Bringing meetings to life

Many of us dread meetings at work. Too often they’re dull: they follow predictable patterns, and people struggle to stay engaged.

After regular meetings, the gossip by the water cooler afterwards is usually more interesting, and honest, than the meeting itself.

The best part of many conferences is the coffee break, when suddenly the whole audience comes to life and conversations and ideas start sparking?

What if we could bring all that energy into our meetings instead of squeezing it out?

Meetings for human beings

We are social creatures, fundamentally wired for socialising, playing and creating together. To release that energy into our meetings, we need to disrupt some conventions.

  • We need to have fewer presentations and more conversations.
  • We need to free people to move around, rather than remaining pinned to their chairs.
  • We need to give participants autonomy: instead of telling them what to do, we create choices for them about how to participate and collaborate.
  • We need to create a more level playing field in meetings, a space in which everyone feels able to contribute, so we don’t just get stuck listening to the usual suspects.

How to have better meetings

I’ve spent the last 20 years going around the world helping organisations have meetings that command attention and generate fun and excitement. There’s no big secret to what I do, it comes down to two things: using creative processes that allow people to really participate, and showing up as a facilitator that people feel able to trust.

I’m going to share all this experience in a two-day workshop in Cambridge in January. We’ll explore how to:

  • Get more out of every meeting — for you, attendees and the organisation.
  • Learn new techniques for creating engagement
  • Build your presence and performance as a facilitator

Not training-as-usual

I don’t believe in facilitation-as-usual and this won’t be training-as-usual. There will be no powerpoint, little use of a flip chart and certainly no “turn-to-page-94-of-the-manual”.

There will be movement, surprise, emotion, engagement and fun. We learn our most powerful lessons from experience, not from lectures. The greatest value in workshops comes from sharing experiences, rather than taking notes from the “sage on the stage”

There will be two threads over the two days: techniques and performance.

Techniques

I’ll share a simple model of networks to show how you can shift the way you think about your meetings. Move away from hierarchy towards more creative, peer-to-peer engagement

I’ll share methods I’ve learnt and created over the years to bring that model to life, including:

  • Cafe processes for connecting and conversation
  • Open Space — a brilliant participatory process — and the pitfalls to avoid when hosting it
  • Full circle and other methods to speed up feedback and avoid the agony of “creeping death” reporting from breakouts
  • Bringing scenarios to life in three dimensions
  • Line ups — a simple but brilliant way to add movement and surprise to finding out more about what people think and feel about topics and each other
  • Playful approaches to serious topics, situations and people

Performance

When you facilitate a meeting you are on stage, and people are watching. The pressure to perform is high. If you can stay present and spontaneous, the chances are you will set the tone for the whole event, bringing it to life. If you can’t do this, even the best processes in the world won’t save you.

We’ll use a range of activities and challenges to enable you become more aware of your performance and to become a more engaging version of yourself.

We’ll explore:

  • Presence: how it’s not about showing off or making yourself the centre of attention.
  • Avoiding ‘teaching trance’ and ‘plenary vortex’ — the factors that most easily kill the atmosphere in meetings
  • Getting braver and more creative managing difficult conversations and people
  • Embracing surprise: some of the best things I’ve done when facilitating have been spontaneous, often in response to mistakes and curve-balls. The ability to respond well is a muscle we can build with practice.

Who should attend?

Anyone responsible for organising and leading meetings — whether that’s internally, with stakeholders or clients, or for consultation, feedback or generating ideas. Anyone who is frustrated by boring, uneventful, and time-wasting meetings.

Creative Facilitation: Bringing Meetings To Life

January 9th and 10th 2017 9.30am to 4.30pm King’s College Cambridge

My partner, Viv McWaters is offering a one-day version in Melbourne on November 18th

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