“Half (of the meetings I attend) are completely bizarre and accomplish nothing except bewildering me as to why people don’t run out screaming.” That’s a real quote from a real person about real meetings. Yes, it’s sad. It showed up in an informal survey I did some time ago. Folks told me they spend approximately 40 per cent of their time in meetings, a number consistent with data Perlow, Hadley and Eun found in their 2017 Harvard Business Review Article, “Stop the Meeting Madness.” The authors also found that:
– 71% felt that meetings waste their time
– 65% said meetings keep them from doing their real work
– 66% claim meetings inhibit spending time on deep thinking
Calculate the hard cost of bringing minds together to explore issues, make decisions and plan action. It’s often thousands of salary dollars for a one-hour meeting. (And that doesn’t count travel, doughnuts or the opportunity cost when we delay getting to our other work.)
Then ponder another response, from my survey. “We can’t make decisions or agree on priorities. So, we have the same meeting over and over. Literally, the same meeting.”
Imagine if every meeting you went to felt like a good investment of your time. It can happen. Good facilitation enables conversations that lead to good decisions. It requires planning – a whole lot more than finding a conference room and sending out a meeting notification.
The first step is identifying the purpose of the meeting, the desired outcome. That leads you to determine who needs to be there – really – and what they need to provide or do. How will you engage people? How will you gather information, analyze it, decide what to do and follow up? All this should be planned before the meeting.
That’s Plan A. You’ll need a Plan B, too, since humans are involved. And you’ll need to be ready to change your plans. Still, to go into meeting a without a plan is almost guaranteed to be a time waster. The more thought and time you invest in planning the meeting, the more relevant and useful the discussion will be – for you and for the participants.
Given that today’s working environment requires collaboration, teamwork and communication, learning to facilitate well may be the most important skill for the 21st century. A facilitator doesn’t do magic. It just looks that way.
+++++++ At It’s Understood Communication, we care about facilitation. Facilitation Skills for the Agile Workplace is a two-day workshop that offers a solid foundation in facilitation, including using visual thinking to build clarity and understanding. Ellen Grove and Sue Johnston are offering it in downtown Toronto, May 6-7, 2019. There are still a few spots left. To learn more and register, visit nobadmeetings.ca At that site, you can also download a PDF copy of our Facilitation Planning Canvas.
There’s an old saying, rooted in journalism, that a picture is worth 1,000 words. While we might ask for scientific evidence or challenge the math, most people agree that visuals add enormously to our understanding of things. Humans drew pictures before they developed written language.
And graphics still convey much important information in our physical world.The visual cortex is the largest system in the human brain – and half the brain is devoted to processing visual information. So it makes sense to supplement our messages with visual information. There are communicators, myself included, who believe we should adapt the Media Richness Theory, which puts face-to-face communication at the top of the scale for conveying information, to add a higher level, face-to-face with a whiteboard.
All this has led to the evolution and growing popularity of visual facilitation, in which we create images, in real time, to stimulate, focus, enhance and record a discussion. You don’t need to be particularly good at drawing to do this well. The key skill, according to experts, is listening. Sound familiar? That’s the key skill for coaches, facilitators, communicators, product owners, user experience experts and, well, pretty much anyone in a leadership role.
How does visual facilitation help meeting participants?
- Visuals add to their understanding. With more neural tissue devoted to vision than anything else, you stimulate more of people’s brains with images. They also understand faster. We read images faster than we read text. We “get the picture” with just a glance.
- They’ll remember more of what was discussed. Not only will visual stimulation enhance understanding, it will improve retention and recall. People remember what they see.
- They stay on track. Drawing the discussion encourages focus and prevents people from getting lost in the weeds. If the meeting is about the weeds, that’s a different drawing.
- They may see patterns. As you capture the flow of the discussion, you or the participants may see patterns emerge that might not be noticed with traditional note taking. The picture can depict the flow of ideas, process or products as well as connections between them and their impact on people and things.
- They can see what has been covered in the discussion. Better still, they can clearly see their input has been captured.
- They stay interested longer. Images are just more fun than lists on flip charts. So people will pay attention for longer.
How does visual facilitation help me, as a meeting facilitator?
- You get people’s attention. It’s a big shift from powerpoint, note taking or capturing ideas in an online tool.
- You can capture emotion. Your illustrations can move beyond cold facts and depict the concerns, feelings and reactions of people involved in the discussion.
- You can help people focus on the key elements. What you draw is what they will pay attention to.You don’t have to cover old territory. People can see what has been discussed.
- You can use the finished drawings to share the story with people who were not at the meeting.
You don’t need to be able to draw!
There’s a “visual vocabulary” that anyone can learn. One of this is “bikablo,” a method that emerged in Europe and has caught on worldwide. You master basic techniques for simple illustrations that you can mix. match, adapt and use to tell the story of your meeting. (Leanintuit is bringing bikablo training to Canada – November 27-28. See below for registration details!)
