I helped out with a learning festival during November last year; an idea generated within and for a specific business unit in my company.  I ran some career development planning and change leadership workshops.  It was great to be part of something as wide as the festival, something with a narrative to latch on to.

Subject matter like personal resilience, career aspiration and trust typically take a lot of rapport to get things flowing from participant contributions.  In this case the genesis of the festival was from outcomes of our annual employee opinion survey, so the participants had asked for it directly.  That gave some momentum, and the workshops were positioned as a conversation starter.  Ironically, this made me feel a little more performance pressure; I really wanted to use this opportunity.

I’ve mentioned in this blog previously something I once heard and that I still subscribe to:  the greatest outcome a person can walk away from a workshop with is to be inspired. Contrast that with something a facilitator I have gotten to know this year through the IAF, Rhonda Tranks, signs off her email with:  “It is better to reflect the light than to be a source of it.”  This saying sums up facilitation, and is what I should have done, but I broke the rule. Perhaps I was too eager, trying too hard.

Regardless, I received some feedback afterwards that I had inspired many of the 100 or so people that I had trained during that fortnight.  I had consciously decided to share my own personal stories.  I hadn’t meant to be the source of that inspiration, but rather my intent was to use my stories (particularly early on in each workshop) to give permission to everyone else to do the same.

My rationale for taking this approach for the learning festival was based on the following.  The audience were finance professionals; I am of a similar professional background originally and I understand the prevailing traits of work ethic, being reserved and seeing black and white.  My stories were either in parallel with the participants’ lives or representative of a possible future for their careers.  Specifically, my stories of shifting careers into facilitation, and consciously building upon the skill of resilience this past year, after going through great personal loss.

My stories were all aimed at showing how I had applied core learnings in the workshop content to my life.  To believe in the learning outcomes enough to be deeply authentic, I embrace them into my life.  This is the true whole-of-life approach for a facilitator as I see it  –  this leaves no room for fakery.  The best way to connect with the value-set of participants is to connect with your own first.  When telling these stories I was candid, direct and I explained why I was going further than what might happen in a normal training experience.  The mood was sober and my approach uncompromising.  At worst it was something different, at best it hit a nerve.

Either way, it’s the best feedback I’ve received in years.  I did what it took to make that difference to people’s lives, so no point in any regrets.  But I also know I can still get better with my facilitation, and if I coaxed other people’s stories out instead, even with a challenging audience, I’ll be arranging inspiration rather than being it.  That’s facilitation nirvana.

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