Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Overcoming Your Fear of Public Skiing

What makes some people look down a steep and slippery mountain and say to themselves, "Weee heee, I can get down this slope REALLY FAST!" and yet fill other people with absolute terror?

What makes some people approach a public speaking event, standing on a stage in front of 900 people, with excitement and anticipation, and give other people the cold sweats several months in advance of the event?

Part could be fear of the unknown (although for my son, he approaches every ski-able mountain with the same glee, whether he has been down it already or not). Certainly some certainty about what is around the corner, or down the hill, or some familiarity with my audience, is helpful. You can check out the plan, get some local knowledge (who's been down that hill or worked with that group before?), do what you need to to inform yourself about what is coming.

Part could be confidence in your ability to handle new and unexpected things. This could come from a great deal of practice, so taking hours of lessons, clocking hours of snow time, and getting back up over and over again can help (if you don't hit a tree and break your arm one of those times, which can set you back both physically and mentally, let me assure you).

This also works with public speaking and facilitation - after I have done a run of workshops, I feel like I start from a position of confidence in front of a group. And even after a dud workshop session or presentation for whatever reason (and we have all had them -my first Toastmasters Table topic was a real blooper), you need to reflect on that and try to remember more of what you learned next time (lean forward, dig in those edges, prepare yourself, keep cool). Learning from more experienced speakers and facilitators (as well as skiers) is a great way to learn - be it in lessons or from mentoring/shadowing/keen observation.

Part could be sheer bravado, but I am not sure how I can map that over to public speaking or facilitation - except that if you believe it enough there might be some self-fulfilling prophecy there. This might relate to just that instinctive feeling that you can do something; that you have the right tools and equipment and muscles, and master them, you have good general awareness, and feel that normally when you try something and give it your best, it works out. (This could be a pre-tree collision feeling, but can come back with some additional effort and if you don't give up, I am assured.)

All I can say at this point, is that I look at an audience at a workshop, or in an auditorium with much less trepidation than I do that mountain slope and I'm doing my best to apply my learning from one to the other!

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Can Good Storytelling Help You Be a Better Learning Designer?

In the learning field, especially when the approach is learner-centred, we talk of the "learning journey" that people go on as they build their capacity/understanding/competency in a new area. We may also use the words "learning narrative" to describe this learning process to others.

It's interesting to think how a learning practitioner builds his or her ability to design a compelling learning journey. And I wondered today how storytelling and story writing might help us...

If you look at the structure of a story and that of a learning process (let's take a week long workshop for example) you might find some of the same steps along the way.

Where a story might introduce the characters at the beginning, in a learning course you would introduce both the participants on the learning journey (e.g. other learners in the room), as well as the issues that will be playing a big role in the week.

After introductions, you might have some time to get to know the characters, including their backstories and ambitions. In a learning workshop you might at this stage have some group development exercises to help people to get to know more about their colleagues, and also go deeper together into the issues and themes of the workshop. As in a good story, all would not be described in a linear or obvious way; you would discover interesting new things, facets and added complexity, as you read. In a workshop it could be the same, new aspects of the theme would be uncovered as the group digs into it and adds their own different perspectives to it (e.g. through group discussion and work, rather than only presented through straight lecture format).

Then, just when you get comfortable (hey, I get this stuff!) there needs to be a challenge - some tension in our story (and our learning) - what ever will our heroes do?!

(And of course there might also be some antagonists - in workshops they call themselves "Devil's Advocates":-)

Our challenge may be a real community challenge-like transboundary water conflict or unsustainable fishing practices - to which the workshop participants, with the community members, are trying to contribute some thinking. It might be a learning case study to solve together or a U-process that helps them reflect on a problem, perplexing issue or an unhelpful paradigm. At this point in our story, and our workshop, as we try to overcome the challenge, passions and emotions may be high - can we do it?

Yes we can! (At this point the ending of our story may be personally biased, I tend towards resolution and happy endings, and I think that learning environments often benefit from the same). In our story, this can include that ending summary that we see when the characters get together and talk through what happened (like at the end of Secret Seven books or Scooby Doo episodes). In our workshop it may be a final report back on the conclusions of the group work, presented to the community or to each other. This could be followed by a collaboratively built summary reflection on what happened and what people learned, and some final words.

In stories, as in learning, there are lots of interesting ways to make the narrative exciting for the reader (and workshops for our learners). Unusual and complex situations and scenarios (who gets the land: the farmers, villagers, foresters or loggers?), thought experiments, seeing things from different perspectives, excellent questions, incredible backdrops (I once held a learning workshop on a beach in Thailand, at a wastewater treatment plant in Morocco, and a mountaintop in northern Mexico) and more.

So, where can you find insight and inspiration for the design of your learning narrative? Read any good books lately?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

How to Be Green and Great: Learning About Business Transformation with a New Simulation Game

Last week I had the great pleasure to play a trial of the new Green & Great Game with Piotr Magnuszewski.

(In case you want to know more about the kind of interesting people who develop useful learning games like this - based on computer models -  you can look up Piotr who is a faculty member of the Centre for Systems Solutions,  a Senior Associate of the AtKisson Group (as I am), and a Balaton Group Member  - a network of systems dynamicists and modellers, systems thinkers and sustainability advocates. )

Green & Great is a new simulation game that helps players explore the "business transition to sustainability". The game can played online or preferably in a room with multiple teams, face-to-face, with computer assistance. Up to 6 teams, with 1-5 members each, can play simultaneously and the game takes around 2 hours to play the five 1-year cycles of company strategy and decision-making.

In the simulation, the teams run consulting companies that are advising businesses working in the energy and finance sector (currently, more sectors are being added). The teams go through the decision making cycle of bidding on projects, hiring people with specific competencies, developing internal projects and making staff assignments (and other HR decisions such as training).

The results of these decisions are reported using the Compass (N=Nature, E=Economy, S= Society, and W=Wellbeing) which gives you progress indicators for your company as well as information on your competitors. Teams also get market information annually, about how the sectors are changing, upcoming legislation, what is being expected by consumers regarding environmental reporting, etc.

Teams run their companies for 5 years, and all the usual things happen: people may quit (but of course you can do something about job satisfaction - training or green benefits anyone?), reputation is important (and again the choices on external and internal projects can affect that - what about that CSR reporting project?), sectors change as certain consumer and government demands around transparency change), companies make money (or don't) based on the decisions they make and the impacts of their projects on those compass points (some projects may not be available to you, as in the real world, if your reputation in that area is below a certain accepted level). There's a lot to manage and monitor, but then that is the nature of successful businesses and including those moving in and around the sustainable development space.

