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Thursday, May 29, 2014

All in a day's work

A portion of what I do for a living involves group facilitation.  Calling it "teaching" or even "training" would be misleading, as those words imply that I am actually imparting valuable academic or technical skills.  Rather, much of what I do in front of an audience has more to do with getting people to try and think about things a little differently.  The "things" could be about leadership challenges, performance management, organizational design, or similar topics.  It's a nice way to earn a living.

The above noted, today I had scheduled an hour and a half session on the subject of leading through change.  Some might call it "Change Management", but not I, as I don't think you actually "manage" change in as much as you plan for it, you certainly experience it, and you make decisions about how you will react to it.  Anyway, today's session was being co-facilitated with me by a senior business leader.  This is someone who is genuinely very good in front of a classroom, which actually makes the job both easier for me and, truth be told, more exciting (like most folks, when I work with someone who is talented, it always brings out my "A Game").  It's a great topic, a terrific group of folks was scheduled to attend and I had a great co-host.  What could go wrong?

Before I get around to answering my question, allow me a moment to talk about preparation.  For me, preparation (before facilitating) is important, but it's possible to be over prepared.  The way I look at it, I want to know the material I am covering, but I don't want to be locked into specific words or patterns.  I want the ability  to stick to a core message but also be able to ad-lib where it adds value.  I want to be as verbally nimble as is possible.  I want to have a sense of where the free range begins and where it should end.  The benefits to me are obvious:  it's simply more fun (and more challenging) for me know that I really will have to make split-second decisions about what I am saying...and how I react to my co-facilitator and to the audience...throughout the engagement.  The benefits to the audience are real as well:  I end up engaging in more of a dialogue than a monologue.  What may seem seamless and cohesive on my part really isn't seamlessly put together before hand...I simply make it work as I go along.

Back to the question:  so what could go wrong today?  Well part of the preparation I always do for these sorts of things involves getting to the room well before the session begins.  In my mind this is absolutely essential, and when I coach people who don't have a lot of training/facilitation experience I always recommend that they get to the facility well in advance to...

...check out the feeling of the room.  How does your voice sound?  Are you comfortable?
...make sure everything work.  This includes everything from markers to computers.
...make sure the room is set up properly.  Are tables/chairs properly located? through your material a few times, mainly to make sure it flows well.

So it was that I arrived at my room an hour before the session today in order to get set up and hopefully run through my parts a time or two before the show.  Alas, it was not to be.  First, I had a technology issue related to my laptop and the jumbotron I was porting into in order to share a PowerPoint presentation.  Apparently I now lack certain drivers to make it all work.  Now I am very, very knowledgeable when it comes to our facility's A/V equipment, so I didn't expect going into the room that I would encounter a problem beyond my ability to resolve.  It was there though, in the guise of a black screen.  A call to our A/V support line and some time with a technician yielded the bad news:  My laptop was not going to work as planned.  The resolution?  Move down to the other end of the room where an older projector was located (one that "liked" my laptop).  Okay, so I moved my equipment, and my materials, and all the stuff I put out for the attendees to the other end of the room, and with 15 minutes to spare I was sure I could get at least one dry run completed.

Then I got the call.

The call was from my middle daughter, informing me that her Ford Focus was busy focusing on not going over 15 miles an hour and was now at the mechanic, awaiting a diagnostic.  I didn't have a good feeling about it.

Nevertheless, 10:30am came around and it was time to start the event.  Despite my inability to get in any prep time immediately beforehand, the session went off without a hitch and I think my co-facilitator and I did a reasonably good job of raising the level of discourse as it relates to leadership and change.  I'll eventually get the post session attendee survey results, but my immediate reaction afterwards was pretty positive.  

By the way, after the session was over with I spoke to my middle daughter and then the mechanic, who informed me that the Focus is fried worse that Courtney Love after a weekend bender. Oh, well...all in a day's work.

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