How do you create a communication environment that’s right for you?

I’ve just been trying to organise a night out with a group of friends – can’t be that hard can it? Well, Christmas aside, yes it is. And it’s not because we’re all busy (although we are, of course, isn’t everybody?) but because we’re all on different channels. By which I mean, everyone’s on Whatsapp except one person who can’t get into it because she’s forgotten her password. Not an unsolvable issue, but certainly one that might make you not really want to bother. Everyone’s on Facebook messenger except one person who doesn’t like Facebook. Everyone’s able to text but we can’t do a group text/reply and we all have different phone systems. See where I am going with this?

I do rather love a bit of technology, and I wholeheartedly embrace a whole host of Social Media. I am not one of the naysayers, despite my overwhelming love of face to face communication. But amongst the myriad of different issues the world may have with hi tech communication, it is the number of options available that often leave me frustrated. Too much choice can definitely scupper our chances of doing what many of these things are set up to do  –  allow us to communicate effectively.

When you are in a social group, the stakes are low. Someone may get a bit peeved that they didn’t get an invitation to something, and someone else will probably make sure they get the message a different way. But imagine this in a workplace setting. The stakes are far higher; frustration amongst employees, huge amounts of time wasted chasing things, and worse the haemorrhaging of important information. The possibilities for how to communicate are almost endless; Whatsapp, e-mail, texts, Facebook messenger, Slack, Skype, Snapchat, Yammer, the good old fashioned phone, and a whole lots of other things that I don’t even know about. There is rarely just one system, but there are always a lot of different preferences. We all like different things, and we all like to do things in slightly different ways.

So what’s the answer?

Well, one of the things that can be done in a proactive way, to prevent this discombobulated communication is to have a conversation. Get your employees together and create an opportunity for discussion. Whether this is a meeting, or workshop, or discussion forum, face to face communication is definitely the way forward if you want to alleviate misunderstanding and ambiguity.

  • Ask people what they think works
  • Ask them what they think doesn’t work
  • Tell them what the business needs
  • Find out what they need
  • Look for some common ideas
  • Consider some action steps and agreement use

By getting people to work together, face to face, person to person to share their views you will be providing everyone equal opportunity to get involved. That’s not to say you can’t use technology to hold a workshop or meeting of some kind, and how you do it is important. How you have that discussion matters if you want to get the most out of it. But the getting together of people and engaging staff in this way shows that you care what they think. It demonstrates that you want to find the best way of doing things for everyone. And this matters because they are the ones who will be using it.

The only sure way to make sure that you find out exactly what everyone thinks, is to ask. If you do this right you will have:

  • Had an opportunity to share with everyone the systems that are currently in place
  • Found out which ones are used most and which ones are disregarded
  • Deduced which ones work best and in what situation
  • Given everyone the opportunity to say what they think and to ask questions
  • Involved you staff in creating their own solutions, and to have a say in what happens next. This buy in is probably the most crucial aspect. You need people on board, to use the system in the first place for it to work.

If this type of communication conundrum sounds familiar then why not give me a call. I have been working with Gerald Crittle from GAcceleration, an expert in business communication technology to create some workshop packages. The focus of these workshops is internal communication, and more effective meetings, and both workshops have an employee engagement phase, followed by a technical training. The workshops are carefully designed to make sure everyone that needs to be is involved, engaged and on board so that you can create a communication environment that is right for everyone.

 

Workshop Essentials – One year on and going strong

As we seem to be hurtling fast towards the end of the year, I find that I am already starting to reflect on what I’ve been up to these past 12 months. A lot has happened, but one very important thing sticks out – the fact that Workshop Essentials is one year old!

first birthday

November 2015 was when I held my first workshop, attended by a group of 8 people at the Easton Business Centre. While I have designed and delivered many different workshops in my time, this was the first time I had created an open workshop; one that people had to sign up to come to. The majority of my workshops are in house and the participants (usually staff members) are all organised for me by the client. I had no idea if anyone would come, whether I had the skills to market my workshops or whether enough people wanted to learn how to do a workshop in the first place. But like many of these things, you just have to give it a go and see what happens…….

The workshop itself was born out of conversations with a number of different people, mostly small business owners about the best ways to do workshops. Commonly there would be questions about ice breakers and activities, as well as confidence in putting a workshop together, and how to keep people interested. So, my informal research told me that yes, there were people out there wanting to learn about workshops. While I would happily talk workshop all day, it’s much easier to show you. If you want to learn a new ice breaker you might as well see it in action. If you want to know how to get a great discussion going it’s more memorable if you have been part of one. And if it’s about confidence then a good place to start is arming yourself with the right knowledge in the first place.

So, the idea to hold a workshop, on how to do workshops moved from being a niggling idea at the back of my brain, into a reality.

I have now run 4 of these workshops, so let’s see how they are going:

Who came?

