Archive for the ‘Facilitation tools’ Category

In praise of (inter) active whiteboarding

Sunday, November 9th, 2014

In Say it with Stick Figures Tim Riesterer outlines some research on the use of images in presentations:

In a recent set of experiments, Stanford University Graduate School of Business Professor Zakary Tormala tested the potential effects of whiteboard visuals against more traditional PowerPoint approaches. The aim of the research was to determine whether “whiteboarding” can enhance presentation effectiveness, as defined by metrics of engagement, enjoyment, credibility and — most critically — recall and persuasive impact.

The experiments used three different images – labelled ‘whiteboard condition’, ‘powerpoint condition’ and ‘zen condition’ below – to convey identical content.  The whiteboard presentation had a statistically significant difference in engagement, credibility, presentation quality and recall.  That is, it was better in each area.


“Whiteboard Condition”


“Powerpoint Condition”


“Zen Condition”









Visual facilitation tools

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

A little while ago I came across a graphic in an article in Guardian Australia’s (GA) website.  You can find it here: Mandatory immigration detention is a billion-dollar business.  It is an analysis of Commonwealth Department of Immigration spending on private contractors relating to the mandatory detention system.

Now, GA and other have used a number of these web graphics to help communicate.  And of course, the article also uses text and graphs.


Interactive graphic from


The neat thing from my perspective is that this graphic is interactive.  You can click on individual circle to explore a contractor, and/or drag circles around to explore the big picture.  To achieve this, GA has found and organised a large set of information.

In  a workshop the next step would be for people to articulate the various values they have around the data and explore where those values align or otherwise.  This step would be part of the facilitator’s overall workshop design, and run accordingly.

So, how is an interactive graphic different to static images?  What possibilities does it open up for you?  If you were designing a conversation or workshop, how would you you use this kind of tool to help a group make sense of info and build shared meaning together?   What situations would you use this in?

Go well!


Buzzword bingo: bollocks, creativity and reality

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

A couple of days ago, I came across this site: Corporate B.S. Generator.  It was fun for a little while clicking the button and seeing each new “corporate b.s. phrase” come up.  It was also fun looking through the table and identifying all the buzzwords that pertain to my chosen disciplines.

And then an idea occurred to me – I could use this as a kind of lateral thinking tool, ala Edward deBono.  The topic would be exploring what the buzzwords and corporate b.s. phrases could actually mean.

I'm thinking of...

Image courtesy of Davide Restivo. Creative Commons Licence

Here’s how it could work.

  1. Introduce the topic.  Get some examples of common phrases.  Parse them into the grammar components.
  2. Have participants brainstorm the buzzwords particular to their field.  Use adverb, verb, adjective, noun as prompts.  Each word gets a “card” of its own.
  3. Place random words on a sticky wall or table, just keeping the grammar correct.
  4. Run a focussed conversation exploring the terms: their individual and (possible) collective meaning/s.


So, where have you done something like this? What did the participants get out of it? How else could you do this?  How would you extend this idea?

Go well!


How to use a horrendogram

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

A horrendogram is not really some weird & wonderful medical test, ordered up late on a Friday afternoon.  In this case, it’s a visual tool for generating, mapping and working effectively with lots of information and/or complex systemic relationships.

One way to use a horrendogram is to build it from scratch, with a group of stakeholders or similar. Another option is to use an existing map to help examine a system in new ways. Consider this “value network” diagram from my colleague Neil Davidson.


Taking the diagram as a starting point, here is a possible workshop flow for identifying strategic opportunities and partnerships. I’ve used the Technology of Participationunderlying dynamics of facilitation to create the process structure. (more…)

Tools of the Trade: whiteboards

Friday, August 15th, 2014

I quite like whiteboards.  They have heaps of uses and therefore bring a lot of flexibility to your work as a facilitator.  The same principles apply to how you use them as for other ‘public memory enablers’.

For example, as a general rule, you need to start with the end in mind.  That is, what should the board look like at the end of the session?  Sometimes it will be a dynamic scramble of words, images and lines.  Sometimes this will be a (more-or-less) orderly arrangement of material built up over the course of the session.

