4 Ways to Avoid Being a Soul-crushing Facilitator

September 2, 2014 in Author, Facilitation, Greg Owen-Boger

greg_owen_boger_300Last weekend I was reminded yet again of how poorly people understand the art of facilitating group discussions.

I participated in a meeting made up of leaders of various professional organizations in Chicago. Our goal was to identify ways for us to work better together.

I was seated at a table of four and I had just met the other three leaders in my group. Three questions that we were to discuss were printed on a table tent. Several other leaders were seated in similar configurations around the room. We were all given the same questions to discuss. The meeting organizer explained what we were all to do, gave us 15 minutes to do it, and said, “go.”

Our discussion started just fine. One of my table partners selected herself to be our group’s leader. She skillfully went around the table asking for input on the first question. She did a nice job opening the door for us to contribute. The conversation soon took on a life of its own. Ideas were discussed and improved upon. All four of us talked and listened. Notes were taken. Things were going great. “I’m glad I got up early on a Saturday morning to attend this meeting,” I thought.

But then things went south. The meeting organizer walked up to our table to announce it was time to move on to the second question. “We have to stay on task and on schedule,” she said, as if to reprimand us for something we had done wrong.

The air went out of our discussion. We weren’t done with the first question, and truth be told, we’d already started discussing the second question, because it was closely related to the first.

“Where were we?” the guy across from me asked. No one knew. We’d lost momentum. The group organizer had stomped on our discussion. There were rules to follow. It was time to move on.

In her desire to keep things moving along, she actually harmed the results of our discussion. Her interruption made it clear (unintentionally, I’m sure) that rules trumped quality outcomes.[Tweet “Her (#facilitation) rules trumped quality outcomes. “]

We tried to play along, and the group eventually got back on track, but we lost a few minutes as we recovered from the unwelcomed (and completely unnecessary) interruption.

The Facilitator of a Discussion Has Two Goals
Where the meeting organizer and facilitator of the day went wrong is in failing to understand the basics of group facilitation. She’s not alone. We see this sort of thing all around us.

In our presentation and facilitation skills workshops, we use this teeter-totter image to describe what needs to happen when you’re facilitating a discussion.

You have to balance two goals:encourage control 9-1-14

  1. The first goal is related to content. You need to exert enough control over the group to meet your meeting objectives.
  2. The second goal, which is where we see the most need for improvement, is to create the conditions for a fruitful discussion by encouraging group participation.

The meeting organizer last weekend exerted too much pressure on the control side and crushed our discussion. It’s as if she jumped on the control side of the teeter-totter, flinging us off. Eventually we brushed ourselves off and climbed back on, but at the expense of efficiency and our good will.

There are 4 Skills to Master
Learning to balance these goals takes practice, but it can be learned.

  1. First, you have to understand and accept the dynamics of the process, that discussions need to be controlled and encouraged.
  2. Second, you have to learn to be flexible and recognize that sometimes what’s happening in the moment is more fruitful than sticking to a plan.
  3. In order to do that, facilitators need to listen fearlessly. This is something our meeting organizer did not do. She interrupted our conversation, and exerted control over it without listening to where we were in the process.
  4. And finally, you need to learn to think on your feet. You need to be able to make split-second decisions that are for the good of the group and the meeting objective.

There are other skills we could talk about, but for the sake of brevity, we’ll leave it there. What are your thoughts?

by Greg Owen-Boger, VP at Turpin Communication and co-author of the book, “The Orderly Conversation”

Rethinking the Visual Component of Your Presentations (Part 3 of 4)

September 9, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Preparation, Presentation

Part 1, Part 2, Part 4

This is the third in a series of four articles about the need to take a fresh look at the visuals you use in your presentations. In this article I’ll talk about images that you use during your presentations that exist on their own outside of it. Things like sales numbers, financial reports, marketing data, flow charts, and org charts. All of these things are essentially documents intended to be read.

When faced with the challenge of delivering this information, either you change the document to make your point clear (thereby making the document an effective visual aid in the traditional sense) or you leave the document as it is and guide the audience through it during delivery.

