Last week, I had a rare opportunity to facilitate a strategic visioning session at... wait for it... my high school! What a special experience it was to offer visual facilitation in a setting that grew the foundation for what I would become. Present in this session was none other than my theatre teacher.
A little background... having come from the performing arts, I am fascinated by all the ways that performance shows up in my work as a facilitator. I find that I often am thinking, how is this room like a stage? How are the participants like an audience? How are these visuals like props?
And back to the story... facilitating with my theatre teacher in the room was a unique chance to get his eyes on my facilitation practice. He is dialed in closely to stage movement and audience engagement. He gave me lots of feedback afterwards. Of course he is proud of me and what I have accomplished, and his constructive feedback was exactly the kind of information I have been seeking, when it comes to connecting performing arts and facilitation.
Below are a few of his tips for me that I felt all facilitators could learn from. Caveat - I realize that facilitation is not entertainment; however, I think lessons from the stage translate when it comes to keeping a room engaged in a process and the information you need to get across.
Play to the Space and Get Out of Your "Safe Zone"
This is a big one. What he means is, be mindful of your movement. Just like "blocking" on the stage, don't stand in one place, but don't pace back and forth like a tiger in a cage either. The front of the room may feel like a bit of a "safe zone" for us; however, we grow connection when we take opportunities to move into the "audience." In circular and U-shape settings, find opportunities to zig zag, rather than walk in a circle. This action keeps the user engaged because they don't know where you'll go next.
Don't Upstage Yourself
The term upstaging refers to a scenario between two actors in which one faces their body directly to the audience, forcing the other to turn their back to the audience in order to maintain proximity. The result is one actor gets the spotlight, and the other cannot be seen or heard clearly.
As facilitators, we have a dialogue with our props, in this case, our flip charts and visual aids. There are many opportunities for facilitators to be "upstaged" by their props. For instance, when we turn our bodies to point out information on our visuals, it's difficult for participants to hear us.
Correct this by standing to the side of the visual, pointing out the key information, and then move back into the room. Only use the prop when you need it and remember, get out of the "safe zone."
Project Your Voice
When walking toward a visual, project so that you can be heard, even if facing away. It's also important to project on your way back, so that the room is continuing to engage. It's easy for participants to lose the thread when walking or transitioning to a new activity. This is also a great moment to keep up the energy in your voice.
Check for Understanding
Look for body language from the audience that tells you that you've been understood. Sometimes this involves repeating the key themes or principles and watching for head nods. Perhaps take a brief pause after giving the direction and ask, "Are you getting this?"
Sing Out, Louise!
Confidence speaking in front of an audience can be challenging for many. Remember that when facilitating, the participants have ownership of the outcomes. They need what we have to offer. They need the information that's in our heads. In moments of uncertainty, dig deep for that confidence and sing out.
As facilitators, we sometimes have to pivot the process on the fly. The challenge is maintaining our connection with the group as we process where we want to go next. Part of this is keeping our focus to the audience in the form of eye contact, rather than looking at the floor or ceiling during these little internal "processing" moments.
Please join and stay tuned to the NOVA Scribes Meetup group. We may be planning a theatre tips for facilitators workshop this fall (2018).