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Expanding Your Facilitation Skills with the Technology of Participation Facilitation Methods Workshop

By: Shannon Lockwood | Jul, 5 2024
Facilitation Methods & Strategic Planning

As an events professional, I attend well over one hundred meetings per year to ideate, plan, and debrief client events and programs. As the host of many of these meetings, I have developed a checklist of my personal “must-dos” for meetings to be considered a success, but I had never studied facilitation beyond basic project management principles. However, the need to expand my facilitation skills has became apparent through a recent series of interactions in both my professional and volunteer roles. 

Serendipitously, I was invited to participate in the Technology of Participation (ToP) Facilitation Methods Workshop hosted by Aaron Wolowiec and Krista Rowe, two of my colleagues on the Event Garde team. After reviewing the course aims, I knew I had to take advantage of this opportunity to formalize my facilitation knowledge and improve the quality of my conversations. I went into the course incredibly curious about how my existing skills might already reflect methods taught in the ToP course. I also wanted to learn how I might improve my facilitation, especially in more complex or difficult conversations and scenarios. 

Overall, the course focused on three facilitation tools that were immediately reflected in my work – the Focused Conversation Method, the Consensus Workshop Method, and the Action Planning Process – and provided opportunities for learning and improvement. 

The Focused Conversation Method allows us to create shared awareness, before making decisions based on that shared awareness. During an event debrief, we often discuss the successes and opportunities that arose and updates we’d like to make to future programs. By asking Objective, Reflective, Interpretive, and Decisional questions, we are able to parse out the facts surrounding an event or program, how that event made us feel, what options we may have moving forward, and which of those options we might decide to act on first. It ensures that we take the time to separate facts from feelings, and options from actions. So often, we can be tempted to make decisions on how we feel a certain program element went over with attendees, rather than relying on survey data, or attempt to tackle an entire list of opportunities, rather than a short list of achievable goals. This was an excellent reminder to slow down and talk through each of these types of questions, rather than quickly jumping to a resolution. 

The Consensus Workshop Method shows up most clearly in my work as a strategic planning tool for future events. As we work with clients to develop and plan their events each year, it is useful to take a broader view of the organization’s event direction and goals. By collecting ideas from diverse members of the organization and distilling the common themes, we can gather consensus on the event’s priorities and create an actionable list of “must haves”. Using the consensus workshop to align on a future event’s priorities creates a shared sense of investment in its outcomes and helps everyone see how their individual ideas layer into the overall success of an event. For me, learning about this method made the role of facilitator clearly distinct from that of consultant and provided insights on how I can be a more neutral participant in future conversations. By leaving opportunities for stakeholders to take ownership of the discussion, I can provide pathways for internal leaders to take responsibility for event outcomes and to prioritize the wisdom of the group. 

The Action Planning Process brought all the previous learnings together and provided a parallel to my volunteer committee work on an upcoming awards celebration. In this process, all members of a team create a shared understanding of the goals for an event. After creating that vision for the future, they identify what milestones will be required to ensure the successful realization of that vision. With those milestones in mind, the group creates committees or task forces who will take ownership of the various elements of the event and plan to act. In learning the eight steps involved in the Action Planning Process, I realized that some of the lack of participation on our sub-committees is likely the result of a lack of buy-in on the overall goals and vision for the event. While making decisions about what subcommittees were required and providing an overarching production schedule at the outset of the project was well-intentioned, this top-down approach to leading the project has left many of the tasks with the members at the top of the volunteer pyramid. Getting members of the committee to help co-create and share our vision will allow them to feel empowered to act on behalf of the planning tasks needed for a successful awards celebration. 

After spending this time learning about the Technology of Participation (ToP) Facilitation Methods, I feel excited to improve my work as a facilitator. I was able to collect feedback from our practice sessions during this workshop, to reflect on recent facilitations and their potential missteps, and to identify opportunities to practice in my immediate future. While I am sure there is much more to learn, I look forward to utilizing these tools to improve my work and my client’s event outcomes. 

If you are interested in attending a ToP Facilitation Methods course, or hosting one internally for your team, complete this form. We will contact you with information about future public courses Event Garde is offering or we will work with you to set up a customized course at your location to train your group of 12 to 20.

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