My two hours with the game flew by and I really enjoyed playing Green & Great. I found the game very thought-provoking, complex but not overwhelming, and fun! (Which is one of my top criteria for games!)

I played my company team on my own, which is always going to be easier, as I only had myself to convince for decision-making. Because we were trialing it, we talked quite a lot with Piotr and among the competing teams, which might be less in a real game. I can imagine however playing it with a team and the rich conversations which would surround our choices about what kind of projects to take, how to build up a committed workforce, to take our sustainability values seriously and still make a good income. I was delighted that I ended up with high scores around Nature, Society and Wellbeing and towards the top for Economy (not the highest, but a satisfying result - we didn't go broke keeping our other three compass indicators high - not even close!)

The game is great for consulting company teams, or for businesses who are working towards and trading in the sustainable development field. It is also an excellent way for people in the NGO or public sector to learn more about their private sector partners and the environment in which they are working. The game gives good opportunities for insight into how business is transforming and can help enrich the dialogue with business that you find in public-private partnerships.

It's available now to play, and you can either play it with your own teams internally, with mixed sector teams if you have a joint project, or if you are a game administrator/facilitator/trainer you can play the game with your clients. They are continuing to enhance Green&Great and are happy to have feedback (which I was also happy to give - it is nice when a game is constantly evolving.)

Curious? If you want to try it out for yourself you can sign up for a demo and free trial on the website: Green & Great

Friday, October 19, 2012

Lights, Camera, Action! Tips for Speaking and Facilitating on Big Stages

Last week I had the great honour to join Women's Forum for the Economy and Society as a main stage facilitator and moderator. My session, one of the opening plenaries, was set as a brainstorming session with 600+ participants on Women's Visions for 360 degree Growth. My role was to moderate and facilitate meaningful interactivity with the participants, and to moderate a panel of interesting women leaders working in this field. 

This blog post is not so much about the content of the session, which was fascinating (challenging GDP as the growth indicator, especially when growth is being more expansively defined in terms of well-being,  equity and more; looking at the opportunities (and challenges) to international cooperation towards developing a new paradigm for growth, and the role of social media like Facebook in new forms of governance and democracy - fascinating stuff!) If you have the patience to watch a 90 minute video, or part of it, you can watch the session and the panelists here: Video of 360 Degree Growth Session

What I wanted to write about here was a list of the best tips I received from a number of great speaking coaches while I was writing and preparing for this session. As I am devoted to reusable learning,  I wanted to document them so that I don't forget them, can use them next time, and who knows, they might be useful t others too! I have broken these tips down into three areas:

Tips for TV Interviews, Public Speaking and Panel Moderating

Giving Great TV Interviews
  • Don't take an impromptu interview - never! Ask for the question(s) or topic, and re-schedule even if it is only 15 or 30 minutes later. Then prepare your answers. According to a French coach, interviews are like a "seduction", they want you so they will wait.
  • Give short answers. The interviewer wants to ask you questions and move the conversation along in some direction. TV interviews are not speeches, they are a back and forth with the interviewer. This is also much more dynamic for the viewers.
  • Be concrete. Say something concrete in every answer ( include data, a number, a short case example.)
  • Be prepared to give an example for everything. A favourite question for interviewers is, "can you give an example of that?" This always makes the story more interesting and concrete.
  • Pause. For thinking and/or effect - silence is your friend.
  • Smile! It makes you appear more comfortable and connects with the interviewer and audience more easily.

Speaking in Public - Part I: Preparation
  • Practice for HOURS not minutes
  • Memorize your overall sequence, or arc of the session - where is it going, and what are the main parts. If you can, repeat this to the audience before you start.  
  • Prepare your notes in three parts (this is my own advice): 1) Create a detailed agenda (I have a template for this, which includes timing, transitions, and all the information on how to run interactive components);  2) Based on this write our a verbatim script; 3) Then write memory prompts on cards. For the cards I cut small rectangles out of black paper and write on them with a white pen. The cards need to be the right size to hold in palm of your hand. Number them, because at some point you will be shuffling them and will lose your place if you don't do that! In the end you might not use them, but you will have them just in case.
Speaking in Public - Part II: Delivery
  • Use short sentences at beginning. This makes it easier to remember those opening lines and helps to manage nerves and breathing.
  • Emphasize one word in every sentence. This may sound strange but try it (don't overdo this though). It can be any word. This helps to vary the cadence. You can also experiment with having sentences end high or low (as in pitch - I am probably butchering the musical references here, but I know what I mean!)
  • Speak more slowly than you think is normal. Pause in between sentences so people can follow. This is especially important with an international audience. People need to get used to your accent. As someone from the Midwest of US, I always think that I don't have an accent, but I am assured that this is not true!
  • Use the physical space on stage. Walk up down, side to side, back and front - I even walked up and down the steps into the audience several times. (But don't PACE obviously.)
  • Use your hands, use your face, use everything. This will be much more interesting. Of course, use them for emphasis so it is not weirdly distracting.
  • Don't wear anything too busy by your face (e.g .necklace or scarf) if there is simultaneous video (e.g. if there is a big screen behind you, and for web streaming) it looks overwhelming.
  • Boost your confidence. Get your hair styled and make up done professionally, wear something that makes you feel fabulous, talk to a good friend right before, or any other thing you can think of!

Moderating a Panel Discussion on Stage

Note: For moderation, the difference between good and bad is mostly about preparation - I had so many audience members note that most moderators did not seem to know their speakers, so could not really draw out the most relevant facts for the audience.
  • Make a notebook with a divider for each of the panelists. In each section, create a collection of their CV and narrative bio, a photo, their writing, articles on the web when they have been interviewed. Notice what they have been asked and how they answered. Ask them what they recommend you read that is iconic of their work. Read all of these inputs across the different speakers to spot patterns that can provide you with some red threads that can help knit together their inputs into a coherent discussion.
  • Google the speakers. See if they are on Twitter, watch their videos on YouTube, read their comments on other people's work.  Make notes of most interesting parts and some interesting facts or  good quotes you might want to use.
  • Memorise their names, titles, places of work so you can say them without hesitation (or notes )
  • Draft and memorise a leading question for each of them that reminds the audience who they are = even if they were introduced before (e.g. Marilyn, you are a Professor of Economics and...)
My session at the Women's Forum combined quite a few of these different methodologies as it was interactive and had several distinct parts that I needed to weave together into a coherent whole for the audience that gave them an interesting, interactive and meaningful experience. I tried to take my own advice! If you have the patience to watch a 90 minute video, or part of it, you can watch the session ( Video of 360 Degree Growth Session ) and judge for yourself - you might have some other great tips that I can add to the list. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Learning to Use Evernote: Two Examples from a Learning Practitioner

I use Evernote ("Remember Everything") for many things from tracking my kids' football schedules to contacts for my favorite conference centres, but the most useful things for my learning and facilitation work include:

1. Keeping track of photos that I take at my workshops, including all the flipchart templates, job aids, handouts, game descriptions. I use these both for reporting purposes, but also so these materials become reusable (thus I don't have to think again about how to frame this or that activity, or can write over a formatted job aid etc.)

