Tag Archives: facilitation

7 Ways Facilitators Can Build Rapport in Workshops


As a facilitator, your primary goal early in the sessions to build a powerful rapport with the people in the room to get them on your side and ensure you have a successful outcome. Here’s a few tips on how you can do this.

1 Create a Relaxed Informal Environment

Be laid back, no matter how serious or important the session is. It immediately sets the right tone and eases the tension in the room. A few light hearted gags and anecdotes – usually at your own expense – goes down well. If you’re aloof or stressed, it will immediately show.

2 Naming

Focus on remembering and calling out people by their name. It really helps make a connection with everyone in the room and demonstrates that you’re fully attentive. It also shows that we’re all friends together and allows you assert control.

3 Actively Listening

It’s easy to listen in a half hearted manner, particularly when you have a lot on your mind. However, it’s crucial to demonstrate you’ve taken in what people say. The key tricks are: focus on eye-contact, play back what they say, refer back to what people said earlier in the day, avoid cutting people off.

4 Great questioning

The flip-side of great listening is great questioning. Use a range of questioning techniques that allow people to connect with you. Ask lots of questions, notably questions that are open and exploratory. This also demonstrates that you’re listening

5 Remember – its all about them not you

Don’t grandstand or try to appear ‘impressive’ or brag about your achievements. People hate a show off and resent being talked down to. Don’t make jokes at other people’s expense – no matter how funny you think you are. Instead, celebrate other people’s success and make sure the people in the room become the centre of attention – not you

5 Trade stories

Demonstrate you know how they feel by referring back to your own personal experiences to reinforce a point you want to make or to show empathy with someone else’s stories i.e. ‘the same thing happened to me…’

6 Be Responsive

If they ask a question – don’t ignore them. Try and respond. If you can’t, ask for help. This extends to broader questions. If they make a request for more coffee, the temperature of the room to be changed or a wireless code do your best to be accommodating

7 Give Feedback

People love to know how well they’re doing. Have they done a good job or not? Focus on the good stuff, not the bad stuff and if you’re going to criticize or judge them, do so with a positive and constructive mindset. This also demonstrates that you’re really listening and have internalised what’s been discussed


How to stop people using their mobile phones during workshops


This is the bane of my life. They’ve taken all this time and effort and take place part in a workshop, yet people prefer to play with their phones rather than listen or join in. It’s incredibly rude, yet people persist are addicted to mobile technology and persist in using them. So how do you avoid it? Here’s a few approaches you can consider.

1 Tell People Not To

Sounds obvious doesn’t it, but if you forget, people will assume that it’s OK to pick up their phones when they feel like it. It helps if you have a BIG sign on the wall with a visual of a mobile phone crossed out to remind people. If people do need to make an urgent call, ask then to do it outside the meeting.

Maybe you could get the most senior person in the room to announce the ‘no mobiles during working sessions’ rule. If they see the boss is imposing it, they’re more likely to be compliant. More importantly, make sure the boss is compliant too.

2 Have a Zero Tolerance Policy

If people use their phone once and get away with it, they’ll continue. If other people spot that the perpetrator has got away with it, then they’ll do the same. So, as you soon as you spot someone on their phone, call it out, just so they know that you’re serious about the ‘no mobiles’ rule.

3 Schedule ‘Mobile Phone Time’ During the Meeting

Some people decide to touch their phones because of anxiety that they may have missed out on something important. However, if you tell people when and for how the breaks will be, then this will help reassure them that they won’t be out of contact for too long. Make sure you schedule several during the day. You could even call them phone breaks, rather than coffee breaks.

4 Confiscate Them

With badly behaved groups, I’ve known facilitators who will ask everyone to ‘hand in’ their mobile phones during the working sessions. It may seem a bit harsh, but if you do it playfully then you can get away with it. At the minimum, ask people ‘to put away’ their phones rather than simply turn them off and leave them on the desks. It will help them resist the temptation.

5 Use Forfeits

Set up a rule at the beginning. If people decide to use their phone – or else if it rings – during the meeting, impose a forfeit. I find that making a charitable donation of say £5 works well. Other people like to make people do press-ups or some other form of public humiliation, like singing a song. Ask the team to ‘self police’. If they spot their colleagues on the phone, ask them to shout it out.

6 Make Sure YOU Obey the Rules

And finally, make sure that you don’t fall guilty of playing with your phone during the working sessions. However, discrete you think you are, you’ll be spotted and you’ll lose all credibility and pretty soon, everyone will be at it.

It’s a problem that seems to be getting worse and hampers the effectiveness of workshops, so if anyone’s got other suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

How to Get the Best Out of People in Creative Workshops


So, you’re the facilitator of a creative workshop. It’s the beginning of the day, you’re standing in front of a group of people and your job is to get everybody to come up with lots of great ideas. So how do you do it? Here’s a few suggestions.

