The Easter Bunny is a myth. The Tooth Fairy never gave me enough money to command credibility. When they thought I was asleep, I caught my parents taking the biscuits they ‘left out overnight for Santa Claus’.
But I still believe in magic. Fairydust is worth sprinkling over every training workshop or meeting you facilitate. It is what creates whimsy, sustains mystery and creates a memorable experience.
One thing I do now and then is gradually add tiny stick-people to the whiteboard over the course of a day. One might be standing on a block letter at morning tea. Another might be swimming in the picture of a tea-cup at lunchtime. Another might then decide to parachute off the parking lot border at afternoon tea. Sometimes one person will notice initially, wonder if they are going a bit crazy, not tell anyone but keep an eye out for further changes through the day. Other times it will just spark a random giggle.
I also go gaga doing Mexican waves. It is a sporting crowd phenomenon that is universally understood, both in purpose and execution. It will happen spontaneously when things are tense, or boring. It only takes one person to start it. It is simple and fun. In a workshop, if I notice that energy levels are dipping, I’ll stop, walk up next to someone and, without words, raise my hands above my head. If nothing happens, I’ll do it again. Guaranteed, one person will grin and raise their hands too. And from there everyone waves. So good!
In fact, I have tried Mexican waves as well in a rather formal environment. I was facilitating a graduate assessment centre earlier this year, and the attendees were a group of very bright, and very nervous, 20 year olds. For them to perform in the upcoming interviews and group sessions, they needed to be as relaxed as possible. So the Mexican wave came out! It felt right.
Another way to create magic is to simply ask your participants to shut their eyes while you do something. You do need rapport, as for some people it is a trust thing (if you have a doubt, just get people to face the other way instead). For instance, if you need to draw the ubiquitous ‘iceberg’ onto a flip of words you’ve collected from a group, use this technique. Even just a hint of drama (think a reality TV ‘reveal’ moment).
Drum-rolls are also a magic generating technique of choice. If participants are standing, ask them to connect their hands and thighs repeatedly. If they are seated, ask them to turn whatever is on the desk into a percussion instrument. Then do the dramatic reveal!
Often participants will ask if there is a reason. I answer “No. It’s just magic.” And there is the point. When processes become mature, when best practice become policy, that’s when everything becomes so damn predictable. Just another routine dive into a rather beige-coloured black hole labelled “this is how you run a workshop”. Sprinkle the fairydust instead. It’s the antidote to boring.