All the mistakes you make, all the promises you break… in your events

Always make new mistakes (Credits - Elycefeliz)
Always make new mistakes (Credits – Elycefeliz)

Should’ve seen it coming a lot earlier… that mistake that was so familiar when it happened again. Or rather: those mistakes

I just ended a streak of five events in four weeks to facilitate in the past four weeks and when repetition happens, the danger of the auto-mode is glowing in the dark.

Auto-mode is the enemy of learning, it’s the number one factor for breaking promises to improve. I make all my mistakes with events when I end up revisiting that dreaded auto-square 1.

So, upon the excellent inspiration from Amanda Harding, a fellow facilitator who helped me out on the last event I designed and steered, I decided to jot down a list of some dreaded intellectual and practical roundabouts I wish to avoid in future events.

Pack too much

This is my one consciously blind spot. Not consciously because I want to keep it this way but somehow I always slip back into this trap and I know it: I’m putting (and letting others put) too much on the program. And everything goes (slightly) haywire: Time management becomes a nuisance, or participation becomes a burden – exactly what I want to avoid. Oh, I do save time to ensure group work and conversations, but wouldn’t it be just fine to have a lot more time for quality conversations? When you deal with a not-so-small-any-longer group (say 30+) and have to do detailed planning, you typically sever chances for (full) success in my experience.

Don’t pay attention to the list of participants…

Perhaps because event organisers themselves tend to take care of the participants, I do check the list of participants but don’t really spend quite enough time looking at who is really coming, who has a specific history with the topic at hand, who is a champion, who is busy, who may not care, who has a special agenda. Spending more careful time around who is likely to come would really help achieve a better balance in the objectives of specific sessions…

Assume everyone knows…

This flows naturally from an ill analysis of the participants’ list: assuming that everyone is familiar with the content, with the initiative behind the event, with each other etc. is really detrimental to the balance of the event and to the dynamics of the group. Especially as time is increasingly scarce for events, it is irresponsible to use time inefficiently and put everyone aside their normal working shoes if the reflection does not help them.

Focus too much on the big picture… or on devils’ details…

Because we assume people know enough, we end up focusing on petty politics, or the contrary: we think participants are coming in for a big surprise and it turns out they’re all super familiar with the topic… Well just keep in mind that it’s good to keep these big pictures and devilish details at par. Don’t focus too much on just one of these.

Don’t check what presentations people have prepared…

We give recommendations and guidelines for how to prepare presentations, how much time they should get, sometimes we even prepare a template for all to follow a consistent look and feel. But this simply doesn’t work very well most of the time. DON’T TRUST YOUR PRESENTERS (completely). They will do their best but they will probably not stick to time and might end up with awkward presentations. So give your presenters a deadline to share their presentation and give yourself enough time to review these presentations, comment them and send them back to their owners for updates.

Don’t brief group work facilitators and reporters…

Another common mistake: don’t brief your on-the-spot facilitators enough, don’t tell them to document the discussion, to let everyone speak, to report syn-the-ti-cally from their group work. Just let the chaos be and you get everyone’s ming boggling at the colourful diversity of paths that all groups are taking. This doesn’t help integrating the different streams in your event. Mind, however that a certain dose of that chaos can be really useful, but confusion should be channelled or used as part of the design rather than let totally loose throughout the event.

Who cares about creativity? Keep it bland!

In that workshop that triggered this post, I ended talking about message 1, message 2 etc. without using the title of these messages. Without using the energy of their content. What a pity! Creativity is not just concerned with grand design, it’s also about all the superfluous little details that make a grand difference. Whether you use funky props, creative labels, funny exercises, ground-breaking facilitation methods, itchy questions etc. try to bring in some creativity! I know I learned my lesson there.

Wrap it up as quickly as possible and nevermind the commitments…

Everyone is somewhat tired at the end of a good participatory workshop, energised also but certainly tired from strong engagement and racking brains for a few hours or days. It’s tantalising to finish off the workshop as soon as possible and to not spend any time on crisp action points, commitments and the rest of it… Closing the event too quickly leads to hazardous results and messy impressions. The end of an event should be about closing the space properly and paving the way for the future. This is essential to get a good event ended well! Besides, a session on personal commitments can be a great way to build a good team dynamics and to bring in some extra creativity.

Forget about after action reviews…

And this is the mother of all these lessons: If you’ve managed to follow each and everyone of these advices (sub-titles), then you might as well forget about reviewing how things went and what you learnt from it. But if you actually care about coming up with a good event, an after action review is an essential session whether you are doing group facilitation or not, to build upon the good and the bad and to not reinvent the ill 😉

Hopefully with so much good advice I will be able to come up with better events myself 😉 The only mistakes we should allow ourselves to make are new ones…

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Published by Ewen Le Borgne

Collaboration and change process optimist motivated by ‘Fun, focus and feedback’. Nearly 20 years of experience in group facilitation and collaboration, learning and Knowledge Management, communication, innovation and change in development cooperation. Be the change you want to see, help others be their own version of the same.

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