following:

  • 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.

Here are some comments from participants who have already completed the program:

Brendan Green is the Technical Business Development officer for Roberts Ltd based in Hobart in Tasmania.

  • After learning about the role of Social Media in the course Brendan has been instrumental in setting up 12 Facebook pages for various branches across the state. “We are having an impact from the messages we are posting. Whatever the topic, we are now able to create more awareness than we could have previously. The message is getting through to a larger number of clients and they are finding out about things that they wouldn’t necessarily know about just because of social media.”
  • After learning about communication skills Brendan reflected thathe used to “give a lot of technical information. Now it is about trying to get staff to simplify the message so it will be easier for the farmer to understand.”
  • “Success in the relationships that you build is very important. People skills are the most important things.”
  • “It is a very good program well worth the time and involvement. You will get a lot of things out of it that are very beneficial for your business.”

Bob Ronald is an agronomist employed by Landmark in Albury, NSW. He deals mainly with broadacre clients on both dryland and irrigated farms.

  • It really helped my ability to deal with my growers one on one and then as a group.”
  • “The people skills offered in the program were a major attraction. This program hit a whole lot of triggers that I had been thinking about. It’s not just about killing weeds; it is dealing with humans.

Kent Wooding is the General Manager of Agrivision Consultants based in Swan Hill in Victoria. He manages a group of 15 agronomy consultants who assist farmers with farm and paddock planning, general agronomy, implementation of weed and pest control and precision agriculture.

  • “We have often been critical of people doing research and not effectively communicating results. The course taught me that we were falling into the same trap, as we did some great research but we weren’t always getting it all out to the people where it mattered the most. We are now addressing that.”
  • After learning that not everyone has the same preferential learning style, Kent now actively varies the elements in presentations. “So if I can deliver it in several different ways then parts of it will appeal to most people.”
  • “I have changed the way I mentor staff since doing this course. I think our agronomists are now developing skills at a faster rate as a result.”
  • “The EATS program has given me a better understanding of who I am and how I can deal with people. It has certainly given me a lot of motivation and invigorated me to go out and make changes in the business. I have made some good friends as well along the way, which is good!”
  • “I have successfully established a social media strategy for the business. This was something I have been thinking about for a long time but the course gave me the information and confidence to go ahead with it.”
  • “I would say that it is valuable and a must attend!”

Felicity Turner is a private agricultural consultant and the facilitator for the MacKillop Farm Management Group in the Upper SE of South Australia.

  • “The topic on personality types and extension methodology changed the whole way I think about delivering information.”
  • Prior to attending the course, Felicity says that surveys were ‘the bane of my existence and I hated them. Where I used to do surveys just to satisfy funding bodies, I now know how to actually extract the information I need to make changes to improve the project and get better outcomes.”
  • “As a whole it has really made me re-think the way that I extend information to people. I now know that I need to look at different methods to take into account different people to try to get the message across.”
  • “I think if I had done this ten years ago I would have changed so many things. Now I look back and think gosh, what was I doing? I could have been doing it so much better!”
  • “One of the most valuable parts of the course was the chance to spend three or four days interacting with other participants on the field trip to WA. The geographical and occupational mix of the participants really added value. That is where you really learn from others and it was fantastic.”

If you are interested in the GRDC Extension, Adoption, Training and Support program or know someone who could be please contact Ag Consulting Co for more information: 

Applications close 30 October 2013

2013-08-19 15.41.37A common topic of discussion in many workshops, and a concern of researchers, farming groups, RDE corporations and others  – How do we get farmers along to events?

Research carried out by Rod Strachan looking at farmer personality types found that rural industries attract people with a preference for Introversion. (Beef 62%; Cropping 58%; and Intensive Industries 63%) when compared with the Australian sample (55%). Rod goes on to say “The challenge facing rural extension is that persons expressing a preference for Introversion are not attracted to attending meetings. Moreover, if they do they may have difficulty becoming involved in the absence of a skilled facilitator.”

I have incorporated the Myers Briggs Type Indicator into many workshops with farmers and consultants over the years and asked the  following two questions “How can we attract and engage Introverts in events?” and “How does your personality type like to have  new information presented?”

Today I will share with you some of the thoughts of the many introverts who have attended these workshops to attempt to provide some insight into the first question.

