Alison Coward is a strategist, workshop facilitator, business consultant and the founder of Bracket—a creative and collaborative organisation that works with companies and individuals, staging workshops, training sessions and events. This means she’s an expert when it comes to facilitating connections between people to get ideas flowing. Alison prepared an exclusive list of top ten tips for facilitation ahead of a Channel 4 collaborative event that she got us involved in designing. Four of our alumni (and two of our staff) lapped them up. We’re thrilled to be able to share them with you to ensure that you know your stuff:
- Design and Preparation: when people turn up to an event, they are often unaware of how much goes into it beforehand. There’s a ton of design that needs to be done. In fact that’s the most important bit. The key is about being clear about what you want to achieve. Think about the outcome first: what do you want people to have done/felt/produced at the end of the session? Work backwards from your desired result.
- Materials and Workshop Kit: use post-it notes, pens, paper, blue tac, flip-chart paper to get people using their hands and moving around, as well as talking. Design activities where you can use things like pens and paper. Use post-it notes to externalise, visualise and then cluster ideas. Allow people to doodle if they’re so inclined.
- Ideation v’s Execution: In divergent thinking, the group are generating as many ideas as they can. In convergent thinking, they are selecting the best possible option. Ideation and decision-making take different types of thinking so don’t try to do both at the same time. There’s no space for being critical when you are brainstorming.
- Brainstorming: Remember Alex Osborn’s rules for brainstorming:
1. Defer judgement
2. Go for quantity
1. Focus on quantity
2. Withhold criticism
3. Welcome unusual ideas
4. Combine and improve ideas
- Early Interaction: get people to interact as early as possible. This helps people to collaborate and to be involved and alert right from the start of the session.
- On the Day: make sure everyone has a say and gets a chance to air their view – especially balancing contributions between introverts (who like to think before they speak) and extroverts (who develop ideas as they speak). Give introverts warning, give extroverts time to play with things and bounce things around. Notice how people are working and try to bring in those who are quieter.
- Clarity of Tasks: scan the room and make sure people aren’t looking confused, sitting back or dilly-dallying. Look out for body language and be aware of people being engaged.
- Keep People on Task: eavesdrop at the tables or in the groups. Are they talking about what they are meant to be talking about? If they’re in an engaging conversation that’s adjacent to the topic in hand, maybe let them continue because it could be useful. You may even notice some really strong debate occurring. This is not necessarily bad. Good conflict is when the discussion is about a thing or a task. Bad conflict is when the discussion or critique is about a person. Keep it animated rather than irritated.
- Keep Things Flowing: ask open questions rather than closed questions; avoid ones that have yes/no answers. Instead ask questions that elicit a longer response. If they’re stuck, don’t ask ‘are you okay?’ as they’ll probably say yes.
- Synthesising Information: help attendees to sort through content they’ve come up with. Enable people to see patterns that they might not see because they’re too close to the discussion.
Good luck and be awesome.
Photograph by Yeshen Venema