While I aimed this at small business owners (as this is where my conversations started), I found that they actually only made up about 70% of the participants. The businesses they came from were: styling, nutrition, coaching, social media, PR, marketing, interior design, health and wellbeing, business process improvement, law, web design and IT.

But I also had several people from charities, representing: refugees, dementia research, back to work and unemployment, and families in need.

As well as some public sector workers.

So – my evaluation tells me that there are in fact a broad cross section of people wanting to know about workshops. Although the most heavily represented sector so far has most definitely been social media and marketing and digital/IT work.

I have kept the numbers to 10 people as I think this strikes a good balance between getting a good participatory buzz, and allowing time for me to give everyone 1:1 attention on their workshop plans.

What did people think?

I have been fortunate to have consistently great feedback from my workshops, which is definitely something I feel proud of! Let’s face it, if the feedback has been rubbish I would’ve stopped long ago. If you’d like to view some testimonials, there are some here and here and a little sample below:

“Helene delivered a fabulous workshop on how to hold a workshop. I learned so much as a beginner. Helene is easy to talk to and very knowledgeable too” Katy Batt, Realistic Holistic

I would like to let you into a secret though – it’s not 100% positive, there were areas for improvement. The first time I put on the workshop I ran out of time, or rather I rushed the workshop along to fit all the content in. One of the participants felt a bit overwhelmed and I realised that while I wanted to tell everyone all that I know, there just isn’t enough time in half a day.

Lesson learnt: I cut out some of the workshop that I thought was interesting, but not essential (like the title of the workshop suggests!). It all fits together beautifully now but it is a good example of something I tell people all the time – don’t put too much content in, less is more…..I did consider creating a whole day, but instead created a Part II (The Workshop Toolkit) to do in conjunction with Workshop Essentials, or as a stand alone half day in itself.

What did the participants learn?

Of course not everyone who came on my workshop was a complete beginner, some of the participants had put on workshops already, they just wanted to do them better. But here are some examples of what people have said they’ve taken on board and what they have done with it:

Confidence to deal with difficult people: One of the participants told me a short while ago that she had had a “difficult person” to deal with at an event. Having been on the workshop, she coped fine having followed my advice. Dealing with “awkward customers” is something we discuss on the workshop.

Learning to be “reactive”: I think that doing a participatory workshop is taking a bit of a leap into the unknown at first because you don’t know what questions will come from the participants, and you don’t know where discussions will go. Of course it’s easier to be in complete control of the situation and just deliver information to people. But it’s not nearly as effective. Although I hadn’t quite seen it in those terms, one of my participants described this as being “reactive” or being able to react to what might come at you from your participants. If you know your subject, and you create a robust workshop you will be able to react well.

Ending the workshop (and next steps): One important topic we cover is ending your workshop. Ending of course is important to tie everything together in a nice tidy package for your participants to go home with. So they feel things have finished properly. But it’s also important for those “next steps”. You need to ensure that accountability and commitment and the “effect of the workshop” continues well after the workshop has ended. This has been a key learning point for a couple of the people who have attended my workshops.

next steps

Getting on with actually putting on a workshop in the first place: Most of the people who come on the workshop are content specialists. They know very well what they are talking about, they have a wealth of knowledge. But converting that knowledge into a particular format, like a workshop can feel like a huge challenge, especially if you’ve never done it before. I wanted the workshop to enable people to bring their ideas and work through them to see how possible they could be. Several people have said that coming along has enabled them to get their ideas together and get on with it!

Other things that people said were the “best bits” of the workshop were:

A framework/structure to plan a workshop

The handout/workbook

Importance of interactivity and ways to engage people

Hearing other people’s ideas

Each time I do Workshop Essentials it’s new and exciting. I have new participants come to join in and find out how to do amazing workshops, and in turn I get to hear all about their workshop plans. As a self confessed workshop geek, this is all rather thrilling! I love it when people have those lightbulb moments, when people “get it” and when people laugh. If there is laughter, then I know they are enjoying it. If there are questions, I know I’ve got their attention. If there are discussions, I know there are ideas igniting. You can feel when you get a workshop right and I love that feeling.

It would be remiss of me not to mention some of the workshops that are being held by my “graduates”, here are a couple I’d like to mention:

Carly Lightbrown and Claire Stone have their Eat Happy workshop next week.

Shereen Pasha has her Business Bootcamp coming up next month, with Becs Miller as a guest speaker

What next?

Of course I am all set to put another batch of workshop enthusiasts through their paces, so if that sounds like you you then please don’t miss out. I have both my Workshop Essentials and The Workshop Toolkit taking place on 12th January 2017.

I am always thinking of new things to add to my workshops, so watch this space…..

 

The Serious Business of Having Fun.

What do you find fun?

