I have facilitated workshops for the past five days in a row, from Sunday through yesterday, Thursday.  Each forum enabled me to engage the audience in the exchange of ideas.

This is one of the most rewarding parts of my work.  I show up for the workshop, well-prepared, and with a clear idea of the content I want to cover.  But, at the start, I do not know what will happen in the workshop, because I have not yet heard the participants’ contributions.

When I meet people as they come in the room, they are always friendly, but all I can learn about them as we greet each other is what is written on their name tag and in the few words we can exchange.  But, with each person, I am am confident that there is a depth that I have not yet uncovered.

Once a workshop starts, I begin to solicit contributions from the attendees.  As I provoke them and prod them, ideas begin to surface.  One person’s thoughts encourage another to speak, sometimes to agree, sometimes to amend, often to debate.

As I stand in front of a group, the vision I have is that there is a well of intelligence seated before me, and my job is tap into that well, using my ideas and concepts to bring forth new, stimulating thoughts.  Every group I work with is different, because each well of intelligence has its own strengths and personality.

Presentations are not about presenting.  They are about being present enough to engage a group of people, in a way that creates new ideas that none of us could have created without the collaboration of each other.


  • Amanda Cullen
    Sep 12, 2008 - 09:03 am

    I love that thought of using equivocation to change the definition of presentation! Instead of presenting, be present.

    So next time I attend a Powerpoint bullet-point fest with the lights dimmed and the speaker droning, should I call it a “monologtation” instead of a presentation? That is, if I can stay awake enough to think about it.

  • Larry Kaufman
    Sep 12, 2008 - 12:32 pm

    It’s all too easy for those of us who appear before groups to lose sight (or to allow the participants to lose sight) of the specific role we are fulfilling at a particular session.

    When I facilitate, I always stress that my role is facilitator, not management consultant — and that my group owns both the session and the outcome.

    I also find that my groups (whom I typically don’t know at all) also don’t know one another as they think they do — and as I ask them publicly to introduce themselves to me, I ask that they tell “me” (actually their colleagues) not only about their job in the current environment but also in their other environments — in other words, in a volunteer environment, I want to know about their day job, and especially what they bring from their day job to their volunteering, and also what they bring from their volunteering to their day jobs.

    This exercise moves people from being modules to being multi-dimensional, and helps all the participants to be present to all the others.

  • Judith Ellis
    Sep 14, 2008 - 19:45 pm

    Good post. Presenting is like the best live performances. Although a particular piece may have been done many times, it’s the audience that makes the difference: how they respond, the look on their faces, their body language, the vibe in the room etc. There are various ways of communcating and collaborating, both between the audience and the orchestra or band.

    Early on this year I was invited by a friend to attend a weekend workshop well known for its resort and training. She had been telling me about the resort for some time and she had been a facilitator there some years back. In fact, the founder is her a dear friend and personal coach. I agreed.

    After a few minutes into the session, being a trainer myself and curricula designer, I knew that I would be struggling through the weekend. I didn’t think I needed the kind of boot camp motivation being offered. All the facilitators were dressed in Army fatigues and speaking in high decimals…at a resort!

    All I could think of was “Judith, what have you gotten yourself into?” I hope my participants aren’t thinking that when I’m facilitating, but I have definitely gotten that same look that I felt. Many times training seminars are mandatory and they come to us kicking and screaming.

    Knowing this, I tried desperately to stay positive, but my body language must have shown a slight annoyance. The facilitator began singly me out immediately, trying to engage me. She called on me three times in the first 15 minutes and asked if I would come to the front to fill in a vacant seat. OK.

    The first time she called on me I smiled and answered. The second time I smiled and answered. The third time I asked if someone else among the 50 participants would like to participate. Her response, “no I’d like for you to answer.” I did not smile. I politely gathered my things and left. I was definitely in the wrong workshop.

    Now, I am not sure who she’s used to motivating but as a facilitator, I would never ever single out one person among a group and insist upon answers fifteen minutes into the session. It might have also had something to do with the bootcamp there. But I wasn’t feeling in and didn’t wish to be singled out.

    I got the impression right away that she thought she knew me. But she did not. She did not know that I was a Fortune 500 facilitator and curricula designer. She did not know that I had travelled all the way from Michigan to be there. She did not know that I was there as a guest of the founders. She did not get the right vibe from me other than I was slightly annoyed. I take seemingly difficult particpants as a gentle challenge to engage them. It’s like courting them. This facilitator lacked finesse. But, hey, maybe that was the boot camp theme again.

    I don’t think it’s a good idea for facilitators to assume they know participants, especially within the first fifteen minutes into the session. You could be judging improperly and miss the connection and process of growth for both the facilitator and participant.

    The weekend turned out to be not so bad, but I had to make the adjustments, as it seemed that the lead facilitator was on one track with no nuances or variances to various participants. When I’m facilitating I try to listen to what participants are saying and what they’re not and WAIT a while before I ask them direct questions. I want not only my words to be right but my inflections as well. I learned this from substituting in a different school everyday and going from elementary school to high school.

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