Other ideas to explore:
- Teach your team members to express themselves visually. It encourages collaboration when you all draw together. It’s also a way to engage quiet people and those whose first language is not the team’s working language.
- Attract people to your booth at conferences or trade shows. It will immediately make you stand out from the crowd because something is happening live and in person.
- Capture the proceedings from conference sessions. That way people can see what happened in the concurrent sessions they missed. Or they can gather at the recording of the keynote talk and discuss particular elements. (This graphic, by Sam Bradd, depicts a keynote session I attended at a Communitech conference. A great reminder of Susan Cain’s excellent talk.)
- Create your own illustrations for your presentation slides. This can save you hours of searching through stock image sites. When you create it yourself, you get exactly what you want.
- Draw your presentation. Jeff Patton (see image) and Dave Gray, leaders the agile and user experience communities, respectively, use overhead projectors and sketch out their presentations while they talk. Super engaging!
Training in Toronto – November 27-28
If you can get to Toronto for a couple of days at the end of November, you have a unique opportunity to learn visual facilitation from the best. We’ve invited Andrea Rawanschad, of the bikablo academie , in Cologne, Germany, to return to Canada and run a second two-day workshop. The first Canadian session, earlier this fall, sold out quickly and was a hit with participants. For those who couldn’t attend the first session – or didn’t know about it – we’ll be gathering in downtown Toronto on November 27 and 28. With a maximum of 12 people in the class, there are just a few spots left, so don’t delay. To learn more and register for this unique experience, follow this link.
If you have questions – contact me.
If you’ve ever said or heard, “That’s not what I was trying to do,” an intention check might have helped your interaction.
It’s a three step process.
This kata starts, like so many things in communication, with self-awareness. The first step is to know what you are trying to achieve. If your internal thoughts are muddy, there’s no way your communication will be clear. Ask yourself, “What do I really want here?” Know your goal for the interaction.
Sometimes you’re just curious. Sometimes you want the other person to do something. Sometimes you need them to know something. Or you want to recognize something they’ve done. But knowing your purpose is the first step to clear communication.
You might also want to check that your intentions are honourable. Working with a client on this recently, she realized, when she checked her intentions that, what she was about to say was really a form of retaliation for something a colleague had said the previous day. When she examined what she really wanted she moved to what was good for the team and the project.
Once you’re clear on your intention, the next step is to share it. People can’t read your mind. What happens if people don’t have the facts about something? Yeah, they make stuff up.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I was a television reporter. The radio people, with whom we shared a newsroom, called us “vidiots.” Were we insulted? No way! We wore the title with pride.
As someone in the business of face-to-face communication, I know I should be using video to share ideas. But memories of a world where smart professionals looked after shooting and editiing make me reluctant to wade into the land of do-it-yourself TV. So I was delighted to be invited to Video Space Camp, a full day of learning, brought to us by Vidyard. (It’s an amazing company I think of as “YouTube for real business.”)
There’s no way to capture a full day’s learning in a blog post, but here are the highlights, as seen through my lens. (more…)
I have no idea why they call it “camp.” It’s held in summer, there are games and it’s fun. But you’re unlikely to get a sunburn at Agile Coach Camp. And there are no spiders – though we did build a web – literally and metaphorically.
The weekend attracts people whose role is to help introduce new ways of working, primarily in software development. Communication is at the heart of the work of the agile coach as he or she helps teams work in more human-centric ways. Coach camp invites them to bring ideas and questions to discuss with colleagues in a conference framework called “open space.”
The French term for “attend” is “assister.” At ACC, participants truly do “assist.” We’re not watching a presentation; we’re part of a dialogue. I am rarely in a situation where so many people are listening carefully to what others are saying. Nor did anyone seem to be trying to impress anyone. (This crowd may be hard to impress.)
Sue’s Letter from Camp – Part Three
As I gaze upon the parched earth that is Southern Ontario, I’m thinking about thunderstorms. They’re forecast for tomorrow. Thunderbolt and lightning, very very frightening!
But apparently, not as frightening as speaking in public. As someone who coaches speakers, I see lots of fear – at least when people first contact me. We work together to take the scariness out of the experience. Of all the tools and ideas we use to make presenting resemble a relaxed conversation, the most powerful is practice. That’s where Lightning Talks will be very useful.
I was exposed to the concept a couple of weeks ago at Agile Coach Camp Canada. They were part of our “Getting To Know You” process. Participation was optional. Yet I was surprised how many people opted to participate. Aren’t these IT people? Don’t they have the gene for nondisclosure? Or introversion, at the very least? This was an event that busted all the stereotypes. I’m not sure participation would be as high in a crowd of my usual conference mates – professional communicators, coaches, and trainers.
As with the Open Space process, it was self-organizing, yet a structure emerged. We sat in a huge circle. One by one, people rose to speak for three minutes on a topic of their choosing: work, life, whatever. Some were funny, others serious. Each was an invitation to consider an idea or to take an action the speaker felt will be good for us. (more…)