This got me thinking about my own preparation on the morning of a facilitation gig. I’m right in the middle of my preparation now, with an event starting in 2 hours from now. I’ve just come off two days of facilitation and have another 2 days to follow.
When you are in the middle of a big week of performing (cause that’s what it feels like) maintaining energy levels is key. You have to nourish your body, mind and spirit … if you don’t then performing at your best is impossible. This is true of any endeavour.
I can tell when I haven’t prepared because my instructions/explanations about process become ‘waffly’ and incoherent. Lack of preparation, for me, creates a thick fog in the space between me and participants – the very people I am there to serve. My ability to read the moment by moment group dynamics diminishes. Time slippage occurs and, physiologically, I sweat a lot more. My demeanour is heavy and I wear a frown. Poor preparation, especially lack of sleep, impacts everything for me!
When I prepare well, the opposite happens. When giving instructions or explaining a process, I know when to terminally shut-up and keep things brief (thanks Chris here and Viv here in point #4). Most importantly, participants and my clients walk away feeling nourished with a sense that we cracked open some complex nuts!
So, here’s what I’ve been doing this week in Melbourne to stay fresh and focused:
- start the day with plenty of water and a session of sitting meditation
- steer clear of too many carbs and stick with protein … and don’t mix the 2!
- It’s probably very risky … but, I ride everywhere (on my Melbourne Bikeshare Bike) between workshop venues and meetings
- And yes I allow myself one coffee each morning at the Slip’s Cafe on Albert St
- Get to the venue well before participants … take my time to set up and “notice” what’s in the room because sometimes spaces have unique attributes you can use later. I also imagine the space full of people and run through some possible openings
- When working with Chris Corrigan earlier this year he pointed out the “nature of the sound” of a group. I now, after intially struggling with the concept, understand where he is coming from here. From time to time during conversation processes like World Cafe, I’ll turn away from the group and just listen to the sound of conversation. By allowing myself the time to notice this “group-sound” (and block my visual sense), I have another way of sensing … which leads to new ways of responding to the group needs.
- Steer clear of most workshop food (although today’s was an exception to the rule and I indulged)
- Drink plenty more water
As I grow older and wiser, I am becoming more disciplined on the points above. Feel free to share your own “preparation” tips in the comments … even if it’s unrelated to facilitation.
I haven’t written much lately, despite having so much to share about my new collaborations in work and the thriving community life here in Aireys Inlet. Life has been full to brim and we have managed to keep a healthy balance between work-family-community-play.
I have just spent a couple of hours reading through my favourite 3 blogs … all written by friends and colleagues. You should check out what Viv McWaters, Johnnie Moore and Chris Corrigan have been writing about recently … because you won’t find too much recent stuff here! That’s about to change as I rediscover my passion for sharing the stuff I notice and learn!
Mark (@herdmeister), a former hot-shot London advertising planner, came to the conclusion that advertising needed to worry less about the usual buzzwords swishing around the industry, and more about the hard science of human behavior.
He calls it “Herd Behavior”. People are hyper-social creatures who behave en masse, not individually. And there’s a lot of new science to back it up.
Which renders a lot of old-school, command-and-control ideas about marketing and business rather misinformed at best, completely wrong at worst.
Marketers love to be lazy, love to think that humans beings are predictable… that if you only say the right thing in a sweet-sounding and clever enough voice, people will magically fall into line. Like some magic lever, just waiting to be pulled. Alas.”
In my own consulting work with clients this “Tyranny of Control” remains a pervasive force and one I find myself challenging constantly. When it comes to my practice of designing for and facilitating group conversations … there is no mechanical lever that sets off a nice, neat set of predictable outcomes. Viv McWaters and Johnnie Moore have written some great stuff on this and they call it the Tyranny of the Explicit. Here’s a little of what Viv has to say …
“Building your commitment muscle takes a leap of faith, often into the unknown. If you need to know what it will be like before you commit (which on the face of it seems reasonable) you will be forever stuck in what Johnnie and I refer to as the Tyranny of the Explicit – needing to know yet more information before acting.
Trailblazers, leaders, innovators all share a willingness to commit without knowing the outcome, without knowing if it will be worth it, without having done a risk analysis. They bust free of the Tyranny of the Explicit.”
So what are you trying to control at the moment? I’ve a got a few thing I need to ‘let-go’ of myself
I have started playing around with Storify again. I am going to introduce some school teachers to Storify during a session this Thursday at my local school. The topic will be on knowledge curation and the social web. I can imagine how useful Storify could be to a teacher.
