Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Bring Your Workshops Alive with the Sound of Music: Creating a Sonic Landscape

I facilitated a big global workshop last week- some 190 people attended- where we used music in a number of different ways in the event. First, as it was a large group, we used it for crisp starts and stops to our sessions: the music stopping gave a subtle audio cue to people, signalling a transition from the informal networking time, to the formal start of our session (more elegant than me shouting in the microphone for everyone to sit down).  We used it just prior to the start of the after lunch sessions to give an energy boost after the hour spent enjoying the lunch buffet. And we used music at the end of the day to create the mood for reflection and to usher in a reception and other evening events. We also wanted local music to give people the feeling of being in the host country (because we spent a lot of our time indoors in a space that could have been located anywhere on the planet). It also filled the vast, high-ceiling-ed and rather anonymous ballroom with warmth making our conversations feel more intimate.

Music can be a wonderful and useful instrument (pun intended) for a process designer when planning the choreography of an event. But I find it is one seldom used. TED does a good job of selecting songs with messages in the lyrics to start coffee breaks, and then tends to end those breaks with short videos (that can again have the effect of forward attention getting and a crisp start.)  Other than that it seems that music is infrequently  considered in a deliberate fashion to help create the overall atmosphere for dialogue and learning.  

What it takes to put a workshop to music

There might be some reasons for this - adding music adds tasks to the long list of materials, equipment, roles and responsibilities for a workshop. You need audio equipment, speakers, a playlist, and someone paying close attention to cue and cut the music. More importantly, you need a special talent to create the playlist in the first place - someone with a good broad knowledge of music who can select just the right piece for the right mood and, if there are lyrics, appropriate ones. All this adds considerable time to what might already be a busy and finely tuned event.

Not as easy as it sounds

Recently at our Bright Green Learning Academy training (Module 8: Practicing Facilitation Approaches and Methodologies) one of our participants ran a brainstorming on this exact topic: which pieces of music fit where in a workshop design? Interestingly, although it seemed an easy task, we all found it incredibly difficult to do on the fly, and found that some of our individual great ideas were certainly a matter of taste. The big lesson: Creating the sonic fabric of the workshop takes encyclopedic musical knowledge, careful consideration and time, but it can have thrilling effects when done astutely.

It turned out that the person who ran the exercise in our Module is himself a music aficionado and he took the exercise a step further a couple of weeks ago. He took a set of criteria  given to him by the meeting facilitator and used his own vast musical knowledge to create a sound design for an evening workshop (a Toastmasters meeting).

Here is what he proposed, with at least two suggestions for each part of the meeting. The jazzy feel matched the demographic in attendance and the after-hours feel of the evening event. Read through his proposals below and see if you can feel the surge of the music as the event progresses and the deliberate sonic ebb and flow proposed. Notice his thinking behind the choices:

Entrance: Soft energy/welcoming
Entrance:   Stan Getz & the Oscar Peterson Trio  
Why? Easy and welcoming.
Chet Baker 

Break:   Higher energy  
Break:    John Coltrane  - My Favourite Things  
Why? This piece is lively and gives a great jazz take on a known melody.  It's also 13:30 minutes;  just right for the break period.

John Coltrane  - My Favourite Things
Stan Getz & Bill Evans  (sax & piano) 
John Coltrane  - A Love Supreme   (a bit livelier)

Exit:   Positive vibe for teamwork and a good send-off: 
Exit:    Uptown funk (sax cover)  followed by Blue Train
Why? As the meeting ends, cue up this tune (Uptown Funk) and play it right after that final gavel hits the President's desk.  There is a punctuated start to the piece which gives way to the funky sax solo.  It's an attention grabber.  It's says 'Hey look here!'  and conveys a positive feeling for the exit. The piece however, is only 4 minutes long!   Bear this in mind because it is good enough as a punctuation mark to the evening but not long enough to keep things flowing for the 30-minute cleanup.Therefore, follow it up with Blue Train which will easily carry you through the length of the clean-up process. Just mind the time of the first track.  You'll need to make a smooth transition after the first song ends without there being a gap of silence which lasts too long. This confuses the listeners and puts a glitch in the sonic fabric (and we don't want that!) 

Uptown Funk:   Sax cover of Bruno Mars' Uptown funk.   (Lively funky sax send-off)
Play that funky music:  Sax cover

followed by:  
John Coltrane  - Blue Train

Sounds technical...