1 Create trust

People will only generate new ideas if they feel comfortable with the people around them and if they confident that their ideas are going to be listened to. You can do this by:

(a) ensuring everyone who comes has the opportunity to contribute. Don’t let a few people dominate proceedings and encourage everyone to join in.

(b) making sure ideas are not judged or criticised too early, so the session gets some momentum.

2 Cheerleading

As all sports teams know, we respond well to encouragement. Your job is to give people lots of positive feedback. If you hear a great idea, tell them. If people need help, suggest some ways forward. If you hear a brilliant idea, clap and cheer and encourage others to join in.

3 Push!

If you feel people aren’t quite on top of their game or giving their best, then don’t be afraid to push harder. If you think the ideas are so-so, sometimes it’s good to tell people. If you can see ways the  ideas could be improved then suggest them. Be careful as you don’t want to demotivate people, so do so in a positive spirit. However, it’s important to maximise the brainpower at your disposal.

4 Mess around

Idea generation should feel playful, so make there’s space and time to have a bit of a laugh. This could be via the creative exercises, playing games and encouraging light-hearted interventions. The more relaxed people feel, then the more ideas they’ll generate.

5 Celebrate the idea generators

If certain individuals have come up with a great idea, then make sure they – or their team – is publicly acknowledged. It may encourage others to raise their game too. Be aware of creating  jealousy, but a bit of healthy competition is no bad thing

6 Choose the right creative tools and techniques

People need help to generate new ideas – hence the use of creative tools and techniques. Firstly, make sure you include them in your session as they really do encourage people to think differently. Secondly choose the right ones. There’s so many to choose from, so make they’re tailored to suit the topic you’re working on. Thirdly, use a variety of techniques that attack the brief from different perspectives.

7 Signpost

People feel relaxed and confident in the session if they know where they’re heading. So, don’t forget to tell keep telling people why you’re asking them to do certain tasks, what they’ve just done and what the next stage will be.

And finally remember its not about you its about them. Even though you’re in charge of the session, suppress your ego. Don’t showboat or proclaim your brilliance. Your job is to be a great supporter, to get the very best out of others the workshop.

Planning a Creative Workshop: The 4 Things You Need To Be Sure Of


Great workshops are all about great planning, so if you’re asked to facilitate an idea generation session, these are the four things you need to get right

1 Clarity on the Nature of the Outputs

Ideas come in many shapes and sizes, so when you get asked to help come up with some new ideas, you need be sure of their format and structure. Are you looking for a large number of rough ideas or a small number of polished ideas? Will they be written as standard idea concepts or detailed storyboards? You may not be sure what ideas will emerge, but you need to be sure of the idea format.

2 Getting the Right People

So what’s the ideal number for a creative workshop? Having a small number of people means that the session is easy to handle..but there’s a lot of pressure on them to come up with the ideas. Lots of people creates a lot of energy…but it makes it difficult for a facilitator to handle everyone.

On balance, for a creative session I prefer the energy of big groups. However, what’s crucial is to have a diverse group people with bendy brains. Similar people will come up with similar ideas. Mix and match the experienced with the inexperienced, agency and client, young and old, technical and non-technical. Ensure that at least some have good visualisation skills. As long as they’re willing to throw themselves into the session, then they’ll come up with great ideas

3. Providing the Right Pre-work

What you want to avoid is (a) people turning up not knowing what the session’s about (b) wasting lots of valuable idea generation time of listening to presentations. You want to make a fast productive start, so spend time thinking about the ideal pre-work. I always give people 3 tasks. 1. something to read – so they get the essential background to the project. 2. something to think about – so they’re already generating ideas before they arrive. 3 something to do – e.g. a store visit, an interview – so they’re really engaged in the topic. As I’ve written in a previous post, the ideal is for people to produce and send you ideas in advance of the session. Make sure it’s interesting and fun, otherwise they may not do it

4 Choosing the Right Venue

What you need in a great venue is space, light, BIG walls and flexible furniture. Avoid uber-cool hotels. People feel uncomfortable and are worried about messing it up. Equally, avoid traditional  boardrooms with oil paintings screwed to the walls. The ideal space needs to be a blank canvas. A large photographer’s studio or warehouse or art gallery are perfect as you can mould it to suit your needs and you’re immediately in a creative zone when you enter it

So, spend time thinking about these 4 areas. If you get these things right, then you’re well on the way to creating a fabulous workshop. Now, you can focus on developing the detailed session plan

How to Manage Energy in Workshops Without Resorting to Energisers


If you’re the workshop facilitator, one of your key jobs is to maintain the energy. Typically, you throw in a few ‘energisers’ i.e. fun games and activities to liven up proceedings. I still do them of course, but the risk is that you become over-reliant on them. One of the challenges I set myself nowadays is how can I manage the energy of a workshop without using any energisers?