Please let me know of any other useful tools that teachers can learn to use. Something that helps to store, curate and publish information/ideas/stories/knowledge.
Here is a Storify story that contains the basic content of my session …
How well do you listen? It’s a practice that I have to continually work on in all aspects of life – as a parent, partner, friend, family and consultant. Like with most of us, my attention tends to drift toward my thoughts, ideas and next thing I want to say. With discipline and practice I have learned to really listen when facilitating groups. Here are some other people and ideas who have taught me about the art of listening:
Chris Corrigan and listening – I have developed some habits and techniques that turn my attention toward the group. Lately I’ve been practicing this simple breathing technique that Chris Corrigan writes about here. Chris’ technique helps me to tune into the “sound” of the group conversation and provides another way of reading the dynamics between people in the room.
Herman Hesse and listening – I have just read Hermanne Hesse’s Siddhartha. A character named Vasudeva the Ferryman teaches Siddhartha the art of listening. Siddhartha feels the joy and connection that comes from being listened to. I just love Hesse’s words in this passage …
“Vasudeva listened with great attentiveness. He took in everything as he listened, origins and childhood, all the learning, all the searching, all the joy, all the suffering. This was one of the greatest amoung the ferryman’s virtues: He had mastered the art of listening. Although Vasudeva himself did not utter a word, it was clear to the one speaking that each of his words was being allowed to enter into his listener, who sat there quietly, openly, waiting: not a single word was disregarded or met with impatience: Vasudeva attached neither praise nor blame to what he heard but merely listened. Siddhartha felt what a joy it was to be able to confide in such a listener, to entrust his life, his searching, his sorrow, to this welcoming heart” p. 88
Theodore Zeldin and listening – I have been learning a lot about listening by applying a principle to every conversation I’m in. The principle is this … “I am willing to emerge a slightly different person from this conversation with you”. When you start a conversation with this principle in mind, it is amazing what you hear from the other person. This mindset helps me to be still, quiet and attentive. There is a richness to the conversation that is lacking when I am swept up by my own thoughts and inner voice. I learned this principle in working alongside David Gurteen who shared this quote by historian Theodore Zeldin …
”The kind of conversation I’m interested in is one in which you start with a willingness to emerge a slightly different person.” Theodore Zeldin.
Johnnie Moore and listening – A few years ago friend and co-conspirator Johnnie Moore taught me a phrase that has stuck with me … Notice More, Change Less. It’s the idea if limiting your interventions and not playing the role of outside expert in trying to make stuff happen. Johnnie has taught me to simply “support what is emerging from within the system, not operating on it as the cold outsider.” In his Change This manifesto with James Cherkoff, he builds on this idea of a willingness to be changed in our interactions …
“In the world of improvised theatre, which inspires a lot of our thinking, the player who tries too hard to drive the narrative is accused of scriptwriting. The one who tries to tell jokes is encouraged to stop gagging. The real skill in performance is to fully take on the offers of the other players and be changed by them. Then what you offer back is likely to develop the drama.”
Viv McWaters and listening – A willingness to “emerge a slightly different person” opens up learning possibilities in every interaction. It’s not about agreeing with everything either … sometimes the lesson is simply that other people hold a different point of view to me. In Applied Improvisation we apply the principle of Accepting Offers. Saying ‘Yes And’ builds on what the other person offers. It means that others walk away from conversations knowing they have been heard and understood. This “knowing I’ve been heard” outcome is critically important in building relationships and trust. Viv McWaters writes about this principle here and says …
“Adopting a ‘yes, and…’ mindset is all about accepting offers. You don’t need to like the offer, or even follow-through. It’s about the initial moment of acceptance rather than rejection. It’s about seeing that there’s more to making a choice than it’s either this or it’s either that. It’s about noticing the offer in what others say and do. Sometimes it’s hard to notice an offer – it’s a small offer, or it’s tentative, or it’s hidden amongst a whole lot of noise. Make big offers yourself. Notice the offer in what others say and do.
To accept is such a gift. To be accepted is such an honour.” Viv McWaters
So, here’s my offer to you and reminder for me … during the next conversation you have with someone (anyone), experiment with these listening principles. I’d love to hear what you notice and learn from this!
“Radiant, he departed: Siddhartha watched him go. With deep joy, with deep solemnity he watched him go: saw each of his steps full of peace, saw his he’d full of splendour, saw his figure full of light.”