I also have a great set of individual visual facilitation icons in there that I created for myself during a training course I took. Now I can scan that archive to remind myself how to draw those little star people holding trophies. The great thing about Evernote is that you can search text in photos, so I can find things easily again (even more so if I write the client's name or session key word on the flipchart itself before I photo it).

2. Keeping track of articles that are useful to my work. I had an enormous stack of printed articles that I could not part with sitting on the floor of my office for years. One Saturday I went through them all and either found them on the internet and copied them into Evernote, or took a photo of them (you can also scan them) and put them there.   I recycled my paper stack (which I could not search) and now have both a clean office floor and a great archive of articles (which I can search). Some were from as far back as 1984! Almost everything is on the internet these days - even 2002 editions of Water Resources Impact Newsletter which featured a special issue way back then on Distance Learning and E-Learning in Water Resources Education, interesting from a historical perspective on this fast moving field.

I wrote about this process in a post called What to Do With a Stack of Reading? Create a Personal Knowledge Management System. I could always google, but with my personal archive, I can be sure that every one of the 269 article there is relevant for something I am doing.

On the articles, just a tip, after the first push to input existing hard copy, now it is easier -  I have installed a button on my browser which will let me instantly clip an article and automatically put it into Evernote. Because I can have certain notebooks synced so that I can access them offline, I can do my research on the plane if needed.

So enough about me, I wanted to write this post to point to a set of daily tips that are being written on using Evernote. The first two are linked below, and you can follow the others on Damian's Blog: .net from Geneva, Switzerland:

Evernote Tip 1 is: You say: "I like Evernote, but I'm not sure I'm using it correctly" - I say "don't worry, there is no one 'right way' "

Evernote Tip 2 is: What is an Evernote Notebook? So what if I have 80 notebooks?

Apparently there will be 31 of these being written daily this month (but timeless). By the way Evernote is free, and for inspiration you can check out the Evernote Trunk for cool examples of how people are using it, like with IdeaPaint which you can use on your wall to turn it into a giant whiteboard, then take photos of your drawings and ideas with your phone and store them in Evernote, which you can then search.

Monday, August 20, 2012

"Howtoons" - Tinkering, Making and Mashing

I've had the word "Howtoons" written on my bulletin board for several years.

For me, the word has become emblematic for mashing things (anything) - combining, mixing, using them in ways you might not have thought about before - to make something new and even more useful. And there are blissfully no rules to this.

In the case of Howtoons it is using cartoons and comics to help people learn how to do things (versus pure storytelling and entertainment alone).

I love the word "Howtoons" for what it reminds me to do. It's almost a one-word checklist for:
  • Is there something completely different I can do with this thingy?
  • Can I put something from another field, sector, industry, country, department, etc. with this to get something fresh and new that I can use? (I wrote a little about this in 2008 in a post called "Keeping it Fresh" after my 5th circus performance as a spectator in a month, and again in 2011 in 10 Different Ways to Do Anything: Get Inspiration Anywhere)

And when I googled "Howtoons" just now, I was even more delighted with some of the sites that use this moniker.

At the Instructables website, they call Howtoons "weapons of mass construction" and show in comic strip format how to make everything from a Marshmallow Shooter to a Turkey Baster Flute. They say they use OpenKidsWare much like MIT uses OpenCourseWare for wider distribution.

The Howtoons website itself is more of a one-pane cartoon, very sophisticated and embedded with what makes great comics, where they manage with this format to explain how to make their alka-seltzer powered rocket and spring loaded chopsticks. They also explain that Howtoons are what you get when you take a comic book artist, an inventor and a toy designer and put them together. Another successful mash-up!

Ever in search of innovative ways to help people learn, I have been delighted with what I have heard in the last year about the "Maker" movement (not as in True Blood) and tinkering, as ways to bring innovation and creativity to learning. These were both featured at the DML (Digital Media and Learning) Conference earlier this year - they even had on their Conference Committee a "Making, Tinkering and Remixing Chair" - Mitch Resnick.

DML sessions included Tinkering with Tangibles (digital textiles), Making Makeshop (on designing making experiences with families), Literacies of Making, Mobile Quests (that remix public events for social change), Design Tinkering  - that was a breakout - very fun!

In the Design Tinkering workshop, each table had the same pack of materials and some instructions. Two tables each had the same instructions -e.g. there were two sets of instructions - one was prescriptive about what to do with the materials, the other said (as below) "build and explore as much as you can about the materials provided". We tinkered, and it was great fun re-purposing familiar materials into new things (the "thing" we made below lights up, not sure how useful it is otherwise, but we enjoyed our work)!

At TEDGlobal this year, we were also treated to talks on tinkering and making, with an interesting one by the co-founder of Arduino, Massimo Banzi. Arduino makes the cheap open-source microcontroller, a small programmable computer that has launched a thousand projects (like the DIY kit that sends a Tweet when your beloved houseplant needs watering.)

Another TEDGlobal speaker, Ellen Jorgensen, talked about her do-it-yourself biotechnology lab where you can walk-in and do biotech research in a community lab like GenSpace (where you can "hang out, do science and eat pizza.") TEDGlobal itself even had its own MakerSpace where you could do your own DNA extractions, among other things. I wrote about my bio-molecular self-assembly experience in TEDGlobal2012: What's Going On Right Now?

I will keep that word "Howtoons" right in front of me on my white board. For inspiration, and to prompt me to combine, recombine, mix and mash my learning tools with each other or even very different things - whether its cartoons and how-to advice or others (and I'm sure I can think of a way to use that Turkey Baster Flute in my work...some how...)

Friday, August 17, 2012

Why We're Using Ignites in our Conference Workshop

I'm currently working with a team on a number of 2-hour workshops that will be held at an upcoming international conservation congress in September. For one of the workshops we will feature 6 speakers sharing different approaches to working with their supply chains.

