Monday, January 03, 2011

More Efficiencies For Techie Facilitators and Trainers: Evernote and Irisnotes

When I am preparing a workshop, in the day(s) before, I go carefully through the Facilitator's Agenda (which has more process detail than the Participant's Agenda) and make detailed notes for myself. For each numbered session (without session numbers the workshop blocks are impossible to keep track of), I write down: 1) what needs to be done for preparation; 2) what materials I need, and 3)  an outline of my "script" - what I am saying to the participants to brief, run and debrief each session.

(A "session" for me, is a thematic block, normally an hour or two in length - the time it takes to introduce something, work through it, and come up with an intended output.)

I normally go one step further with this session preparation, and prepare any Job Aids, handouts, or design the flipcharts that I need to make on site to use in each session (for briefing, debriefing, a group work template, whatever.)

I do this because I need to have thought through as much as possible BEFORE I get into the workshop room, because once I am there anything can happen.

When I'm preparing my flipcharts or whatever needs to be done on the spot in the precious moments just prior to the workshop's start each day, I really cannot be thinking deeply about what I am doing (as strange as that sounds). I can't be designing things, wordsmithing, or wondering about the best way to phrase a group work question, as I can be interrupted at any moment, repeatedly, by practically anyone for practically anything - calls for directions to the venue, catering staff with questions, lost luggage, changing name tags, taking feedback, new ideas and opinions, greetings and more greetings - and you want to be available for all of these very important pre-meeting tasks.

Of course, I could write up my flipcharts in my home office before I go, I do have my own dangerous flipchart (see: Reframing Falling Flipcharts - hmm, there seems to be a recurring theme here.) But then you might have a last minute change, they might get mangled, you might forget them at home or on the bus. So I usually write up the flipcharts as a draft on cards and then recreate them on site using those as a guide.

This is all well and good, but what happens to those cards? If I keep them, they sit in my files, they get misplaced or out of sequence; rarely do I go digging into my files to find and reuse them. What if I could draw each flipchart model once quickly by hand, use it as a model to prepare the real thing in the room, and at the same time keep it electronically? Wouldn't that save me time and from recreating the wheel?

I do now take photos with my iPhone of all my "best" or most useful flipcharts after the workshop and save them in Evernote where I can search for and find them again. I have been doing this for about a year now, and have some 500+ notes which are entirely workshop templates, flipcharts, activities, game descriptions, systems diagrams, good results of group work etc. Why I like Evernote is that its text recognition feature lets me go into my Evernote database and search for a word that is embedded in an image (rather than for a tag or a title). I take so many photos after a workshop that I don't always have time to tag them, and the tags are rather generic anyways, so I can simply search for a word written in the photo of the flipchart and find the image.

I am interested in the possibility now, with my new Irisnotes (a digital pen) (thanks to my friend Lorenzo for this Christmas gift and tutorial!), to actually write up my flipchart "draft" in advance and keep it electronically for use again. I drew the above image with my Irisnotes pen on an A4 paper in 1 minute and when I connected to my PC simply saved it as a jpeg and then uploaded it to this blog, and also saved it on my PC.

This can also be helpful for collaboration. With Irisnotes I can also send the flipchart picture I have just hand drawn as an email. For example, if I was working with Lizzie as my co-facilitator, I could send her all the flipchart drafts in advance for her comments before we get to our venue,without having to type them all up and nicely format them (not one of my strengths).  We could even co-develop them in real time through a process that I used today for another discussion.

This was for a client telephone call focused on agenda development for an upcoming facilitated event. For this call I used Irisnotes while connected to my PC (by a small USB cable), which meant I could see my writing on the screen as I wrote my notes. As I was on a Skype call, I shared my screen  (cool new Skype feature), as we discussed a draft agenda and a set of group exercises (make sure you don't have other files open or Hello Kitty "wallpaper" that you don't want shared as well).

While we were talking, I drew examples of the group work matrices that I was proposing for the meeting in real time. I also captured the steps that we would take as we worked through the flipchart template I was proposing. Because he could see me drawing as I spoke, he could easily follow the logic, question it, help me improve it so the final drawing was more or less agreed. At the end of the conversation I immediately emailed him the file. And with Irisnotes, I could either send the file in my handwriting or convert it to text (accurate, if you write in straight lines, but still expect some minutes of work tidying things up. Lined paper to start with would help this.) Because I was drawing matrices I just sent him the file in handwriting as an aide memoire of our discussion, which I then typed up into a more formal proposal later.

Stick all that into Evernote, so I could find the above notes by searching for "Introductions" or "Group work templates" for example, and the next time I wanted an example or exercise for a workshop, I could find my flipcharts already "made". With the help of some handy technology, I can make my preparation time more efficient, and be prepared for even more of anything.


Lorenzo Leon said...

I'm happy to know you found it so useful!
It's also great that you don't have to worry about the digital part until after you've written it all down, if for example you are taking notes quickly in class.
Go gadgets!

Gillian Martin Mehers said...

Yes, so far so good (it took me a while to figure out how to make a new note, but think I got that - sometimes the simplest things can stump you when you are a beginner!) Thanks again, this will be fun and useful too!

Gillian Martin Mehers said...

Note for the file: Get the pen and new note set up BEFORE you get on the call. I have used this twice today for phone calls, and handwriting worked well. I sent immediately back the notes after the call (the text recognition needed about 5 minutes of editing). It is still fiddly to start a new note - I want the button on the screen that says "New Note". The little button on the face doesn't always respond immediately. Otherwise happy with this as an electronic note taking device for people who need a hand free, and like to have electronic copies of notes. Will keep practicing!

Gillian Martin Mehers said...

Brilliant results today using Irisnotes with Shared Skype Screen on conference call to co-design group work matrices. Rewrote part of blog post with this example. Saved so much time by not going back and forth with badly formatted word docs trying to get it right. OK, so now I will stop commenting on my own blog!