Brainstorming the business of how to make your horse thirsty….. and more.

Do you remember me talking about the power of a group in my last blog? If you didn’t get a chance to read it it’s here.

By way of a little follow up of the event I did for International Women’s Day, I thought I’d update you on how it all went and how we used the Brainstorm Booth to move forward with a few problems.

Brainstorm

The mini workshops were designed to enable participants (women at The Enterprise Network‘s conference for International Women’s Day) to bring along a problem to solve. Each session was an hour, which in itself presented a small conundrum to me – that old problem of time. How do you brainstorm 9 different problems in an hour?

The answer is you don’t. And you don’t get a fully fledged start to finish problem solving session. For that you need a far longer time frame – one where you can unpick problems slowly, piece by piece and bring them together in a way that gives you step by step actions to follow. When I facilitate in house with a group, perhaps to brainstorm ideas to move forwards with a project, or to think of ways to add value to a piece of work, we have at least half a day (a whole day if I’m lucky). But this was a taster, a mini workshop and chance to see just what was possible in an hour.

So, in the first place, not everyone had a particular problem to solve. Some people had come just to be a part of the discussion. For those that did, we started by presenting the problems, and then taking a look at whether there were any that shared some similarities. By pulling them all together, we realised that there were indeed issues that gelled together and that would benefit from being tackled in a broad sense by the same small group.

So that’s what we did, we set out the issues then pulled them together, gave them a heading and cracked on with the discussions in small groups.

Our two groups in the first session had the problems:

How to make your horse thirsty

AND

How to grow our businesses.

The second session discussed:

Appealing to different customers/potential employees

AND

What was important to start up a business and create a strategy

I probably need to explain the thirsty horse…..one of the participants told us a story based on the expression “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”. Just like running a business, you can give people all sorts of information and tell them that your product or service is amazing. But you need them to want what you’re offering to become your customer. You need to make the horse thirsty. So team horse, were discussing ways to attract new customers and have quality engagement with them.

I facilitated the workshop so the participants could work through a process that I had designed for them, enabling each group came up with some brilliant ideas which they distilled into a handful of top tips. The sharing of thoughts, experiences and knowledge and the collaborative working to generate ideas really made the discussion valuable. Everyone seemed invested in the process and there was a wonderful energy in the room. These elements are some of the key ingredients for a good workshop, whatever its size.

There were some wonderful top tips that came out of the session, including:

Building up face to face relationships, being persistent and keeping on touch with potential leads to make the horse thirsty. Knowing your market and starting with a vision in mind for starting up a business and creating a strategy.

But it was much more that the things that were written down. It’s the process of the discussion itself that was powerful. Those little nuggets of information that come up, those shared stories, that confirmation that you are not alone in your dilemmas, that acknowledgement that running a business is not easy, but that we can share our insights and inspiration to move forwards.

A good brainstorm though, should not end there. It’s not about throwing the balls in the air, talking about them and leaving. It’s about what you do next. I gave each of the participants a shiny lightbulb to write down their best idea from the workshop, something to take away on act on, to remind them of the discussion and to create some continuity of the hard work everyone put it.

Shiny idea

Thank you to all the participants in both my workshops. You invested your time and energy into the sessions and made them a wonderful experience to be a part of.

What are your tops tips to make your horse thirsty?

 

 

Sorry About the Meetings….What Should we Change?

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I came across an article the other day, talking about something that is, I think, fairly well known, about the way women often struggle with meetings, are perceived as bossy when they speak up and often use apologetic language. I am sure it is not just women that encounter difficulties participating in meetings in crushingly corporate environments. Meetings are a fact of life and teaching people ways to survive and perhaps thrive in such situations (such as those discussed in the article) does sound like a very decent plan . If this was me I would probably love a lifeline like the Get Heard in Meetings Course – workshops in how to do things differently, how to learn poise, speak louder, get yourself listened to. I am a sucker for a good workshop, and this does look fun!

I read this not long after another article about the Google App “Just Not Sorry” that helps women to stop saying sorry via e-mail. And I watched again a brilliant sketch by Amy Schumer “I’m sorry – A Conference Goes Awry” I have seen this several times – it’s also about women saying sorry. This made me cringe and laugh out loud at the same time.

meeting-women

It is a thing. Women do often say sorry a lot. And it’s not just that, there are many many things about the way we communicate that are vastly different from the way men do. Women fitting into predominantly male environments is not a new topic of discussion. I know that it’s not just about communication and not just meetings, there is far more to these kinds of workplace difficulties where men and women in particular clash. That is a bigger conversation…..