We will be using the Ignite format for their presentations and every presenter I have spoken with so far has been keen to try this, although they realise that the format is a little more challenging for them than the traditional PPT slide set that you control yourself.

I was asked by one presenter to share why we thought this format was a good choice, so I wrote up the following short description and rationale for why Ignites are great for conference presentations:

Ignites started in 2006 in Seattle, Washington, supported by O'Reilly media, and focused in those early days on helping the technology industry speakers "ignite" their audiences with new ideas, but in 5 minutes bursts. With the slogan "enlighten me, but make it quick" it rapidly caught the imagination of other conference and event organizers (both within the tech industry and beyond) as a way to feature many people, and thus many ideas, in a reliably short period of time.

The format of an Ignite is 20 slides auto-timed at 15 seconds each, which is similar to the Pecha Kucha format (which is 20 slides auto-timed at 20 seconds each). Pecha Kucha's also came out of industry, launched as it was by presenters from the design industry in Japan, earlier in 2003.

These are powerful formats for conference settings as:
  1. They focus the speakers on a strong narrative line and key messages (avoiding going off message and in different directions during their talk);
  2. The format keeps the speaker to time, as the slides are auto-timed in advance meaning they change automatically during the presentation. This also means that all speakers have the same time allocation, and the last speaker doesn't get squeezed by the time transgressions of the first speakers (we've all seen it happen).
  3. It means you can have, with confidence, more speakers and ideas, which allows for greater information exchange, as the talks are guaranteed to be short (after the last slide shows the screen goes black and its obviously over);
  4. It sets up a reliable pace for the audience, so they can relax into the 5-minute segments (even with many speakers) knowing that the presenter will stick to time and the essential points. They also know that if one presentation is bad, then it is only bad for 5 minutes and not for an ideterminable time period. This goes a long way in conferences to enhance audience enjoyment and engagement.
These are just some of the reasons we will be using Ignites in our conference sessions, and why this format is a strong choice for this!

I have written some other blog posts on using both Pecha Kuchas and Ignites, and what makes them good. If you're interested:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

TEDGlobal 2012: A Moment in Time - What's Going On Right Now?

TEDGlobal 2012 started yesterday in Edinburgh for 700 people from 71 countries. With the theme "Radical Openness", we have been treated to the first 23 short presentations from TEDUniversity, which are given by audience members who apply and are informed 3 weeks before the event that they have been selected to speak. 

These talks give a sense of who is in the audience, and it ranges from Julian Treasure -  a four time TEDU speaker who talks to us about designing with your ears, and how noise can affect everything from accuracy in hospital staff to levels of helpfulness in employees in open plan offices - to a Minnesota Librarian Ann Treacy, a first time TEDgoer, who implores us to use "Ready, shoot, aim!" to promote agility and support more iterative learning processes.

I am watching this from the simulcast area, and there is also a lot of activity going on here. In addition to the seemingly constant supply of warm cinnamon buns, there are people shaking glass vials of bio-molecular self-assembly (this below is a tobacco plant virus that I have managed to assemble myself), and explaining different kinds of tea and coffee collection, and brewing processes (the peony white tea is delicious).

The screens everywhere tell us that today at 5pm, the singer Macy Gray is doing a book signing, and people every are talking or blogging (like me) or tweeting (hashtag #TEDglobal). The main stage programme starts in a hour with 79 speakers scheduled to give their TEDTalks in the next four days.  It seems relatively quiet now here in the main simulcast room outside the main stage, the calm before the ideas storm.

Monday, June 25, 2012

18 Presentations in a Row? What Can You Do?

I recently facilitated a workshop where 18 country teams participated and needed to present their progress and work for the year. They felt they needed to do this to foster peer learning among the countries and to gain an overview of what was happening globally. However, it is hard to imagine any one person listening actively to that many presentations in a row, although for pattern spotting, for good practice ideas and to see who are your resources in the group, it would behoove every one to listen without falling asleep.

So here is what we did...

  1. Expectation Management: We gave each country 7 minutes for their presentation, we told them we would time them; 
  2. Making Inputs Parallel and Comparable: We gave everyone a PPT template of the key questions to fill in which was made up of 6 slides with headings (Frankly I think 4 would have been easier for them to stay in time);
  3. Split Them Up:  I created four sessions over 2 days to spread them out, continuity was created using other tracking and memory tools (below).
  1. Time Keeping: I timed each presentation with my Iphone using the Doorbell sound to signal time up. I also gave 2 minute warnings with two fingers and walked around the room until I could catch the speaker's eye (if they were strategically avoiding me). Everyone but one speaker stopped within 30 seconds of hearing that doorbell ring twice into my hand held microphone (note that if you have interpreters, then don't put the phone right up to the microphone, it apparently drives them crazy, which I can well understand);
  2. Keep it Equal: Why the Iphone is great is that no one imagines that you are judging the time yourself subjectively, the time is up when the timer goes off. This was accepted by the speakers, only one person challenged me, but then I let her watch my phone for the following speaker and that was that.
Listeners as Learners:
  1. Helping Learners Stay Concentrated: Find as many ways as possible to help the people listening to stay engaged: I did three things:
  2. Use the Bell to Set Pace: Once the crisp pace is set, then people can endure presentations that might not be as strong as others, because they know it is for exactly 7 minutes.
  3. Count Down Visually: I created a flipchart checklist (above) at the front of the room of the 18 country presentations in alphabetical order and made a big flourish when checking them off as a presentation was completed. This helped people keep track of who was on and who was next, but also how many presentations there were to go:
  4. Make a Job Aid: As we didn't have time to have a discussion or even take questions between the 18 presentations,  I created a Job Aid (handout) that asked the listener a couple of questions about each presentation - first to reflect on the presentation and identify, "What ideas did I appreciate most from the presentation?" - that was a appreciative frame that assumes that you will get ideas and appreciate them! At least it gets people listening to them to see if they can identify this. The second question asked for "Ideas to follow up on with the team members" - e.g. further questions. By capturing these in real time, they could go find the speaker in the coffee break and follow up on their questions (or ask them in plenary if time). This Job Aid had the benefit of tracking progress too for the individual, and letting them customise their follow up one-on-one with the presenters during coffee/lunch/evenings, rather than having one or two people hijack the plenary after each.