  • Group size is important – Introverts have reported they prefer either a small group (under 12) where they feel comfortable to contribute or a large groups where they can hide in the crowd.
  • Introverts dislike being singled out without warning – if you are presenting  and would like a comment from an introvert – give them prior warning.
  • In small groups, make sure everyone speaks in the first 20 -30 minutes, Introverts are more likely to continue to contribute if they have spoken in a safe environment.
  • A direct invitation from someone they know encourages them to attend, particularly if they are able to attend with that person.
  • Many introverts have told me they hate bus trips. They would rather follow in their own vehicle for some time out and ability to leave when they like. Bus trips can create a “trapped feeling”.
  • Introverts like one-on-one time with advisers or a few trusted significant others in preference to large group activities.
  • Time for private reflection after an activity, to think about how it fits in with their system, and then follow up support to implement was important.
  • Allow time at field days for the Introverts to talk one-on-one with the speakers. Instead of rushing from one trial plot to the next allow a break between speakers for discussion and contemplation.
  • Introverts like to know what is expect when they arrive at the event – clear expectations and agenda.

I would love to hear some comments and experiences from farmers and advisers about how they attract and engage farmers in events. Please post some thoughts in the comments.

Some findings from the second question “How does your personality type like to have new information presented?” will be in a future blog.

Rod Strachen, Myers Briggs Type Indicator Preferences by Industry and Implications for extension. Published in “Shaping Change – Natural Resource Management and the Role of Extension.” (2011) edited by Dr Jess Jennings, Dr Roger Packham and Dr Dedee Woodside, (APEN)

How well do you listen?

2013-09-24 16.05.05We all know how to listen – don’t we?

Think about it for a moment. What is going on in your head when you are having a conversation with someone? I often ask this question in workshops and get a variety of answers, most of which, are not related to listening intently to the conversation.

So what is commonly going on it our heads?

  • What I’m going to cook for dinner tonight. What I have to do next. A conversation I need to have with someone else…. This is when we are not really listening at all – sometimes called spousal listening!!
  • Often we relate what the other person is talking about to our own lives. Instead of focusing on the intent of their conversation we relate it to ourself and start sharing a similar experience. The experience that we relate too may only be vaguely linked to the intent of the other person. When this happens we see conversations go off on tangents,  we leave thinking…. “I wonder how we ended up there, that wasn’t what I wanted to talk about”
  • Another option is that we are thinking about what we are going to say next.
  • Sometimes we problem solve instead of listening. We provide our opinion about the topic and suggest solutions.

We know that listening is made up of words, tone and body language which combined give us a more complete understanding of the intent of the person communicating with us.

Learning to really listen is not easy, we have to silence the voice in our own head and really focus on the person talking. It’s amazing how much we can learn about someone in a short time if we really listen. Their language can provide learning style, values, beliefs  and attitudes. Visually we can hear and see their passion and motivations.

Listening is an essential skills for facilitators and coaches – our intent is assisting a group or individual reach their own outcome.

Next time you have a conversation with someone I challenge you to really listen – listen like you have never listened before and see what you can learn.

As Steven Covey told us “Seek to understand before being understood” – good listening skills are one of the keys.

2013-07-06 16.41.28Yes!  Job descriptions are important on farms – as they are in any business.

In agriculture we often see businesses operating with limited structures around people management. This is not only for employees but also for sons or daughters working in the business.

I’m a great believer in having simple and formal processes in place to ensure everyone is clear on their roles and responsibilities. It helps with accountability, manages expectations and reduces those assumptions which often end in tears or resignations.

Having job descriptions and performance reviews in place for sons and daughters in the business enables open discussion and provides an avenue for gradual transfer of decision making as skills and confidence grow.

Even if there are only two of you in the business clarity around roles and expectations assist with the separation between work and family life.

A couple of websites with great resources to help make it easier include

  1. The people in Dairy website This website is a result of Dairy Australia recognising the importance of people to the industry. It includes masses of downloadable templates which can easily be adapted for any agricultural industry.
  2. For an overseas perspective – Labour Management in Agriculture comes from the University of California, Prof Gregorio Billilkopf. This site also has free downloadable books on labour management and conflict resolution.

Partners in Grain ( has been funded by GRDC to develop a workshop on managing farm staff. Contact your state coordinator to find out more information.

