Sitting in a Melbourne pub on a cold and wet evening last week, I looked up from the paper list of annoying things that happen to facilitators in meetings and workshops. Emboldened from a pint of ale, I looked straight into the eyes of a facilitator I had just met and shared my outcome of the exercise.
“Yep, definitely. The thing that annoys me most as a facilitator is when people whisper to each other while someone else in the room is talking. I guess it’s just a respect thing. The person who is talking has the right to everyone’s attention, and everyone else has the right to not be distracted.”
“Oh”, said my new compatriot, sitting back in surprise. “I always do that when I’m participating in a meeting or workshop. Sometimes I need clarification, or want to help my colleague understand something. I don’t always want to share something with the entire group. Whispering is the way to do all this while minimising distraction.”
“Yes, good points. I hadn’t really thought of that side of it before.”
I felt initially chastened, but a lot more enlighted. I hadn’t been in a room with 25 facilitators before, let alone so experienced and so many from different walks of life. At 36 years of age, I was one of the youngest, and clearly with a lot to learn from everyone there. The function was the first professional development session run by the IAF’s local chapter, a world-wide organisation mainly looking after facilitators specialising in running meetings and seminars.
A great conversation opened up with the gentleman to my left. Me, the rookie: “I use a squishy ball to control conversation flow in my training workshops so the quiet people get a say. I guess that would be off-limits in a corporate boardroom working to a project’s deadline though?” Vastly experienced facilitator, smiling warmly: “Not at all! I use a squishy ball for that all the time. In fact, I leave the squishy ball with them all as an artefact to commemorate how they co-operated towards an outcome. Even better, it has my name on the squishy-ball!”
I don’t know how many facilitators it takes to change a lightbulb, but it is guaranteed we’ll empower you to do it yourself in a safe environment. Through the topic of ‘How to deal with challenging groups’, and dinner conversation, I experienced just how politely professional communicators share what they are passionate about with each other. There was no ego, no one-upmanship; even though many of the facilitators that were there are self-employed and may be in direct competition for work.
As a facilitation nerd I left there feeling so excited, with new ideas and some validation that my own approach was in the same postcode as those outside of where I work. Thanks IAF, I look forward to more opportunities like this. Where I work, we have also formed a community of practice in a similar vein for any facilitators internal to our organisation. There is simply nothing better than sharing your passions with like-minded people.