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