Whichever way you do it, you need to make sure your decision is appropriate for the audience.

If business presentations were always simple, predictable processes, involving very little interaction between you and your audience, your choice is easy. You would transform the document into a well-designed visual. You would simplify, streamline, edit, and determine precisely what the audience’s takeaway from the slide is.

But, because presentations are usually not simple or predictable, it’s not always possible to transform data into beautiful slides. Your audience may want or need more information than a well-designed slide will allow. They may want the details so they can discuss them with you. They may be stubborn or resistant and expect you to give them the information they need to be persuaded.

In these situations, you’re better off giving them the data and all of its detail to look at.

Just keep in mind that when you do this, the focus in the room changes. It shifts away from you and toward the visual. When that happens, the presentation becomes a group discussion and you become the facilitator of it. When the conversation about the data is over, you assume your role as presenter again, but for that short period of time your responsibilities are different.

Why is this an important distinction? Because you have to let the discussion take place. That requires giving up some of your control and letting the audience determine where the conversation goes. It’s important to make sure they know what they’re looking at and why. They need time to think, question, and discuss. Your job is to let the data become the subject of the conversation without derailing the presentation.

This process is another example of how your business presentations are different than formal speeches. Presentations often require an in-depth examination and discussion of the information. The visuals you use—regardless of their origin or design—should make the process as easy and productive as possible.

In the final article on this topic, I’ll discuss slides meant to bring emphasis or emotion to your presentations.

Part 1Part 2, Part 4

by Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”

Calling Things by their Proper Name

May 13, 2013 in Author, Greg Owen-Boger, Presentation, Talent Development

greg 200x300“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.” Confucius

I’ve heard this quote used in many contexts. I suppose that’s for good reason. What we call things matters.

For example, many types of communication are called “presentations,” and that’s caused a lot of trouble for business people.

A TED talk is very different from an industry conference breakout session, which is very different from a getting-work-done presentation to your team, which is very different from a sales presentation one might give sitting down across a desk to a single person. Unfortunately, each of these has been called a “presentation.”

To muck things up even more, our university system and the Learning & Development industry don’t differentiate. They use speechmaking rules and techniques when training for all types of presentations. As you may have read in The Orderly Conversation Blog before, it takes a very different set of skills to plan for and initiate these different types of communication events.

Add all the bad advice and chest thumping over PowerPoint (see this discussion on the ASTD LinkedIn Group) and we have a real mess on our hands.

So, what to do?

Here are my thoughts: Let’s agree to name the types of communication events we’re talking about. We’ll start by figuring out how formal they are and how much interaction is involved. Then we’ll figure out what skills and techniques are useful for each.

If it’s a one-way communication event without interaction from the audience and a rather high degree of formality, then it’s a speech or a lecture.

TED talks and keynotes fall into this category. While these events, in order to be effective, need to feel conversational, they actually aren’t because there’s no real dialogue taking place. The speaker does not react to the audience in a way that changes the course of the speech.

Learning to master speechmaking requires a certain type of training and rehearsal.

On the other hand, if it’s a two-way communication event with genuine interaction from the audience, it’s a presentation.

Most getting-business-done presentations fall into this category. They are, of course, prepared but because of their reactive nature, they also zig and zag in response to input from the audience.

Because of the conversational nature of these types of presentations they tend to be informal. The role of the presenter in these situations is similar to that of facilitator.

Learning to master these types of presentations requires a different set of skills. Rather than rehearsing to get it just right, presenters prepare to be flexible and responsive to the individuals in the audience.

The Beginning of Wisdom is to Call Things by their Proper Name
We’ve found it useful to take it one step further and define business presentations as Orderly Conversations. Orderly because they need to be carefully thought through and prepared. Conversations because they only succeed when a genuine dialogue takes place between speaker and audience. Once presenters are comfortable with both sides of the Orderly Conversation concept, their ability to manage the process is assured.

Dale Ludwig, Turpin’s founder, and I are in the process of finalizing our new book entitled “The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined.”