One person’s idea of fun is not necessarily the same as the next person’s, but the idea of fun, the notion, the feeling, the concept is pretty universal. It’s that positive experience of being entertained, amused, fulfilled, even overflowing with enthusiasm and excitement. It’s something that makes you laugh.

FUN!

However you define it, it’s incredibly important. Apart from the being part of what makes us human, there is an obvious link between enthusiasm, excitement and getting, holding and maintaining our interest. When we are fully on board, involved and engaged then our interest is held. When our interest is captured, we work much better, we envelope ourselves in what we are doing and achieve far better results. We are more likely to discover that inner creative genius and perhaps have a few lightbulb moments along the way.

There is of course a delicate balance to be struck, too much of a good thing can in itself be distracting. Just doing things because you are having a good time is not taking fun seriously. But if our enjoyment of something, our sense of fun can be captured and channelled in a particular direction to learn something new, complete a task or work with others to create something incredible then that’s productive fun. That’s good fun.

And workshops can be fun, if you do them right. Whether you are doing a workshop to disseminate information in an interactive way, or creating that convivial and cheerful environment to work through some important ideas, you need to get people on board. And a great way to do this is make it enjoyable.

You don’t have to be funny to have fun, and fun doesn’t necessarily mean a rip-roaring, side-splitting constant stream of entertainment. But it does mean doing your best to create the right kind of environment so that people in your workshop have a gratifying and compelling experience.

So how can this be achieved, well – here are a few top tips:

  1. Include some activities – whether these are games that you have made up or tried and tested training or facilitation tools, creating some activities is a good way to inject a bit of fun into a situation. They don’t have to be crazy balloon up your jumper type games, but a few activities will at the very least be interesting, especially if they are new to people.
  2. Ice-breakers and energisers are specifically designed to break down barriers and inject some energy into the room. Try some, but remember not everyone feels comfortable doing super crazy activities, so try a simple one as a starter until you know your participants better.
  3. New things in themselves can be fun – introduce a few things that participants might not have seen before or heard of. Ask people to share their own new things.
  4. Be different – thinking “outside the box” may inspire and motivate people to want more. If everyone uses slides, can you be a bit different? If it’s common to quote certain examples, can you find some new ones, perhaps some that are amusing and will stick in people’s minds?
  5. Encourage people to tell their own stories, or recount their own experiences. Hearing new ideas can be stimulating and fun.
  6. Variety – when we learn we all do it slightly differently. We cannot predict what will be fun for everyone. So mix it up, try different things, include a good selection.
  7. Tell some stories or use anecdotes. They don’t have to be lengthy or even that gripping, but a good story can be fun to listen to and creates an interest in the topic.
  8. If you are feeling brave – try a little humour. Most people have a sense of how their own humour goes down with friends and family, and if you get bad feedback, then maybe this is not your calling. But if you get a few laughs, try it out. Think about who you are aiming it and and whether it will go down well or not, and prepare to be surprised. Sometimes you think your participants might not appreciate humour, but even the most corporate faces like to laugh once in a while.
  9. Learn to laugh at yourself. While it is good to avoid Frank Spencer type moments, sometimes things can go wrong. Whether it is a flip chart stand collapsing or some materials that you’ve left behind – creating a positive out of a negative can often be turned to your advantage. And if such moments are all too awkward at the time, save the story for your next workshop……….
  10. Enjoy yourself! If you are relaxed and happy your participants will be more likely to be too and happy participants who feel positive about the workshop content is what it’s all about.
Workshop Laughter

Workshop Laughter

If you want to add a bit of pizzazz to your workshops or need a injection of some new activities, then come to one of my workshops  – they’re good fun and I promise not to tell any bad jokes. Or contact me to find out more about the types of facilitation work I do and how I can work with the people in your organisation in a fun and enjoyable way.

 

How do you use Questions?

When you ask a question you want the answer, don’t you*? Of course, otherwise you wouldn’t have bothered to ask the question in the first place. But it’s not always as simple as that…..

It is true that when we ask questions we are usually looking to obtain information about something,  “what time does the workshop start?” might be a good example. We don’t know something so we ask to find out, simple. But there are many other reasons we ask questions and they serve a variety of purposes besides just providing information.

Questions

We may be hiding an instruction in a question “do you want to put the kettle on?” actually means – I’d like you to put the kettle on! We might ask a question to make out feelings known about something “Is it my turn to do the photocopying again?”. Or perhaps to help us feel a certain way. The “does this look okay?” type question may actually be a request for validation rather than information, but you do want a reply. And of course there are rhetorical questions you might ask where you don’t really expect information, or even a reply. They are often used to make a point, or even to answer another question. “What does he think he looks like?” or “Who cares?” might be some good examples.

We use a plethora of different questions types to frame our conversations and give them extra meaning. Most of the time we do this without thinking about it and it’s part of our social use of language; the way we use language to communicate. In this sense our questions are more about the process of asking a question, than the actual question itself.