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, p 115.
Happy Birthday Dad. Remembering your radiance and splendour.
Ingrid and I just returned home after 4 days and nights away from our 3 boys. Some would call it an indulgence, but 4 days gave us a chance to talk … endlessly. We noticed how much missed them and how time passed so differently with just the 2 of us to attend to.
It even gave me time to capture our time away in this very playful doodle … the story of our 4 days away …
There are few forces on earth as powerful as the ocean swells and tides. In response to lunar forces and weather patterns, they shape our coastlines and have the power to transform whole dune systems overnight.
Down here along the coastline of south western Victoria, the vast Southern Ocean plays her tune. She’s unpredictable and only fools dare not respect her power. Pulses of swell travel thousands of kilometers to reach our shores. Each pulse of swell forms a unique wave, different to every wave before it.
The sands along our beaches shift and move beneath the water surface continuously – nothing stays still and everything is moving. When the sandy bottom forms banks of the right shape, the waves on the surface break in long, pleasing lines. This is what brings a smile to face of surfers who call the coast home. When such banks appear on a section of beach, the rumors between locals spread and swarms of wetsuit-clad surfers converge to surf the incoming waves.
The reefs are a more consistant proposition for surfers. The impact of the waves erode and change the reefs over hundreds of years – barely discernible over the career of a surfer. But, like the beach breaks, every wave that breaks across it’s rocky surface is different. The swell size, direction and frequency together with the wind speed and direction are features that all surfers build an understanding of. When all of these factors line up in the sweetspot, everything gets put on hold. Builder’s tools are downed, consultant’s computers go into sleep mode and even some shops will say “Closed, back from surf in 2 hours”. Surfers will happily drive interstate on weekend to catch waves likes theses …
My home town of Aireys Inlet has its own surfing culture and history. There are local’s breaks and secret spots. The one thing that every surfer has respect for is the ocean. Her power and unpredictability. From beautiful and inviting one moment to ugly and menacing the next! Knowing your limits as a surfer and learning to read local conditions are prerequisites. Respect for fellow surfers and an understanding of the culture is just as much a part of it.
Good friends of ours in Aireys grew up in the most south-western coast of Victoria in Portland and Cape Bridewater. They grew up with Adam Robinson and his family and Adam’s incredible surfing skills on on full show in this video. Enjoy the surfing the delights of Cape Bridewater …
Fellow applied improvisor and friend April Seymore showed up to Thriving In Uncertainty last week. Not only did she contribute her enthusiasm and wisdom, April picked up the marker pens and harvested from conversations that were happening in break out sessions. Great to see others doing this as well!!
Last week, a small event was staged. About 60 or 70 folks from around the World gathered in Melbourne for the Thriving in Uncertainty Conference. This was a true collaboration between Melbourne Playback Theatre & Viv McWaters. I was a witness to the co-creation of this event and was largely on the sidelines … watching others do all the hard work … contributing where I could … taking it all in and learning. And here’s a photo of me watching Viv and Sherridan (Melb Playback) do the work at the HUB Melbourne …
Viv’s co-conspirator and explorer at the Edges of Work, Johnnie Moore, came out to support Viv in ‘holding the space’ we called Thriving in Uncertainty. Johnnie also dabbled in an Art of Hosting event recently with Chris Corrigan – both are also active in AIN. Together, me, Viv, Johnnie, Chris and Anne Patillo call ourselves The Slips and have worked together on conferences in Australia, Canada and Asia.
I could go on and on and on … list the names of many more people and networks that connect together with weak or strong ties. When you are part of a network like this, doing stuff is like dancing in the corner of a vast spider’s web … the energy flows across the entire system. Unexpected and serendipidous occasions follow – like this gathering in Vancouver recently …
The pattern I am sensing in all of this are the connections between and across different communities of practice. Applied Improv is mixing with Art of Hosting and OpenSpace which is riffing with Thrivability and playing with the Gathering 11 & 12 movement here in Melbourne. Consultants are sharing work and wisdom with theatre directors, musicians, university professors, researchers, PhD students, business leaders and practitioners drawn from other sectors. When the work and worldviews of so many diverse players come together CHANGE starts to happen quickly. Innovation is everywhere and look out everybody … “This is gonna be a train wreck and I can’t wait!” (HT to Andrew McMasters for these words in his session at Thriving in Uncertainty last week!)