Our goal is to clear up the confusion so business presenters everywhere will gain a better understanding of what it takes to be an effective communicator.

By Greg Owen-Boger, VP at Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”

Why We Do What We Do (Part 4 of 4)

May 6, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Facilitation, Posts for Buyers, Presentation, Training

A Discussion of Turpin Communication’s Core Principles:
The Presenter’s Role as Facilitator

Part 1Part 2, Part 3

Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin CommunicationThis is the fourth and final post focusing on Turpin’s core principles. In the first three I defined the Orderly Conversation, Default Approaches and what it means to be engaged in a genuine conversation. In this post I’ll talk about how delivering a presentation, regardless of its purpose or setting, requires the skills of a facilitator.

When we think of facilitation, most of us think of the discussions that take place in the training room, during problem-solving meetings, or brainstorming sessions. Facilitators in these situations are skilled at moving a group of people toward a specific goal. They help people understand new information, find solutions, and share insights. Their job is to (1) encourage the process to ensure a genuine conversation takes place and (2) control the conversation to keep it appropriately focused on the goal.

This isn’t easy, of course, because the first goal always competes with the second. When the conversation really gets going, the facilitator has to be astute enough to rein it in without stifling it altogether.

Facilitating Your Presentations

The same thing needs to happen during your presentations—even if you’re the person doing most of the talking. Your audience wants to feel they have the opportunity to participate, even if they choose not to take it. They also want to feel that you’re capable of managing the twists and turns of the conversation, even when they are the people pulling you off track.

Many presenters—especially those who are under the stress of nervousness, are new to their role, or feeling intimidated by the audience—are too controlling. Their focus on the orderly part of the process makes them appear uncomfortable, impatient, defensive, or domineering. They don’t trust the audience or the process enough to let the conversation breathe. Audiences sense this, of course, and pull away. Sometimes they simply shut down and wait for the presentation to be over. Sometimes their frustration leads to more open resistance.

The most successful presenters are those who understand that they can’t get the job done without the audience. They trust the group and the process to make a necessary, though not always easily managed, contribution. They know that without it, a genuine conversation never takes place.

So that wraps up my discussion of Turpin’s core principles. The common theme? By redefining business presentations as Orderly Conversations, the real-life challenges you face and the strategies you need to manage them come into sharper focus.

Part 1Part 2Part 3

by Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”

Encouraging Discussion

July 23, 2012 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Facilitation, Preparation, Presentation, Training

This is a follow-up to the blog I wrote a few months ago, They Won’t Speak if You Don’t Listen.

In that post, I mentioned that facilitators have two fundamental goals. They need to (1) encourage participation in the conversation and (2) control the discussion once it begins. As I said, facilitators often spend too much energy on the second and not nearly enough on the first. The result is that many discussions take too long to get started or fail to get started at all.

Part of this problem has to do with how the group feels about the process and the facilitator. When they feel that the facilitator has their needs in mind and is genuinely interested in their input, they will be willing to do the work required to participate. When they don’t feel a part of the process, they will hold back, only put in the minimum amount of effort required or shut down completely.

When you’re facilitating a discussion, think about these questions.

  • Are you willing to let the discussion go where it needs to go? If not, maybe a discussion isn’t appropriate at this time.
  • Do you welcome opposing points of view? If not, the discussion will grind to a halt.
  • Do you care about the process, not just the result? Good discussions are not efficient. They are about exploring and understanding a variety of perspectives. While a facilitator can often sense where a discussion is headed, sometimes it’s important to let others discover the way themselves.
  • For trainers, are you using discussion to reach deeper understanding or merely the “right” answer? If it’s the latter, you may be straining your trainees’ patience and good will.

So, the next time you’re leading a discussion and feeling that you might be losing control of the process, stop and think about the possibility that what’s happening might be the exactly what should be happening.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

I need to warm up my audience. What sort of icebreaker should I use?

July 3, 2012 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, Facilitation, FAQs, Introduction, Presentation, Video

In this video blog, Dale discusses icebreakers and the best way to use them to benefit your audience.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication