Resources for Facilitators

February 2nd, 2009

Facilitators like me have traditionally drawn on processes, activities, and often the wisdom and experiences of other facilitators for inspiration when designing workshops. Today I had a completely different experience. I promised I’d develop a slide show for a group as a thought starter for a discussion. I identified the key messages, developed a rough story board and started to search for information and pics I could include. Having little luck with google searches I put up a Twitter request…




… and within three minutes I had this response





So off I went to YouTube and did a search with the key word ‘exponential’. This is what I found within a few seconds.








I watched this 5 minute video made by Karl Fisch, Scott McLeod and Jeff Bronman, and it’s perfect. I have saved myself hours of work in creating an original slideshow when there was one already made that fit the bill. Brilliant.

BTW, I made these copies of Twitter and YouTube using Skitch (hat tip to Brenda Moon for introducing me to Skitch).

Oh, and here’s the video if you’re interested in watching it.

At home & on-the-road ‘must have’ tools

November 24th, 2008

Here’s my top 10 things (that’s a technical term) that have made my life easier as a self-employed facilitator working from home:

Enables an easy (and a cheap) way to talk with people anywhere in the world, from anywhere I happen to be. Great for conference calls too.

Fantastic high-quality and inexpensive photos to download for any purpose – great search facility and huge range to choose from.

Wireless at home
Now I can work anywhere, including outside, and still be connected.

Google Docs
Makes collaborating on documents and slideshows easier

Twinings green tea with peppermint
Refreshing, tasty, low caffeine (so I can drink lots of it).

A place to share and see (some great) slideshows.

TED talks
Entertaining, inspirational, informative – and access to people I may never hear speak in any other forum.

My dog. Gets me out of the house. Never talks back. Never criticises. Always pleased to see me.

Google images
For a pic of just about any one or any thing.

The off button
…on my phone, computer, iPod, television – so as I can enjoy the place where I live, and the people and creatures I’m fortunate to share it with.


And here’s five tools I would never leave home without

Coloured Post-It notes (various sizes)
Useful for just about every low-tech process I know, and for engaging people in conversation, focusing attention, for open space agenda setting – way too many uses to list here!

Visual Explorer cards (playing card size)
The two decks of playing card-sized VE cards are easy to carry anywhere (including overseas) – and to use on the spur of the moment.

Smiggle fat pens
Bold colours, can be used for thick or thin lines – great for those times when I have to use a flip chart (although it’s just about impossibe to hold more than one at a time)

Tibetan temple bells
Nice sound, gentle or loud, best way I know to gain people’s attention, especially in a large, rowdy crowd.

MacBook Air
My window to the world – light, robust and does everything I need it to do, including blogging.

Getting serious about collaboration

November 20th, 2008

I’ve been talking about collaborating for a while – now it’s actually happening. And it’s VERY exciting. Projects underway include a fantastic (even if I say so myself!) presentation skills workshop; a book about facilitating with confidence; and yet another book on facilitating and improv. These collaborations are happening locally, in NZ and in the USA. Which has meant I’ve had to quickly decide on how best to collaborate on line. Skype chats have been great for setting things up, but now we’re down to business, and the limitation of some tools become apparent. For co-writing and editing I’m using google docs. Wish there was something like this around when I was an editor! If, like me, you have no idea how google docs works, check out this video from the CommonCraft geniuses.


A few ‘end of week’ links

October 31st, 2008

Luke Weaver has written a nice paper (easy to read too) that explains the phenomenon Twitter. Read, then sign on and see for yourself what it’s all about.

I love this return post by Hugh MacLeod on blogging – good to laugh at ourselves.

Nick Smith has a nice post about our gifts to share. Somewhat mirrors my own reflections about ‘what next?’ and with a lot more clarity. Among other things he discusses awareness, courage and trust. Great cartoon as well.

Matt Moore has a good summary of Seth Godin’s new book Tribes. I love Matt’s comment: Maybe it’s “Here Comes Everybody” if you have ADHD.

I don’t suppose we’re all having similar thoughts – it’s just that I’m noticing more of these types of blogs. Gavin Heaton explores spark, connection and creativity, having an idea and doing something with it.

Benefits of blogging

September 24th, 2008

A friend of mine recently signed up to Twitter (hi Kim!). We had this email conversation about what it means to be on Twitter, and about blogging. This got me reflecting on what a difference these web tools have made to my business and to my facilitation practice. 

Contactable in many ways

Less than two years ago the only way to contact me was by phone, email (one account) or mail. Now I have at least four email accounts, twitter, facebook, 3 web sites, skype – well, you get the picture. And they only need to be as intrusive as I want them to be. On a 10-day vacation recently in Africa I had no technology at all, not even a cell phone. The world didn’t end. Emails waited patiently wherever they’re stored until I returned. 

Connecting with people – known

So I’d meet someone at a conference – and let’s face it, I AM prone to attending conferences. I like the interaction and the challenges and the ideas that emerge (which mean I only attend certain types of conferences – if there’s too many presentations, or too much control, I scarper). I’ve met lots of really interesting people at conferences and the only thing I have to show for it, years later, is their card (if I can find it). Since blogging, skyping etc I’ve been able to stay in touch with people I meet and even become friends with some. We don’t talk every day – and may go for months without any interaction. But I might read their blogs (and they might read mine), or I might simply see on my skype contacts that they are on-line. It’s enough to remind me of them. For example, the other day I ran a workshop around status behaviours for facilitators. It went really well and I was enthused to do some more around this topic. So I skyped my improv buddy in Finland, Simo, who just happened to be on-line to ask if his book about status had been translated into English yet (the answer was ‘no’). I really value the connections, and particularly the friendships, developed this way. It’s always great when they come and visit too – and I suppose it helps living in a tourist destination.

Oh, and it works just as well staying connected with people around the corner as across the globe. 

Connecting with people – unknown

Following links from a trusted source to somewhere else on the web can lead to all sorts of possibilities: unexpected collaborations, book reviews, invitations to present at conferences, work opportunities – all of these have happened for me, not from people I personally know, but from people I’ve ‘met’ on the web.

Connecting with ideas & staying current

I have to make a conscious effort to stay in touch with people, AND ideas – especially as I work alone. I’ve always been a media junkie – I put that down to doing media studies in the 80s – so reading newspapers is a start, a few mags are good, and then I find things out via the web and especially links that I would never have known about any other way. As a facilitator, I think I need to have a good sense of what’s happening in the world – globally, nationally and locally. This enables me to put the topic of the workshop into a context, so I may not understand the detail, but I do have a sense of why the topic is important for this client and how I can contribute as a facilitator.


Today I had a two-hour skype video chat with my friend Andrea who lives in San Antonio, Texas (and I’m in Australia) – so despite the time difference, we were able to plan two workshops that we’re co-delivering at this year’s Applied Improv Conference in Chicago. And then my friend Geoff demonstrated dimdim as another meeting tool – especially when you both want to co-create something on the whiteboard.

It’s fun – mostly

I enjoy it – if I didn’t I’d stop. Which is exactly what happened recently on a listserv that I’d been on since its inception 12 years ago. The discussions turned a bit nasty, with too much one-upmanship for my liking. I stuck it out for a while, and finally decided I was not enjoying it at all, so unsubscribed. 


And what blogger doesn’t like seeing their words in print? There is an ego element to all of this – the trick is keeping it in check, realising that it’s not the number of friends you have, or the number of people following you on Twitter, or the number of hits on your blog, but the quality of the relationships and the value that you can receive, and give. Karma.


Web 2.0 only for some?

September 10th, 2008

Language alert


This is a conversation I had today (via email) with a friend who works in the Kimberley. The Kimberley is in north-western Australia. Properties can be the size of small countries and neighbours may be 100s of kilometres away. It’s like a different country. There’s lots of space and very few people. It has two main seasons – the wet (during Nov – March) when it’s wet, hot and humid, and the dry (pretty much the rest of the year) when it’s hot and dry. BTW, it’s also the home to one of my favourite birds – the Gouldian Finch.

My friend Dave works with landholders on water issues. He’s an excellent communicator and facilitator. He gets frustrated though when it’s just about impossible to bring people together for face-to-face meetings and workshops. He understands the importance of connecting, of dialogue, and of authentic consultation.

Dave wrote: “…unfortunately like most things that are run in either the west or east Kimberley no community people can afford to travel to attend…”

I wrote: “…have you considered some of the Web 2.0 solutions such as wikis, social network sites, like ning, and on-line meeting solutions such as dimdim, moodle, etc…”

Dave wrote: “Holy crap! I am so backward on this stuff. Will check it out.”

Apparently, because I have a blog, use Twitter, Facebook, and social networking to connect my clients, flickr, and try out things like SlideShare and VisualCV, I’m an ‘early adopter’ and a bit of a geek. To paraphrase Dave: ‘Holy crap!’ I use these tools because I can – and not very well. My learning style is an ‘active experimenter’ and that’s what I do. I experiment. I have a go. Try things out. I’m a bit wary of Second Life, Spore and and WoW because I suspect I may have an addictive personality and don’t want to open that door!

People like my friend Dave, though often don’t have the option to explore and experiment like I do. Their organisations block access to much of the internet. It reminds me of the 70s (OMG – I’m old enough to remember the 70s!) where you couldn’t possibly provide everyone with a telephone at work. Surely they would abuse it and make personal calls.

