The Instant Facilitator

Apart from school debating and one lecture presentation, nothing prepared me for my debut as an instant facilitator.

I was an attendee for a computer user conference at the World Congress Centre Melbourne at Crowne Plaza. As part of the Queensland branch of the group, I had been asked to introduce each speaker and then ask for questions once they had finished. This was easy. Usually there were no questions and I wrapped it up quickly. Or with too many questions, I left everyone to continue the conversation out the door after the presentation finished.

Which meant I was completely unprepared for the last session of the conference.

Participants in plenary sessionFifteen minutes beforehand, I was taken aside and asked to lead. I almost went into apocalyptic shock. This was a plenary session. Me in the middle, five geek gurus on my left and several hundred system managers, developers, engineers and sales people in front of me. I was outgunned and more than a little overwhelmed.

And my preparation didn’t help either. I quickly scanned the names of the experts. I saw that one of them had worked on an previous incarnation of the currently popular operating system. That old clunker had a command called show stardate. I thought I could use that as my icebreaker.

I turned around and the fifteen minutes have disappeared in seconds. I walked to the podium. I waited for the geek gurus to sit. Then I wait for the audience to file in.  I made sure to keep my hands behind the podium. If exposed they would be glistening from sweat.

I introduced myself. Then the experts. I make my joke about the show star date command. And I die. I received a dirty look for my failed joke.

I had no choice. I had to go on. Then it didn’t matter. I opened up the session for questions. And then I stepped into a different space and time. I’m suddenly aware of who was asking questions and what they really meant. Every so often, I would take a question and then ask for more information. Or paraphrase the question back to them for clarity. Both I found helped the experts with their answers.  I’m not sure but I may have asked questions of them myself : I now know I tend to do that if no one else is asking.Andrew Whalan Facilitating

It worked brilliantly. I was relaxed. I even apologised to the man at the back dressed in black sitting in front of a dark wall who I couldn’t see too well.

It went so easily. Except I’d never facilitated before and had only spoken in public on one other occasion. So what happened?

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Bunnies in a Basket : Facilitation Before Persuasion

Andrew James Whalan

Keeping Bunnies in a Basket by Annabel Crabb is still one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. And today things became more complicated with Glenn Lazarus resigning from the Palmer United Party.

Funnily enough, despite being political, I didn’t immediately think of politics. No, selfishly, I thought of myself.

You see, managing stakeholders is a required superpower for anyone who is a trainer, technical writer, instructional designer, change manager, community engagement manager, social media manager, and a myriad of other occupations including politics.

For me, stakeholders appear in three flavours. They are either subject matter experts, authorised approvers or both.

Subject matter experts usually are excellent to work with once they see how their contribution is relevant.

If they are an authorised approver, then even better.

It’s the latter category, when the authorised approvers are removed from the content, that the situation becomes much as Annabel Crabb has described.

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