It would be great to hear of other useful resources any readers may have found! I look forward to some comments.

Comm ProcessCommunicating a message from one person to another is simple… Isn’t it?

We make lots of assumptions that our receiver understands the information in the same context and intent that we have sent it. Unfortunately as we all know this isn’t always the case and the outcome isn’t as expected.

I really like the following quote from NLP (Nero linguistic programming)

The meaning of communication is the response that we get

Stop and think about that for a moment….. Yes it implies it’s the responsibility of person sending the message to ensure the receiver understands the content and the intent. The response that we get is a reflection of the interpretation of the message.

Every channel we might use including face to face, email, social media, phone etc is open to interpretation by the receiver.

So what gets in the way of clear communication and understanding? Our brain filters information – it does this to cope with the enormous amount of information it receives constantly. The filters will vary from person to person based on our perceptions and experiences.

The filters will include past experiences, beliefs, rules of thumb and so on, and will be influenced by our personality type as well. Putting ourself in the other persons shoes and attempting to see the message from their perspective is a good start.

When the communication is very important check in – follow the feedback loop – ask a question of the receiver. “What do you understand from our conversation?”

With simple instructions like “don’t shut the gate” our brain filters out the “don’t” and we often remembered “shut the gate” – this can easily be reframed in the positive to “leave the gate open”. Framing instructions in the positive usually has a more positive outcome!

Be particularly careful with email, especially with bad news or negative feedback. It’s very easy to read between the lines of emails and misinterpret the intent. If your message isn’t positive it’s best done face to face or, at minimum over the phone.

“To effectively communicate, we must realise that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this to understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” Tony Robbins 

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2013-08-01 14.56.54What to provide for participants handouts and notes?

I find this varies significantly between workshop providers. Some provide frameworks and lots of space for the group to discover their own outcomes while others provide detailed notes.

Feedback I have received from participants over the years is that they do like hand out materials and notes they can refer back to after the workshop. Read Write learning styles particularly like written materials with more than empty spaces to make their own notes.

Personally I like to have notes to refer back to with enough detail to remind me about what the workshop was about, especially if it is a skill I am very keen to develop.

Tips for workshop notes

  • Make sure you refer to them and use them during your presentation.
  • Have the workshop materials follow the agenda
  • Think about how much knowledge based information is required in the notes, I like to use useful links and book references for the data hungry person rather than include too much reading. Remember there will be some people who will not write anything in their books all day and this is OK for their learning style.
  • Provide spaces for people to write their notes as you go through the agenda. This can also include spaces for notes about the various activities you use during the workshop.
  • Use headings, dot points and a logical flow of ideas
  • I know it’s a basic point – include page numbers!
  • Make sure graphs and diagrams are clear and easy to read – be aware of developing these in colour and the impact of printing in black and white.

What are your thoughts about workshop notes? What appeals to you?

2012-07-08 17.14.28Work life balance is a topic regularly discussed … Considered …stressed over… What’s right and what’s wrong? Is it really a fallacy that we should move on from?

There are many ways to approach the topic. For me it’s a question of values, purpose, passion and taking care of ourselves.

Values: if we are clear about our core values they can guide our time. Family is very important to me and prioritising time for them is something I strive to do.

Purpose and passion: if we know what motivates us to jump out of bed in the morning, looking forward to our day, and spending time on activities se love we will be happier people. I love my work, it is my passion to develop people skills in others. People look at my often crazy lifestyle and think my work life is out of whack… And I don’t deny that sometimes it is!

Taking care of ourselves or energy management: what do we need to do to mange our energy levels? The answer will be different for all of us and depend on our workloads, age of our dependants and personal needs. For me taking time out is a walk on the beach, some time to write, to read or create something, what is it for you?

Getting in the Go Zone and the No Zone … I recently heard Mark McKeon speak about time management and I liked his concept of the Zones. The Go Zone being about maximum productive time and the No Zone – when you are not at work and not thinking about work. The important part of the No Zone is time when you are not thinking about work – time when you are focused on something completely different and relaxing. After a weekend of Silversmithing classes this weekend I have caught up on some No Zone!

Next time someone tells you how busy they are – ask them if they are enjoying what makes them busy … if they are then perhaps their life is not so out of  balance – we are all different.

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