The technology to add music to your meeting or workshop doesn't have to be complicated,  For smaller meetings you can connect to the songs on YouTube from your telephone or iPad and broadcast them on a speaker via a Bluetooth connection.  For larger events like my conference, you need a sound system, but if you are showing any videos during the event you will probably have already amplifiers  hooked up and available

Bringing your workshops alive with the sound of music definitely takes some careful work, but using music strategically in your event can add real richness and energy to the learning landscape, connecting with people on a different level, and might help take your collaboration and results to new heights. 

(A big thanks to Christian Kranicke for his excellent soundscaping and for being willing to share it!)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Keeping Trainers on Track: Developing a Training-of-Trainers (ToT) Manual

I have recently been working with a team on training design for a rather technical three-day workshop to be piloted soon. Once the course has been tested and further refined, the next step is to develop a Training-of-Trainers programme to support the capacity development of a number of trainers who can disseminate this learning workshop globally. That sounds like a logical step and helps contribute to broadening the impact of the course and content by having a number of good trainers delivering it, in multiple locations and in numerous languages.

I have given many Training of Trainers (ToT) courses over the years and have been very happy with the design described in this blog post: Training Camp! An Un-ToT Design. This design provides for high customization by the trainers, as they tend to all have different levels of ability in both the technical aspects and training process. I find that this Un-ToT format works well to produce a group of trainers in the end with a handle on the materials they will need to  deliver the course independently in the future.

So, the course design is one thing, but how do you develop the materials for the trainers - the Trainer's Manual - what does that look like?

Obviously the trainers get the Participant Materials, but what else do they need in addition to that by way of materials? I always produce a written Trainer's Manual, that I provide in the ToT and use both to support the ToT process and that also provides trainers with an on-demand resource as they go forward and deliver the course themselves. I think it has higher utility to the trainers to produce this additional resource rather than provide only the Participant Materials and some supplementary handouts.

Here is a sample Table of Contents for a Trainer's Manual:

Section #
Section Title
How to Use this Manual 
Explain how the manual will be used in the ToT and beyond in the course - this section can also be used to welcome facilitators and give them information on where to go for more information - dedicated website, contact information, etc.
Facilitation Agenda 
Include the annotated Facilitation Agenda that the trainers will use in delivery of the training. This includes timing, process information, activity descriptions, etc. - this needs to be in front of the Manual and easily accessible as people will refer to it frequently.
About the Host Organization 
Provide relevant background on the group designing the training so that trainers have the relevant information to share with participants, as they might not be staff of that organization but external trainers.
About this Training Workshop 
Describe the origins of the training, rationale and what it hopes to help participants achieve. Provide a description of participant profiles that can help the trainers and others identify the right participants to attend.
Master Materials and Equipment List 
This list helps with procurement of stationary and ordering equipment for the training room - flip charts, markers, LCD projector, post-it notes and so on.
Materials to Prepare in Advance 
Indicate what needs to be done prior to arrival onsite - this can be posters to print, handouts, job aids, etc. in aggregate.
Materials to Prepare Onsite 
This list includes items that can be prepared in the room before, such as flip charts, templates, etc.
Room and Table Set Up 
Provide a diagram of how the room should be set up, and where to position equipment like flip charts, screen etc. This can be shared with the venue staff in advance.
Day 1 
Each day has its own section.
Session by Session Description
(See below for detail)
  1. Participants Training Manual (Separate - this is the manual that all participants will receive.)
  2. PPT Slide Set (If PPT will be used - separate on a USB key/ CD or URL/Dropbox for download. Include electronically the Trainer's Manual with handouts etc. in Word, and the Participant's Manual in case this needs to be reproduced locally.)

Within each of the Session descriptions (I always divide my days by Session, so I can keep them distinct and provide an easier way to refer to them to participants, trainers and speakers, etc.), I write up each of the Sessions in the Trainer's Manual with the following information:

  • Session Number and Title
  • Materials (What's needed for this specific session)
  • Preparation (What do trainers need to do to prepare - flip charts, room change, quiz, find a place for a game, number tables, etc.)
  • Timing (How long does this session last - 09:00 - 09:45)
  • Sequence (This is the sequence of events and the script AND it always includes possible answers to questions the trainer is asking participants, or answers to a quiz or learning activity. If participants don't quite understand the question or ask for an example, this helps trainers provide one, and gives them a sense of the kind of responses to look and push for.)
  • Flip charts/Job Aids (What do these look like, what questions are asked, what format do they take?)
  • PPT slides (You can add in print outs of slides with notes in this section, or you can include this in an annex. NOTE: If you have a very long slide set or one with lots of images and graphics, this can make the Trainer's Manual data file incredibly heavy. If this is the case, I sometimes refer simply to slide numbers in the Sequence part of the section (like "See slides 1-5") and then provide a hard copy of the slides and notes in the Annex which can be printed separately to the Manual document.)