Either way, a clear image of what the board will look like at the end of your session will help you design the product/s of each stage, and how those stages will cumulatively achieve the final form. (more…)

Tools of the trade: flip charts

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Flip charts (or butchers paper) are the second oldest form of ‘public memory’ after the blackboard.  They are still going strong, even in this digital age.  So what makes for effective and/or creative flip charts?

In my experience they need to work well physically, enable good communication, and contribute to your overall suite of facilitation or training tools.

‘Fit for purpose’

In short, professional materials and equipment for professional results.

  • Good paper that doesn’t bleed.  This allows for nice crisp letters and line work.  It’s also good when the sheets are perforated so you can easily tear them off.
  • At the risk of stating the obvious, flip chart stands that don’t move when you write on the charts, that are still easy to move around the room, and that make it easy to get the blocks of paper in & out.

If you’re using a sticky wall, treat your sheets just like the A5 or A4 paper.   Those 3M self-supporting units can come in handy sometimes too. (more…)

Out of the box!

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

For years I tended to just grab materials and equipment at the last minute as I went out the door to each facilitation or training gig.  Then a colleague showed me his system for keeping a lid on the chaos and the churn under control.

A box for everything and everything in its box.

When I saw it, my first thought was “how easy is that?”  A simple system of boxes fitting inside each other ready to go.  It’s easy to carry, easy to maintain and minimises the risk of forgetting something at the last minute.

So now I have different kits for different occasions.  There’s the full kit which fits into the large size of box as shown in the picture (not my actual kit…).  This can be supplemented with extra decor materials.

Then there’s the briefcase kit containing a smaller amount of each sub-set of the full kit.

Finally there’s the pocket kit, which is really just a pack of post-it notes and participants have to bring their own pens.


Toys of the Trade

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Meetings are boring, right?  Talk, talk, talk and no action?  If that’s your experience, then someone has fallen down on the job.  Perhaps the design was not carried out well.  More likely, the default option just happened.

Well, who-ever said meetings had to be boring?

Great meetings, conversations and workshops happen first by design and then by implementation.  If you are not planning for eventfulness and engagement, then in effect you are planning for it not to happen.  Trying adding some toys!


So, what counts as a toy?  To my way of thinking, toys are objects that help take participants out of their heads and into a different space.  They are not just for kids!

There are lots of possibilities.  Balls, eg: koosh, squeeze/stress, juggling.  Craft items, eg: pipe cleaners (chenille sticks/stems or fuzzy wires), paper & cardboard, felt, glue/s, paints/markers/crayons/pastels, modelling materials (clay, Play-Doh™, Plasticine™, wax).  Construction, eg: Lego™, Magnetix™, drinking straws & tape.


Cards on the table, or the wall, or…

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Lots of people know about using cards as part of their workshop.  Here are some ways to make the most of this tool at each stage of the session – from brainstorming to organising to naming clusters to reporting.

Make sure this tool is fit for purpose

What do I mean by a “card”?  Simply something on which an individual or small group writes its data for processing during the rest of the workshop.

It will vary according to the size of the group and the needs of the session.  Sticky notes are good for 2-4 people, A5 sheets are good up to 20 people, A4 sheets work up to 60 people.  Beyond that, you are really into data projection territory.

Cards can be colour-coded to help distinguish between different types of data or where you might be “pre-clustering”.  Cards can also be different shapes.  I’ve seen hexagonal cards used with great effect, especially when creating ‘stepping stones’.  Usually, however, they are rectangular because that’s how paper comes out of the packet.  My personal preference is for the landscape format. (more…)

Tools of the trade: beyond the question

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

What if collaboration was like woodwork?  How would that help us think about the tools, materials, processes and places that we create and use?

What does it take to get the job done?

Technology has to do with tools. In this case, I am looking at tools for people to get things done together, whether they are drawing in the sand, writing with pens, modelling with clay, acting out a drama, or even using computers.

So, when I’m thinking about the knowledge, skills and attributes of facilitation, leadership and transformation, I sometimes find some type of physical analogy helpful.  The knowledge, tools and skills are all clear.

For example: there is an amazing variety of saws just for wood – table, power and hand; western and japanese, big to tiny; rip, cross-cut, tenon, dovetail…  It’s one thing to know about them, it’s another thing altogether to be able to use one. (more…)