Practical ideas for facilitating workshops & people development

Posts tagged ‘Facilitation’

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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What gives a Field Day the Wow factor?

What makes a great Field Day?

There are hundred’s of field days run across rural Australia every year with varied success. I would like to collate your ideas so we can share the Wow factor and all enjoy more great learning opportunities.

  • What’s the most important thing that gives the Wow factor at field days for you? (why?)
  • What’s the big field day mistake? What would you do differently?

I’d love to hear from you and will share the collective wisdom in future posts.

You can add a your answers in a comment to this blog or email me on

I will also collate the responses and combine them into a document which will be provided to you as recognition of your valuable contribution.

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Workshop Introductions with Wow

One of my pet hates is going along to a workshop where we are not given the opportunity to introduce ourselves to the others in room. Yes, you can argue it takes up valuable time especially in a short workshop, however, one of the key drivers for people to attend events is to network and meet like minded people.

A short introduction

  • provides safety, we all get a sense of who else is in the room and are more likely to share our experiences
  • gives an opportunity for the networkers in the room to identify whom they would like to talk to in the breaks
  • allows the introverts speaking time. If an introvert doesn’t speak early in the session they can often sit through the workshop and not have the confidence to share their ideas.
  • sets the scene for the workshop and builds the group or team

Robyn asked a question about timing with workshops especially with introductions. The way I like to handle this is by giving a time frame and clear instructions for the introductions. I will put this up on the whiteboard so it is understood by everyone.

For example

Introductions (in one minute)

  • name
  • location 
  • What attracted you to attend this session?

I find that if everyone is clear about the timeframe and the instructions they tend to stick to the guidelines and not ramble on. If they do ramble on, the pre-set timeframe gives the facilitator permission to politely close them down and move onto the next person.

Another tip is to ask everyone to write down their introductions, give them a minute or two to write down what they are going to say to the group. This gives the introverts thinking time keeps the extroverts quiet for a minute. It also means people have clarified their thinking and will listen to what the person speaking is saying rather than preparing their own introduction in their head.

Rather than working your way around the room ask for a volunteer to start and then move randomly around the room. I like to use a ball to throw around rather than creeping from person to person. The ball provides some fun and lightness to the process.

There are lots of great tools for introductions and icebreakers to build the group which I will cover in future blogs.

Farm succession – getting started

When to start the succession planning process?

I believe right now is a good time! If we think about it as part of the business strategic planning process and integrate it into our thinking it’s becomes an important part of ensuring business continuity.

Most members of family farms have the common goal that the farm should stay in the family. This is a great way to get the discussion started; there are plenty of examples of farms that have not remained in the family because the discussion never happened.

Certainly when someone is entering or exiting the business is an essential time to meet and discuss the effect of any changes.

Too often the discussion only starts when there is a family crisis, someone is unhappy, leaving the business or causing waves. Sometimes this is too late. However, as sensible as the process might seem, sitting around the table to discuss Wills, land transfers, retirements and pay outs understandably causes fear and emotion.

Getting everyone to the table at the same time can be difficult. Starting the process can be challenging and different generations will be ready at different times. For the older generation it wasn’t common practice for them when they entered farming. Assumptions made and many of them had to wait for the previous generation to exit,or even die, to take over the farming business. They often didn’t know what was in the Will until it was read.

This generation had to trust their parents to look after them and may expect the younger generation to do the same.

In contrast the younger generation are looking at farming differently – they have been encouraged to see it as a business which like any other small business should have a plan. They are looking for security for their future, to know what will happen and when.

Expectations are different and the generations need to be considerate of each others needs. Stephen Covey’s “Seek first to understand and then to be understood” is important for succession planning. Ask questions and really listen to the answers, ask more questions. Do your best to encourage open and honest communication.

Unfortunately there is not one forumla, every family is different with different personalities and needs.

A few tips for getting people to the table

  • demystify the process as much as possible, explain carefully what’s involved and what would be expected of people.
  • remind family members of the big picture goal and the need to ensure everyone is looked after while maintaining the business (if that’s the goal)
  • recognise the fear and emotion attached to succession planning and deal with this as it arises. Acknowledge the emotions and address them, don’t sweep them under the carpet or respond inappropriately.
  • hold the meeting away from the family home. Treating it like a business meeting in a neutral environment often improves behaviour and ensures the meeting is taken seriously. It can also stop us from retreating to childhood behaviours and habits.

And  always remember; we all do the best we can with the resources we have available to us!

Getting started with Wow

Make your workshop start with Wow!

And I mean before your workshop even starts. What’s the atmosphere you want to create as your participants walk into the room? ….I want them to think “Wow this looks interesting I’m glad I made the effort to be here.”

Welcome your participants individually as they arrive. I love a quote by Robyn Henderson of Networking to Win – “If you are the host treate your guests how you would like to be hosted.”

How would you like to be welcomed as you arrive? By a facilitator who is aloof at the front of the room, someone who distances themselves as the expert, someone who is flat out getting organised for the event?

We have alll been the participant walking into a room for a workshops where we didn’t know anyone… how would you like to be treated? how would you like to feel? What would you like to see?

I like a friendly warm welcome so participants feel comfortable and at ease … here are some tips

  • Be organised! By the time your first participant walks in the room should be set up ready to roll.
  • Have a welcome on your flip chart or Power point slide – that way people know they are in the right place.
  • Greet each paticipant as they walk in – shake their hand … might seem like I’m stating the obvious, however, from experience it doesn’t always happen.
  • Have name tags ready … this makes life much easier for you, not only to introduce participants to each other,  but also if you are like me remembering names is not a strong point.
  • Introduce the participants to each other, if there is a conversation happening in the room , provide the new person with a lead into the conversation.
  • Some facilitators like to use music before the workshop and in breaks.. this can be effective, however think about appropriateness of the music and importantly the volume.
I highly recommend visiting Robyn Henderson’s site  Robyn has great networking apply any of which apply to greeting and working with participants.








Finally …Wow! Thanks for all the great comments. You have all provided lots of topics for discussion and I’m really looking forward to tackling them over the next few weeks.

Send in your burning questions and comments …

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