(Essential pre-reading is Sukhvinder Pabial’s blog post “Being a Social Facilitator”, which you can find here)…

In his post Sukh lays the gauntlet down to facilitators to not just accept the use of handheld devices and social media, but to use them as a freestyle facilitation tool, particularly for mindmapping and research within a session. The post was recommended to me and when I read it, it sharpened my focus on a few things I had been dancing around the edges on this year, and has galvanised me to take things further in this direction in 2014.

My ambition in this post is to build upon Sukh’s newly articulated ‘social facilitaton’ theme and widen the conversation. A few things I’ve seen and done so far this year are:

Sources of humour. When running a session on personal resilience, I’ve had times where I’ve wanted to open participants’ minds to the notion of existential energy management not just being through conventional sources like organised religion. So I’ve asked if anyone has an iPhone in the room, then I ask that person to ask Siri what the meaning of life is. Everyone goes quiet and hangs off every word as the participant asks the question, then gets a humorous answer from Siri, on speaker-mode. I follow it up with “OK, so somewhere in between organised religion and Siri, there are some other potential ways to get meaning and purpose. What are they?”. By using a robot, it creates a benign outlier that widens the discussion.

Live demonstration of internal business social media. When running induction programs for new starters at my company, we get to a stage of the day when we cover how they can form new networks quickly. I take one of their workshop expectations from the start of the day, and put the question on the ‘all company’ Yammer feed. We then check the progress of answers from other Yammer users every hour or so, which I first show on the projector. I then encourage the participants to download the Yammer app and proactively let their fellow participants know progress through the day. This real-time collaboration adds an anchor to the business they have just joined, shows the efficacy of Yammer for collaboration and builds early adoption.

Creating a role-play of the customer experience. When running a workshop on home lending, I write up on the whiteboard a set of property features (e.g. 4 bedrooms, single garage, close to transport). I then pair the participants and task them to use real estate search apps (such as the Australian on their devices to find equivalent properties, ones that they themselves would find attractive to buy. I then ask their partner to play the role of a valuer/banker, and ask questions of the “customer” to assess the properties for risk factors (e.g. zoning, developments controls, easements, etc). It takes the role-play a bit closer to the real world.

Recording of technical training demonstration on a device. This was completely a result of a participant feeling comfortable enough to do this in the environment created by the facilitator. Whilst observing another facilitator for their accreditation, I saw this participant holding their iPhone, filming the facilitator-led demonstration of the system input. The participant had chosen that mode of learning rather than keying into the training version of the system, as he wanted to practice at his own pace after the workshop. He effectively created his own podcast, and this is what it looked like:


Use of a device for a musical background. After writing the draft of this post, I ran a workshop on Friday. To introduce a session on the topic of trust, I was literally seconds from asking “Who is the greatest leader you have ever known of?”, when someone saw on their iPhone that Nelson Mandela had just passed away. Accordingly we started talking about him. During that 10 minutes, a participant started playing “Free Nelson Mandela” by the Special A.K.A. on his Android. It was eerie, fitting and a way cool soundtrack to discussing what that great man meant to all of us.

The comments from others that follow Sukh’s post indicate there are quite a few other facilitators harnessing participant devices and social media. This is great, because as professional communicators we should be ahead of the curve, and courageous in doing so. Perhaps a barrier is enough facilitators feeling comfortable enough with the technology in the first place. I understand totally, given it’s only since this year that I’ve been active on Twitter & WordPress, and working paperlessly with a tablet. However I have felt instantly confident to then converse about it in sessions I run, because it adds so much to my professional life.

My own experimentation has come from my view that there’s no point fighting ways like this that people already learn and collaborate with outside the training or meeting room. As Sukh says, facilitation allows you to play. Smartphone, tablets, social media – they are all toys we can play with.

One Comment Add yours

  1. tanyalau says:

    Hi Paul! LOVE this post!
    Some really excellent suggestions here – and all practical and feasible to implement.
    I really love your ‘just experiment’ attitude too – this is the only way we can make things better, to innovate – try, see what works, and improve.And the way you take participants’ cues, and let THEM take the lead, and authentically tie their input into the session (e.g. with the Nelson Mandela example) is really awesome. I could imagine most facilitators possibly cutting the person down for using their phone in that way – and missing an opportunity for a memorable, meaningful conversation.
    I’ve been doing this MOOC on rhizomatic learning in which we’re looking at (amongst other things) changing the power dynamic between teacher and student – supporting people to become more independent learners, contributors to the design and direction of the curriculum – and by the same token the ‘teacher’ taking a more participatory role. All of which requires the teacher to ’embrace uncertainty’ – taking the plunge and being brave enough to put yourself in the hands of your students. To let go of control. This is when the magic happens.
    It sounds like you’re the sort of facilitator who does this type of thing naturally. Really admirable.

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