But I confess to being the proud owner and purveyor of “soft skills”, I am a people person and I like it when people get on. I am a facilitator and my job is very much about adapting the environment to include the people. Not the other way around.

So I can’t help thinking that when looking at the bigger picture, this is all slightly back to front. Like most people I have been to all sorts of meetings in my life. Some I have felt comfortable in, some less so and for all sorts of different reasons. True, I have never been employed in a male dominated highly corporate environment, but I have worked and networked with plenty of men. I have facilitated workshops on many occasions where I am the only woman. I have also facilitated meetings. So I do know the scenario, it is not a myth.  And in many situations where you have clashes of communication, culture and style things can be tricky to say the least, and soul destroying at worst if this is your norm.

But it doesn’t make sense that women (or anyone for that matter) should have to learn to behave differently in order to be a part of a meeting. Presumably the people attending the meetings are skilled in their fields, expert and knowledgeable. Is it reasonable to expect them to learn something extra just to be able to share that with people?

I would say no.

Meetings themselves are very often at the heart of the way businesses are run. They are also the bug bear of many. They can be a necessity and a time waster, an efficient way of delivering and discussing information, or completely fruitless. A way of informing and feeding back or a lot of hot air. They are that double edged sword that many people loathe, but we all have to embrace on some level.

What about focusing on running meetings better? Managing meetings so they make space to include the people that need to be included, women and men alike. Rather than sticking to a format that excludes people, necessitating them to learn how to cope, wouldn’t it be better to revisit the way the meeting functions? Using some well founded techniques to encourage people to feel like they want to go to meetings, that they will get a lot out of them and will be able to put a lot in to them is surely a good idea. Much has been written about ways to run meetings better. A good chair or a facilitator, a focus on engagement and a clear agenda are a good start. Teaching people to listen is also a valuable skill that we could all work harder on, and something that goes far beyond meetings. Focusing on the people in the meeting is, I think fairly fundamental – after all, the people are what make the meeting.

Knowing there is a place to learn skills to enable you to get on better in meetings is great. Tools that are out there to help women “manage” their communication (whatever the format) are clearly important. But encouraging people to run better meetings in the first place would be a much larger win, have far wider implications and a much deeper impact. After all, it’s better for everyone when we are all less sorry!

Why should you hold a workshop?

As we have already established, I love a good workshop. I love giving workshops, and if they are done well, I love being a participant. I love sharing ideas, having discussions, learning while doing.

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Lots of people do workshops. It is a term that has become a bit of a catch all for those situations where you get a group of people together in the same space and work with them. I know people who do workshops on Social Media, Finance, Sales and Marketing, Business Development, Nutrition and Mindfulness to name but a few. Most of the people who do them are not trainers or facilitators in their own right. They are not necessarily people who work predominantly with groups for a living. They are people who are experts in their field, have a wealth of knowledge to share and have decided to do a workshop as part of their business offering. The topics are vast and the things you can learn amazing.

But it’s not easy doing a workshop. And it’s even harder to do a good workshop. It’s fairly nerve-wracking the first time, standing up in front of a group of people and telling them what you know, watching a lot of faces full of expectation looking to you for the answers. But once you get over that hurdle, it feels fairly do-able. After all, you are the expert.

The hard bit is doing it in a way that maintains a good audience of attentively listening, actively involved, motivated participants. Being creative enough with your worldly knowledge so it is accurately and effectively imparted to a group of paying guests is not something to embark upon lightly. You’ve broken through the “everyone’s listening to me” thing, now you have to keep all those eager faces from drifting away, not sticking to the programme, losing interest. That’s the killer, much worse that everyone looking at you!

So, nothing to worry about at all then. Perhaps I’m not selling it well enough, the idea of holding a workshop. The how, is most definitely something you need to work on. But the why, well that’s much easier…….Continue reading

The Beauty of the Business Blog

At school I hated English lessons, hated to write stories, didn’t enjoy reading and summarising texts or planning essays. Funny how these days I love to write. Excellent news then for being able to write a blog! If only it was that simple…….

Blogging for businessContinue reading