    All these sections should have an open and "airy" layout on the page that allows trainers to take notes in the margins or has a designated place to make notes. In order to deliver this training, they will have to make these words, concepts and activities their own, so providing a space to reflect and customise the materials as they go along will be an important part of the Training of Trainers session. 

    How to Put It All Together? (Literally)

    One last thought, I have experimented with different formats to provide the above materials. I think I like ring binders the best with a pocket in the inside front and back where you can put the USB key or CD. The rings help people take things in and out that they might need in the training delivery (notes, the Facilitation Agenda, the PPT slide printouts, handouts to copy, etc.) and then put them back in to keep them organized. It also means that anything new they develop they can pop in and not have to keep separate and potentially misplace. I would always print the title of the workshop on the spine so that it can be seen on the shelves with their many other Manuals.

    Trainers of Trainers, anything else to add that helps keep us on track in a ToT? 

    Wednesday, April 13, 2016

    The Places You'll Go, the Things You Will Do (Unless…): Facilitation and Roles at Large Workshops and Conferences

    (I love the fact that I really do learn or re-learn something new every day...)

    You might be the Facilitator, in charge of weaving together threads of themes, helping people make sense of complexity, ensuring time for reflection and assimilation of concepts, framing and debriefing activities that will help participants share their thoughts or co-create radical new ideas. You might be on stage bringing energy to the group when they need it and watching participants to make on-the-spot modifications to match their needs and interests. 

    You might even be introducing the Minister, Ambassador, Permanent Secretary and CEO. Effectively you are there to make sure that the investment of tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in convening the right people for this workshop or conference is fiscally responsible and has the results that ensure a return on investment by the hosts. That’s your job as Facilitator.

    And you might also be doing the following:
    • Finding volunteers to translate job aids into different languages;
    • Printing and making photocopies of job aids in two languages (and finding paper for the copier and then taking it completely apart to clear the paper jams);
    • Putting the job aids on the 25 tables in the plenary;
    • Making the background PPT slide set that runs behind the programme (giving it to technicians and changing it as things change);
    • Clearing the tables of cups and other ephemera and replenishing materials needed on the tables;
    • Putting the chairs back around the tables and smoothing table cloths before the next plenary so that it looks tidy and inviting to participants;
    • Taking care of things people leave in the room (walking lost and found - phones, cables, USB keys...);
    • Making signs to indicate the breakout rooms locations;
    • Getting people into the rooms on time.
    • Standing in front of said signs to help people find their rooms;
    • Finding interpreters for parallel sessions;
    • Performing materials husbandry tasks - dividing up materials needed by parallel sessions and delivering them to the rooms at the right time, finding lost markers, saving enough materials for the last sessions;
    •  Finding the rapporteur to hand over the written results from the working groups.
    • Double check everything and field what quickly becomes Frequently Asked Questions.

    So you also might get to do these things at your large event. These details make a difference you know; they contribute to the visual aesthetic of the event; they signal care, respect and professionalism; they make the event feel smooth to participants and reduce any anxieties that can come between attendees and their learning and contribution to the event. 

    It’s definitely not a problem to do them and you are certainly willing to pitch in, and they need to be done. By you? These important roles could also be assigned in advance of the event to other team members who could do them sometimes even more quickly and easily than you - the operative word here, that might occur to you exactly in that moment you are taking apart the photocopier for the second time rather late at night, is definitely in advance

    To enable this better division of labour it is great to think systemically about the event in the weeks before and make a check list of all needed roles to assign before your big meeting and conference (as with a small one, these things don’t take so much time, but with 180 people then that is a lot of tables to straighten up after a plenary) and then ask who might like to take them on. There might be a short list of roles already that you can add to from what you know about what makes large events work.

    As the more time that is needed for these things, the less time you have to focus on, and prepare for, the participant-facing facilitation work you will do - not to mention grabbing a couple of minutes of your own to clear your mind, rest a little in the hubub of the conference, refocus your thoughts and look at the scenery that might just be outside your meeting room…

    Facilitating large groups? Here are 3 more related posts: (Module 10 in our Bright Green Learning Academy is also on this topic)
    1. When Numbers Soar: Working with Large Groups
    2. Going Large: Tips for Running Facilitation Teams at Big Conferences
    3. Building Peer Learning into Mega-Events and Conferences