Here’s a few things I remind myself

1 It starts with you

Be very conscious of your own energy throughout a session. People will always follow your lead, so if your energy or engagement levels start to flag, so will theirs. If you sense yourself dipping or ‘checking out’, then pick yourself up. As long as you stay energised, then the chances are they will too. Biggest no – no is checking your phone whilst everyone’s working. Never do this. Once you start, they will too.

2 Use the entire meeting space

Typically, in most workshops, people stand at the front, often by the flip chart or the projector. Looking forward all the time can be predictable and draining. Find ways for people to present from different parts of the room. Keep changing the focal point of the session.

3 Reconfigure the room

When you move furniture around, the room feels re-energised. At break / lunch times, think about ways you change the layout of the space. Remove objects you don’t need any more e.g. projectors and screens. Get rid of tables or re-configure them. Take things off the wall and put them elsewhere. New room layouts give people fresh perspectives

4 Modulate the pace

Great energy management is not just about high energy. Nobody can remain in a hyper-active state for the entire session. You need to mix it up. Intersperse short 5 minute bursts of energy with longer periods of reflection. In the afternoon people are naturally more tired. This is when you need to force the pace a bit and keep things shorter and sharper

5 Move people around

The simple act of moving around and working with different people creates its own energy. Try to avoid letting people work in the same teams for the entire day. There are lots of ways to do this (a) keep changing the size and compositions of the groups (b) ask people to go outside of the meeting room / get fresh air for their work sessions (c) when individuals present back, keep everyone standing.

6 Minimise listening

There are times when we need to listen to feedback from various work sessions. This can draining if we do it too often and for too long. Make sure you restrict this (a) shorten the number of times you present back (b) give people tight briefs e.g. 2-3 mins only (c) only get 4-5 groups max to present back (d) ban powerpoint, use flip charts

These are my top tips.

Always stay attuned to the energy of the workshop. If you can manage the energy really well, then great outputs will inevitably follow

Facilitating Idea Generation Workshops. My 3 Big Learnings

Typically this what happens. You gather some people together, book out a day, get out the post-its and generate idea ideas with the help of a few tried and trusted creative techniques. This is fine and we’ll continue to do this. However, there are better ways.

1. Generate the Ideas Before You Get to the Workshop

Ideas never come out fully formed. They come to you at odd times, they mutate, they grow. You need time and space for the idea to emerge. Sitting down in a workshop is not always the best idea generation environment. Time pressure and working in teams with people you don’t know very well doesn’t always put you in a good creative zone.

The alternative way is to
(a) select a broad range of people and give them the idea generation brief at least 2 weeks before the workshop – ideally 4
(b) encourage them to generate ideas in whatever way they want, but make sure they use a consistent format
(c) ask them to send you the ideas before the workshop

This assumes that the people you ask are motivated and engaged enough to generate ideas in the first place. Paying them usually helps. Select a large, diverse group of people. Some may have little experience of knowledge of the category, some may be real experts. Students, consumers, technical folk, it doesn’t matter. As long they have bendy, creative brains then that’s fine. Also, not all the people who generate ideas in advance need to come to the workshop


2. Focus the Workshop Itself on Spotting and Sculpting the Lead Ideas

Display the ideas you’re received on the walls as if you’re in an art gallery. It’s a great feeling walking into a room full of ideas. You feel relaxed and confident that you’re going to fulfil your goals as you’re not forced to generate ideas from scratch. Some people are great ‘spotters’ i.e. they’re brilliant at seeing the great idea or connecting a couple of ideas together. Often, this is when the brand team comes into it’s own as their intuition and experience is a real asset.

Sculpting is about building the idea and telling the story around them. For this, having visualisers working with you is essential as well as people who can write succinctly and capture the essence of an idea.

3. Continue Sculpting the Idea Immediately After the Workshop

Often, ideas are taken away and written up in their raw format a few days after. Don’t do this! You’ll forget what the ideas are about, lose them and you won’t be able to read half of them.

Instead, a core team (3 or 4) should stay behind and select the ‘big ideas’. This could be in the afternoon of the workshop or the next day. Don’t leave it any longer. This may involve lots of debate and discussion, so you need to involve the key people. Then focus your energy on knocking them into shape there and then. Work with a visualiser, start to craft the words and keep on evolving the ideas.

Of course, in reality these steps might not be possible if it requires the time and resource you don’t have. However, if ever I get asked to plan and facilitate an idea generation workshop this is what I recommend. I’ve tried it a number of times and it really works.