After the Presentations:
  1. Pattern Spotting: Rather than rushing on into the next thing, we built in a good amount of time to discuss the meta-level findings from all the presentations once they were completed - what similarities did participants hear and what diversity? Were there any messages or learning points coming through loud and clear in many of them?  As people used the Job Aid to capture their thoughts and organize them, when it came to the pattern spotting, it was easier for people to thoughtfully contribute.
In the end, we did it - people made it through all of them - both presenters and listeners, and identified some fascinating interconnections and good practice. And although it seemed easy, it took quite a bit of work to design it so that, in spite of 18 presentations, people can stay engaged and learning throughout the whole event.

What facilitation and learning tips do you have when dealing with a slew of presentations?

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The Economy, It's Nature's Business: TEDxTalk by Eva Zabey

Gillian's recent sharing of TEDx talks reminded me that it was high time we share an excellent talk that couldn't be more relevant in the lead up to Rio+20 later this month (for which a lead theme is the Green Economy) ... not to mention the fact that yesterday was World Environment Day!  If it passed you by unawares, not to worry.  Take a few minutes today to watch this talk and share it widely to do your bit.  The short talk is called "The Economy, It's Nature's Business" by Eva Zabey.  

Eva asks - How about we use the economy to guard the environment as part of the way we work it? Natural ecosystems provide services not accounted for in today’s economy because they’re not appropriately valued, yet all businesses depend on ecosystems services, even if the extent to which they are aware of this varies greatly. The methodologies are evolving to do the maths necessary to value ecosystem services and make informed decisions. Now, she explains, we have Corporate Ecosystem Valuation tools to smarten our decision-making in business, legislation and policy. "Environment versus the economy is so passé. It’s environment in the economy!"   Watch Eva's talk now and let us know what you think.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Comics in Crises: Tjeerd Royaards at TEDxGenevaChange

Tjeerd is a Dutch editorial cartoonist living in Amsterdam. He has worked as a cartoonist for over seven years, ever since getting a master's degree in Political Science at the University of Amsterdam. .His work has appeared in Dutch dailies NRC Next, De Pers and De Volkskrant, as well as German newspapers Handelsblatt and Hannoversche Allgemeine and Swiss weekly Weltwoche. In 2010 Tjeerd received a "Citation of Excellence" in the United Nations Political Cartoon Award.

Tjeerd is Editor-in-Chief of the Cartoon Movement, a global platform for high quality political cartoons and comics journalism and his TEDxGenevaChange talk is about the power of cartoons in crises.

All Disasters Are Preventable: Muralee Thummarukudy at TEDxGeneva Change

The Chief of Disaster Risk Reduction at the United Nations Environment Programme, Muralee Thummarukudy has over 20 years experience in Environment and Disaster Management around the world, including as Corporate Adviser to Shell-operated oil companies in the Middle East and with Post Conflict and Disaster Management Branch of UNEP, involved in responses to major natural disasters, including the SE Asia tsunami (2004), the earthquake in China (2008), cyclone Nargis in Myanmar (2008), earthquake in Haiti (2010) and recent floods in Thailand. He also dealt with post-conflict environmental assessment and clean up in Iraq, Lebanon, occupied Palestinian territories, Liberia, Sudan, Rwanda, and Kenya. Originally from Kerala, Muralee is well known for his humorous travel stories.

Value Life Over Death: Mahesh Mahalingam at TEDxGenevaChange

The TEDxGenevaChange 2012 was an exciting event, and we are posting the videos here on our blog. In this one, we present Mahesh Mahalingam who encouraged us all to "Value Life Over Death."

Mahesh has worked on AIDS for 21 years. After developing a passion for activism at college, after a short career in advertising and broadcasting, Mahesh began to work on shaping what was to become India's first national AIDS education programme for young people. He has since been involved in developing policies and programmes on HIV prevention and treatment across Asia and Africa and heightening public awareness on AIDS issues globally. With UNAIDS for the last 12 years, he has held several positions including UNAIDS' Country Coordinator in Lesotho and Adviser for HIV prevention with a focus on young people, pregnant women and people at higher risk of HIV infection at UNAIDS' headquarters in Geneva where he currently serves as Head of Communications.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How Much for My Garden Gnome? How Stories Make Objects Significant

I won this gnome two years ago, a prize selected by my cousin who was organizing our annual Ohio family reunion. It was the gift for the family member who had travelled the furthest, and as I had come from central Europe, I easily won this award, and she knew I would. She had picked this piece of tchotchke for both me and for herself; our sensibilities were similar, and this Travelocity gnome reminded us of how far we had gone from our own farmtowns in the Midwest. She herself had lived in the UK for many years and had often contended for this title, and today...

If someone saw this gnome in a second hand shop, it would be no more than a piece of useless plastic, probably not weather proof so not even a garden variety gnome. However, with a story its value changes. But don't take my word for it.

I was fascinated recently by a Studio 360 piece called In Search of Significant Objects, which told of a social and anthropological project which "demonstrated that the effect of narrative on any given object's subjective value can be measured objectively". That is, that an object had more value when there was a story attached to it.

I have seen this myself at a recent house moving "giveaway" party, where a friend of mine was downsizing to a smaller apartment and laid out all the things, clothes, vases, belts, shoes and assorted stuff that she needed to give away. She invited a dozen or so friends and colleagues over to take things away. Initially some of the best things went; however, an enormous pile of objects was left until she started to pick things up one at a time and enthrall us all with their origins, with stories of travels to hard to reach places, special gifts from visiting dignitaries, traditional dresses worn at historic events, and made in secret moments of important meetings by the personal tailors of powerful people. Almost everything went, and with each item, the story of its origin and provenance which was now complemented by the new owner's own story of where she acquired it, from a remarkable woman who had already lived 40 lives.

The Significant Objects project proved this too. Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn conducted the experiment by buying unwanted objects at thrift stores, for an average of US$1.25 a piece, then invited writers to create new backstories for each object and then sold them all on Ebay, for over US$8000. You can see some of the objects - from candle holder, Fred Flintstone Pez dispenser, craft doll, to a jar of marbles -  and read the stories on the Significant Objects website. ( An odd and somehow beautiful little story about the jar of marbles that gives the artifact a completely different meaning increased its value for a new owner from $1 to $50 dollars.)

I am curious about these findings in terms of what they can bring to learning and my work, I am not quite sure yet. Will people find knowledge and information, or your work or ideas more valuable when there is a good story behind them? I guess the best speakers know that. Will people value and remember the things we give them (both physical and conceptual) when we join their well-crafted origin stories to them? If we stopped and thought about our own stuff and stories, would we throw away less/buy less meaningless stuff?

I'm not sure how much I would get for my garden gnome, but now, remembering its story, I want to keep it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

TEDxGenevaChange - Katharina Samara Wickrama on "Accountable Aid"

Watch Katharina Samara Wickrama's talk on "Accountable Aid" recorded at the TEDxGenevaChange event.