Questions can often lead to discussions, whether intended or not. Sometimes when we need the information we need to have a discussion to get to it – after all not all questions are simple and you may need more than one. A back and forth exchange of question and answers could be the mechanism for getting what you need. Sometimes it is purely about the conversation itself and questions are a good way to get a conversation going. We often do this when we are trying to engage with someone and get their attention. Of course, we need to make sure that we do listen to the answers otherwise the discussion will be rather short lived!

workshop conversations and questions

In the workshops I do, questions are often designed to start conversations, to keep discussions going and to generate more information. I use them to:

  • Engage people and break the ice
  • Maintain engagement and keep conversations flowing
  • Guide conversations and help them move in a particular direction
  • Help the group to solve problems
  • Elicit new ideas and to stimulate thought
  • Brainstorm
  • Tease out information that people often don’t realise they have
  • Debate a situation or particular topic
  • Help manage group dynamics

And a whole lot more. They are an important facilitation technique. Sometimes I plan these ahead and may use a particular method, such as the ICA’s Focused Conversation approach. Sometimes I plan one or two questions and bring in others as the workshop progresses. Much of the time it is about drawing on a bank of tried and tested question types as and when they are necessary. And sometimes, I rely on my flexibility and experience as a facilitator and bring them in when I need them with out the pre-planning.

I love a good question. It’s not always because I need information. But it is usually because I want a reply and I most definitely love a good conversation. So, my opening question for you is:

How do YOU use questions?

For more information about how you can use questions in workshops and a whole lot more check out my latest Workshop Essentials workshop now.

*Incidentally, for the grammar geeks amongst you, this particular question is known as a “tag” question.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Awareness in the Fast Lane

When I was growing up I used to do lot of swimming. It’s the only sport I’m really any good at. I don’t like running. Not at all! These days I can still hold my own in the pool even if my butterfly is limited to two lengths before I’m complete custard. And it’s generally the fast lane that I head for when I go to my local pool, along with a lot of other swimmers who clearly think, believe and know beyond a doubt that they are also fast.

swimming-78112_1280

The problem is, that having decided they’re fast, they absolutely need to be in that fast lane.  They have read the sign and that’s that. There’s not much that will move them from the fast lane. Even, it seems the fact that it is packed to the point where its nearly impossible to swim. They seem to be having these conversations with themselves:

“It says fast, so I must stay here.”

“Hmmm, but the medium lane is far less full.”

“But it tells me this is where the fast people need to be. I need to be with the fast people. Here is where I’m staying”.FAST2

I am however hot foot over to the medium lane, which I have checked out and can see is far less full. The “fast lane”label is actually rather defunct as no one is able to swim properly, it’s too packed. But somehow the congestion in the fast lane seems to be created by that word; “fast”. No one else seems to have cottoned on, they are so keen to be fast……..

And for me, this behaviour is all about awareness. Or lack of it. Which amounts basically to carrying on with what you are doing without really thinking about it. Determined to fulfil a goal, without monitoring your progress.

It’s very much like carrying on regaling someone with a tale without realising that they are bored to tears. We all do this sometimes and if you spend any length of time observing people having conversations then you will see what I mean, particularly in groups when there are a lot of different people taking part. It is usually just a few people that find it harder to take on board their surroundings, but in doing so they do show this kind of “plough on anyway” behaviour – I’ve started so I’ll finish as Magnus Magnusson used to say.

This often manifests itself as not listening. But its not just about listening. It’s about paying attention to all sorts of different things going on; it’s the body language, the frequency of exchanges, the types of conversations being had and the level of language used. It’s about hearing responses and connecting them to what you are talking about. Particularly in a group there is always a danger that we just do what everyone else does, what we think is expected of us without actually checking first.

And if you are determined to be in the fast lane regardless you are quite possibly focusing on the wrong thing. You are not seeing that there are other ways to get what you want, to speak to people, to have a conversation. There are other ways to ask questions, tell a story or discuss a problem. If you want to stay fixed to your goal without thinking about the other people around, then you might actually end up achieving it slower. You need to have the buy in of other people into your conversation or it’s not really a conversation, but one way traffic.

So next time you have that “fast lane feeling”, maybe stop and collect yourself a bit. We are all guilty of this trait on one level or another and we don’t always employ our best awareness tactics. I know, really that telling my daughter to put her shoes on in the morning 5 times in a row isn’t effective. Yet I still do it. Maybe if I gave her the chance to finish what she is doing first, we might get better results but somehow my fast lane feeling can sometimes become the default setting when under pressure, when in a rush.

We all sometimes miss the important signs, the subtle things, the less obvious. We are constantly distracted and diverted by our busy lives and our need to get things done. If we take a look at other approaches available to us once in a while and think about the alternatives to steaming on regardless there may be some surprising results.