I am increasingly frustrated at the control exerted by IT people in organisations, especially Government agencies here in Australia. Access to YouTube, social network sites, podcasts etc is verboten. There may well be good reasons for this – something to do with technical stuff about how much data can be downloaded before a system collapses or something. I once had dinner with the IT manager of a major government department and he tried to explain why it wasn’t possible to allow unfettered access. Sigh. And there’s something else about ‘hygiene’. What the fuck has hygiene got to do with it?

People are missing out on a whole range of tools to make their lives easier – to enable greater access by the community – to save fuel and energy by only having face-to-face meetings when they really matter rather than the default position.

I’m glad I have none of these restrictions. Sure I have no IT support either. When something goes wrong, or I can’t work out what to do, I have to call on a helpful friend who does know what they are doing (thanks guys!) or I just keep plugging away until I work it out. Sure, I waste a lot of time, but I’ve also gained a lot of knowledge. Enough for people to see me as an ‘early adopter’. If only they knew!

PS: And I’ve learnt heaps by watching The CommonCraft Show videos. Those guys rock!

Pushing boundaries

July 3rd, 2008

I’ve been searching for ways to encourage training participants to write their own manual, in real time, while taking part in a training program that they will later deliver to others. I can hear a whole lot of people out there thinking, ‘oh, that’s train-the-trainer’ stuff. For some reason the term ‘train-the-trainer’ leaves me cold and doesn’t quite capture the messy, organic, spontaneous and sometimes random way that training and learning merge. I’ve tried the training manual approach and it doesn’t work, so I’m looking for more participatory and dynamic approaches. So if anyone has any ideas I’d be most grateful.

So there I was going through my bookshelf looking for inspiration and I stumbled upon a couple of essays I wrote when I did my Masters. No wonder I ended up blogging when I submitted essays titled ‘Collecting Clouds – a conversation with myself about action research’. How pretentious! So I had a look to see what the 10-year-younger me wrote back in 1998. I was surprised to be reminded of setting up a discussion group for my fellow students. We were all course work students from across the country who came together only twice a year for a week at a time. The email discussion list was to help keep us connected in-between. Now I’d use a social networking site like collectiveX or ning. So even way back then I was ‘expanding the event horizon’ (hat tip to Matt Moore). Stay tuned for a podcast hosted by Matt Moore where Geoff Brown and I ramble on about facilitating and the unexpectedness of it all.

Join Us for a chat about web tools for facilitators

June 11th, 2008

Tomorrow I’m taking part in  a Leading Lights sessions hosted by Carla Rogers of Evolve. Please join us. Click here to find out more.




****LEADING LIGHT – ‘Geeks R Us – An hour of profound hilarity exploring the  exciting and scary www tools for facilitators with Viv McWaters, Nigel Russell, Geoff Brown and Carla Rogers? ****         

SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE: Thursday 12th June, 10am – 11am Sydney (12pm Auckland, 8am Perth, 9:30am Adelaide, 10:00am Brisbane, 8am Singapore and Kuala Lumpur)
NORTHERN HEMISPHERE: Wednesday 11th June, 8pm US Eastern Time/ New York, 5pm Pacific Time/Los Angeles  


Who cares about web 2.0?

May 31st, 2008

Lee Lefever over there at Commoncraft has written about a reality check regarding who is using the web tools like blogs, and twitter, and social networking. He has a good point. Those of us doing what I’m doing now may well be early adopters – although I must admit to feeling nothing like an early adopter as I struggle to understand and keep up with what’s happening in geekland. 

I have a blog, surf the net, enjoy social networking and twitter for two very pragmatic reasons.

The first is because my learning style is ‘active experimenter’ – I learn by doing. Telling me about web tools doesn’t compute (sorry – bad pun) – I have to use them to understand. That was my main motivation for starting this blog. I’m learning how to do podcasts the same way.

And the second reason is also very pragmatic. I work alone. I work from home. I have hermit tendencies. It would be way to easy to become isolated from the world. So the internet and its tools provide a way to keep me connected and knowing what’s going on in the world through trusted sources. You know who you are because you are listed over there on the left in my blogroll.

Actually, there’s a third reason too. I’m a science fiction fan. Not those new genre fantasy stories – the original sci fi wow! sorta stories that described a world that was just amazing. I find myself living in that world – amazed every day at the capacity to connect across the planet. I don’t care if no-one ever reads what I write. I like that I can write what i want and publish it. I like that i can make podcasts. I like that I’m lucky enough to live in my very own fantasy world AND it’s real. When I no longer care I’ll probably stop.

Friday links

April 18th, 2008

Here’s a few links for a Friday afternoon:

Simplicity quotes from Commoncraft

A virtual whiteboard application Twiddla from Academhack.  

A great example of visual reflecting by Geoff – and I know it’s accurate, cos I was there!

A podcast from Matt Moore and friends on Blended Facilitation. 

Comic Life enables you to make comics from your photos.