Is humanitarian aid repeatedly failing to be accountable? To what extent should communities be involved in designing their own humanitarian aid programmes and measuring success? Should humanitarian responders hold themselves accountable for ensuring the delivery of quality assistance? How much money could be saved? And how many unwanted yoga mats???

If you have any comments on this talk, please share them on the talk's YouTube webpage, we would love to see a discussion going!


About the speaker: Katharina is an expert in the field of humanitarian accountability, particularly responding to sexual abuse and exploitation of beneficiaries by humanitarian workers. She began her career as a lawyer but has spent the last twenty years in the humanitarian field, first at UNHCR then as the Coordinator of Building Safer Organizations (BSO) project. In 2007, Katharina brought BSO to the Humanitarian Accountability Project (HAP) and took on the responsibilities of Regulatory Services Director (managing social audits of humanitarian organizations) before being appointed HAP's Executive Director (interim) in 2010. She is presently NHRP Phase II Project Coordinator at ICVA, the International Council of Voluntary Agencies. The NHRP project is implementing practical ways to bring the national and international NGO voice to the UN-led humanitarian reform process, recognising that civil society has a key role in responding effectively to crisis.

Friday, April 13, 2012

For Fans of FishBanks: The Renewable Resources Management Computer Simulation Game

For those of you who are fans of the FishBanks game, originally developed by Dennis Meadows, there is a new online version that has been created by Dennis and John Sterman at MIT. In this free online version you can play as an individual or part of a class. It can be accessed here: FishBanks Online Version.

I recently ran it twice (in French no less) using the Board game version (in the photo above) and it remains one of my favorite games to play that provides profound lessons about common pool renewable resources management, using systems thinking, growth against limits, and collaboration vs competition.

If you want the Board Game version (which comes with software for your laptop, instructions and all the role descriptions and pieces), you can access it here: FishBanks Board Game Version.

This second link tells you more about the game, how to use it and what kind of learning objectives it reaches, as well as how to order it.

Let's go fishing (sustainably)!

Monday, April 09, 2012

Anatomy of a TEDxChange Event: The Intense Hours Before (in Pictures!)

We held the TEDxGVAChange event in Geneva last Thursday; it was one of the 200 live events around the world that connected to the central TEDxChange event in Berlin. The Berlin event was co-organized by the Gates Foundation and, as all the others including ours, focused on issues surrounding global health and development.

(above is the wordle we made from the participants' "About Me" registration statements.)

The TEDxGVAChange event was exhilarating! And it benefitted from an amazing volunteer team, particularly apparent in the intense days and hours just prior to our going live. After months of identifying and coaching speakers (with amazing support from a professional speaker coach Laura Penn), finding sponsors, meetings and conference calls, sourcing props for the stage, and on and on - you get to the day (or in our case the day before and the day of...) and it all has to come together.

Here is a snapshot (literally) of what you have to do, after all the ephemeral talking and email, to the roll-up-your-sleeves set up a TEDx event like ours...

Let's start the day before:

You have to pack up all your props to take them to the venue, because usually you are using a space that, for 99.9% of its time, is a square empty meeting room in a building. As a result it won't necessarily have the quirky items you want to create a stage (or even a stage for that matter! We built our own stage, borrowed from the World Health Organization across the street). One of our team members, Christine Carey, was both a speaker liaison and our set designer. Here she is below with Lizzie packing up her carefully sourced props (budget: nearly zero) for one of the many trips to UNAIDS, which provided our excellent venue.

There, we worked with the tenacious UNAIDS team to create our perfect TEDxGVAChange space, and that included creating a black backdrop so that the video would look great, and maintain the TED black, red, and white theme.  Christine and Jean-Charles from UNAIDS had to figure out how to create that dark space in the light wood paneled room; the clever solution was to hang black fabric using velcro hidden in the corner seams in the ceiling...

Of course all that fabric had to be ironed first (we had a team of perfectionists!), and while that was going on, others were getting on top of other things, like the social media side. Sharon Bylenga, below, also one of our speaker liaisons, was setting up and testing the TEDxGVAChange Twitter feed and sending through some early tweets.

Also tweeting from #TEDxGVAChange was Sarah Bomkapre (below), a journalist from Sierra Leone who joined us to help with social media for the day, along with the creative team from UNAIDS including Mikaela Hildebrand.

Once the curtain was up, the stage was set up and the props placed. We went for minimalist, and wanted it to look like someone was sitting at their desk reading a fascinating article and just got up to tell you about it (e.g. our speakers).

You can't imagine how many opinions there can be on the correct angle of the table, which direction the wine boxes should face (shouldn't the Italian wine box be at the back, this is Switzerland after all!), and so on. We put up our meter high red TEDx letters, and in front the "sweet spot" carpet where the speakers would stand to talk. The round carpet is important to centre the speakers on the stage for the audience and video, to dampen noisy heals while they walk, and to keep them from falling off the back of the stage!

Of course we also needed our own sign, which was fixed onto white foam board (the kind architects use to make models) and after a 50cm "lip" was scored so it would hang perfectly straight, it was attached to the table under the TEDx letters, and the table covered with black card stock paper. (I must admit, none of this had ever crossed my mind before, but Christine in her day job is a voluntary environmental and social standards systems expert, and has some of the highest standards for everything I know, and indeed, it looked fantastic!)

In the rest of the room, lots of other things were going on. Lighting, for example, is very important for the video, and also for ambience and drama. We borrowed a set of lights for our visual facilitators, Sarah Clark, Raj Rana and Elizabeth Auzan,  to use in the back of the room where they would be working, drawing a 90cm wide and 133cm high panel for each of our speakers' talks. We also rented some brighter spots from a DJ sound and light distributor for the stage (everything but the mirror ball - that's me below!).

Our biggest budget item was the video team - their time filming, and post-production - because we wanted the video quality to be excellent - all the videos go onto where they can be viewed after the event (some of the best even get to The film crew flew in from the UK to set up the day before and run tests during all our rehearsals on the morning of the event.

Here are Alasdair and Chris at the start of their set up - we used three cameras for filming, and one additional camera was connected to a computer for our livestreaming (we had over 500 people joining us virtually).

Once the room was set up with stage, lights, camera and sound, there was one PPT presentation to create with all the images of the talks in sequence with black slides in between (so we didn't have to fiddle around with changing files). We waited until just before the event to prepare this, as the speaker order was only set on the day of the event, after the rehearsals. We did this to have the most logical and the most interesting sequence of talks. Once the order was set, Lizzie and I as the hosts, wrote up the connections in between the talks - we would be on stage together for the opening and closing, and otherwise would take it in turns connecting the talks and introducing our speakers. We wrote the script based on the speaker order, in the final hour(s) before the event started. Here is Lizzie working on the slides...

Our event was scheduled to start at 15:00, first with our local speakers for 90 minutes, and then after a tea break, we would cut to the TEDxChange simulcast in Berlin. To prepare on the day, each speaker had 1 hour of rehearsal on stage and we practiced everything from coming up and down the steps, waiting for the applause (human nature seems to be to bolt as soon as you are done talking), and going through each talk at least 3 times with Laura, our speaker coach. Repetition came along with some breathing exercises, little walks to warm up muscles, and pep talks (being a TEDx speaker can be rather terrifying - at least I thought so when I was a speaker at the last TEDxGVAChange event!)

Here is Laura rehearsing with Tjeerd Royaards, one of our five local speakers, who is co-founder of the Cartoon Movement - a network of cartoonists who do investigative cartoon journalism:

  • once the rehearsals were done,
  • the equipment all warmed up and tested (UNAIDS New York helped us test the livestream),
  • script written,
  • the float acquired (we charged a minimal 15CHF per person to help defray some of the food and beverages costs),
  • name badges stuffed, including the "talk to me about" three words selected by participants,
  • all the food and beverage set up and ready for our tea break (brown bread and homemade jams) and aperitif (organic wines and juices and locally farmed vegetables, meats and cheeses) under the careful and capable supervision of Matthew Crudgington and three hospitality students from the EHL in Lausanne),
  • the double bass moved into the reception area (our team member, David Cooke, who worked with us on sponsorship also brought his 3 piece jazz ensemble),
  • the outer space arranged with a display of Cartoon Movement's Haiti cartoons, and a space for three practitioners of the Grinberg Method (who in the pauses would look after our health), with help for set up from volunteer Claire Hugo,
  • and the room ready to go (thanks again to the UNAIDS team under the leadership of Susie Bolvenkel-Prior, Buildings Manager, and Sophie Barton-Knott, Global Communications Manager)...
... only THEN we were ready to welcome our participants and start the event!

Everything after the doors opened, for me, is a bit of a blur, and seemed to go so quickly. Thankfully, however, you can see more photos of our event on the TEDxGVAChange FaceBook album that our terrific photographer from UNAIDs, Olivier Borgognon, took, including photos of all of our speakers and the final drawings from the visual facilitation team. It was an exciting day!

(photo credit for the group photo: Sharon Bylenga)

Thursday, April 05, 2012

TEDxGenevaChange Event Today - Watch the Live Stream

Today, 5 April 2012, Lizzie and I are hosting one of the 200 global TEDxChange events at UNAIDS premises in Geneva. On the live stage, we have 5 speakers who will be exploring, in some surprising and provocative ways, different angles on health and development. You can read more about our speakers on our websie.

We will be livestreaming our event, which will take place from 15:00 - 17:00 Central European Time. You can connect to the event through our Facebook Page and watch the Livestream if you are interested to hear more about how all disasters are preventable, why investigative cartoon journalism works in places where the mainstream media has left, what the Monkey God and the postal service can teach us about eradicating AIDs, and more...

The videos will be up on the TEDx website in a few weeks, we will announce them then - hope to see you on the livestream!

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Building Peer Learning Into Mega-Events and Conferences

When Conferences focus on plenary speakers and traditional panel sessions these days, some of us might feel that our experience could be better if we wait until they are available on YouTube. Any ticks or flubs are edited out, and the video camera inevitably has a better seat and vantage point than we do in the audience. And you know exactly how long each intervention will be -and we can pause, repeat or even skip those that are not quite what we're looking for (of course we need to be open to surprises too).

But when Conferences have exciting peer learning and interactivity built in, then no longer are you are just one person watching a string of speeches from a relatively uncomfortable chair, knowing that you are shoulder to shoulder with probably some of the most interesting people in the world in your field - although due to this format there's no way to know it. What if you were a part of the Conference? Or even, you were the Conference!

Running World Cafe's, Open Space Technology Sessions, Peer Assists and Carousel Discussions, and Fishbowls are some of the activities we recently ran at a large conference of some 16,000 people. Those took facilitation. However, there are lots of things you can do that don't take that kind of support and still build up the peer-learning opportunities at a large-scale event.

So, what are some of the ways that big events help feature and build its participants into the Conference?

What if you ask people to pick a button that somehow illustrates how they are feeling at the moment?

Not only is that a conversation starter amongst participants wearing them, but imagine that the button dispensers are tubes that create a physical bar graph of how the whole body of participants (or at least those taking the cool buttons, which seemed to be everyone) feels?

What if there is a tablet built into the wall where particpiants can take a photo of themselves and write on a message about a commitment they will make?
and then use the images to make a wall of these...

What about a simple graffiti wall and lots of coloured chalk?

Or if there are a number of different thematic streams to the conference, what about producing different colour ribbons for each and letting people choose and wear them around their wrists or bags, so that in the thousands of participants, you might more easily bump into and recognize someone who is interested in the same theme as you are?

And then how can you know if you can actually speak that person's language at a large international event? What about language buttons that people can choose and display on their lanyards (we wrote about doing this at a conference of 8000 people - very popular initiative to support communication, and be surprised at what languages people speak - How to Start Conversations Among 8,000 people.)

What interesting interactive elements have you seen at Conferences that use their fascinating participants as a part of the overall learning experience?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Cost of Being Late

I have observed in an organization where I frequently give training that 25% of the people in the course are on time regularly. The rest of the people come later, and usually by 15 minutes after the start time of the course, everyone is there and we can begin.

In this organization, meetings are the main space for collaborative work, and people can have up to 4 or more meetings a day.

In this case, for the 25% of the people who are on time to meetings (which start 15 minutes late), they lose 1 hour a day of waiting around for people to arrive and for their meetings to start.

If your staff is 200 people, then 50 people are losing 1 hour a day to late starts. If 50 person hours of work per day is being lost, that makes 250 hours a week lost in waiting for meetings to start due to late arrivals.

250 hours a week is effectively 6 staff members whose complete time is being spent sub-optimally, they could go home and get paid to do nothing.

That's 1000 hours/month, or 12000 hours per year, which is 250 work weeks, or over 6 person years of work lost to an organization every calendar year from people who are 15 minutes late for meetings...

Friday, March 23, 2012

Going Large: Tips for Running Big Conference Facilitation Teams

Last week we were facilitating at a major environmental conference in France with 16,000 people. We had been working with the Secretariat Team for 2 years throughout the preparatory process to help shape the agenda, work with the governance team, contribute ideas to the design and help facilitate stakeholder input to the overall process. All of these preparatory events had from 40 to 400 people, frequently all in the room at the same time.

And it all culminated last week in the final week-long conference which featured hundreds of events, many in parallel (often 30 at a time), and an offer to the different organizations hosting conference sessions for facilitation support.

Our Facilitation Team of 6 Facilitators was international (with multiple language skills) and during the week we facilitated, or supported as facilitators, 63 sessions ranging from 5 people to 2000.

In between these events - which made up over 141 person hours of facilitation - we were everywhere in the venue doing everything else - we met our session leads and their teams, held multiple preparatory meetings, briefed panelists and speakers, made flipcharts and group work templates, found materials hidden in boxes under tables, checked rooms, sweet-talked "volunteers" and technical staff, tested microphones, and more...

This is the second mega-conference (not counting all the ones from 200-500 people) where I have had a Coordinator role for a Facilitation Team. It is interesting to think about what makes these kinds of Facilitation Teams work best, as there are lots of unknowns, the environment is constantly shifting and changing, and often the Facilitation team - which is usually a distributed team with regional and language diversity in our cases- has not previously worked together. Here are some things that seemed to help us have a positive experience and impact last week:

1) Share Schedule Overview

Everyone had a completely different schedule, and although for some sessions we paired up, the pairs were almost always different. So having one shared schedule that showed everyone's activities helped us understand each other's commitments each day (each hour even) and get a sense of where the Facilitators were and who could help out or pinch hit if need be. This schedule took the form of a matrix with all of our names in rows, and the days of the events in columns. Each person also had their systems too, but that was what we shared.

2) Communication - Set-Up and Tools

On our first day (even before in my case) we took everyone's cell phone number and put it in our smart phones (everyone had one). As we were almost always in wifi zones (although there were different passwords in different parts of the conference venue which was annoying), we signed up for WhatsApp and used that for free, or SMS when that was not possible. That was the main way we kept in touch throughout the week. We only rarely phoned as we were so frequently in meetings, sessions etc. Our smart phones helped us get last minute emails from our session leads (clients), as there were many last minute changes, and also helped us forward documents to the central printing facility.

3) Pick a Homebase

We needed to have a homebase for the team in the Conference venue where we spent our whole day (it wasn't easy to get in and out of security quickly - you could get stuck for 45 minutes in line at the metal detectors), so we used a central space inside called The Agora - a large tent with a cafe, bistro tables and chairs, and lots of flipcharts - which is where we had a number of our sessions. There was a backroom there where the conference technical team let us store our bags securely and where they had drinks and snacks for staff, as well as the supplies. When we were done with our different events during the day, we would meet back there quite naturally and sit down at one of the bistro tables (often with one of our team facilitating a session on the stage beside), have a coffee and talk through what happened. By the end of the day the coffee would turn to a glass of wine and a review of that day and the next. It was so important to have that central place to meet and also to relax and regroup after high pressure and often very politically sensitive sessions.

4) Hold Breakfast Meetings

Every morning we met at 07:30 together for a meeting to discuss our schedule, any changes, any help we needed, and most importantly any relevant information we were getting. In these huge events, information comes in from all sides, through the organizers, through email, through our session partners, so this meeting was a way to get everyone there to share what was going on that was relevant to people like us who needed to move quickly and nimbly through the jungle of events, delegations, and the extended organizing team. Sometimes this was fun information - like the time of the Mexican evening reception in the Exhibition space - sometimes this was about one of the security gates being closed or needing a second, special electronic badge to get into the opening session because Heads of State were attending. (We also tended to eat dinner together each night if possible, but those weren't "meetings", more like wonderful getting-to-know-you opportunities.)

Finally, and most importantly...

5) Find Great Facilitators

This is probably the most important ingredient in running a Facilitation Team at a mega-Conference. You need Facilitators who both master and can use their facilitation tools flexibly. Because weird things happen at mega-conferences:
  • You don't know the group size in advance, even in a room of 400 people, you might get 50 or standing room only. So you need to be able to scale up or down your design on the spot;

  • You might not know who is actually "in charge" of your session. Because many of the sessions are co-hosted, you might be dealing in the design phase with a young staff member from one organization, and then onsite, senior managers come in with their advice and desires, so you need to be ready to change, or hold your ground, in the hours (or even minutes) before your event starts;

  • You can't see the space in advance. At least before you get there, and once you are there you can look, but at that point the design can be rather fixed. We received information about the seat set up, and whether we could put things like flipcharts on the walls in advance, which was helpful, and we had to trust that this would be the case.

  • You can't depend on having set up time before your session. Each event had ostensibly 30 minutes between scheduled sessions. However, most sessions ran over (not ours of course!) which meant that we might only have 10 or 15 minutes to set up the room - and this could include cleaning up after the previous group, and rewriting the nameplates because so many speakers changed at the last minute. So we had to have everything made, sorted, and folded in advance and ready to pop up on the walls, or put on the tables, or hand out. 

  • You have to be able to deal with high emotions. In a conference of 16,000 and so many events, both your session organizers and your participants have been on the go non-stop from morning to night. They are tired, they might feel exposed, they might be outside their comfort zone (we saw some of that as most people were technical people who all of a sudden are on stage in front of hundreds of people talking about their work). So there is quite a lot of bedside manner needed in events like these, and sometimes it is just a matter of gently adopting a take-charge attitude and getting things done for your session host teams who are effectively working together for the first time, and doing something (organizing a conference session) which they only do once every three years. Not to mention the fact that you (the Facilitator) are asking many of them to steer away from their safe, comfortable, default format of Panel of 13 speakers followed by 10 minutes of Q&A with an audience of 200 people.
All in all, our feedback from our session hosts was really excellent, and it is still coming in. We worked well together, we laughed alot, things within our control went more or less smoothly, and our session host teams were satisfied. And we learned a great deal about how to support and make more interactive these mega-conferences.

It is hard and can be exhausting, but the engagement you can foster from facilitating large groups to more granular outcomes can be both surprising and pleasing for participants, who report that they get even more from facilitated sessions - more engagement, more networking, and more learning (and even some ideas on facilitation that they can take home and use themselves) - spreading facilitation far beyond the walls of that enormous conference centre after the mega-event.