The art of memorable facilitation

How many times have you attended a training, a lecture or a talk and started snoozing in the first 3 minutes? This is how it usually starts- the speaker unfolds a piece of paper, they place it on the lectern and start talking to it. No eye contact, no change in tone, just a whole lot of content that takes too much brain power to decipher- so why bother trying? Then there’s death by PowerPoint- they bring up a PowerPoint presentation with a plethora of words and again they read to it. If I wanted to read a novel I would rather read Game of Thrones thanks!

According to German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus’s forgetting curve, a day after listening to a lecture we remember only 50% of the information and 30 days after this decreases to an insignificant 2-3%. So how can we make sure that the time and effort we spend into teaching others actually makes an impact and is never forgotten?

  1. Involve your audience

‘Tell me, I will forget. Show me, I may remember. Involve me and I will learn’ Benjamin Franklin

We need to move away from passive learning including lecturing, reading off a screen or listening to an audio and get into more active learning practices. This includes involving the audience in a group discussion, get them to fully explore the topic and come up with their own interpretation. This way any misconceptions, any differing perceptions will surface and can be addressed. Think of a time when you were personally involved in a training or a workshop- when the speaker allowed you to delve into each other’s ideas and unearth the topic beyond a few simplistic bullet points.

2. Bring the topic to life

When I do workshops on teamwork, I can’t just talk to them about teamwork and hope they understand. The only way they will understand is if they live the topic. When we ran our Leadership Empowering Action Program (LEAP) a few years ago in London, we placed the groups into teams, blind-folded each member except one person was the guide. The goal was to untangle a rope they were holding and move them into a circle (picture above). This required the guide to communicate clearly and effectively to each person and each team member needed to actively listen and trust the guide. The participants found this a powerful way to truly understand the impact of communication.

Recently I was giving a tutorial at university about teamwork. So I split the students in teams according to their differing team working styles and got them to build a tower out of newspaper. Sure they had a great time, but what did they learn? Well they learnt about delegation according to skills, they learnt the importance of planning before execution, they learnt about working under tight deadlines, they learnt about listening to others’ opinions and ideas, they learnt about creativity and thinking outside the box. They learnt more in a 15 minute activity than they would have if I lectured them for an hour.

3. Ask the hard questions

Sometimes it’s great seeing your audience nod and smile. An outsider may think that they’re actually listening and they agree, but let’s be serious- are they really or are they actually pondering the possibilities of where else they could be? The best way I have found to get my audience to really focus is to ask them hard questions. What do they feel about a controversial topic? Why? What do they mean about their comment? When you get through the fluffy exterior of quick answers, only then can you really delve into their deep dark thoughts (which can be scary!)

4. & Action!

Get your audience to write 3 action points that they would take away and start working on immediately. Ask them to tell someone about these action points so that another person can hold them accountable. Make sure their points are S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic & Timely). ‘I will work better in a team’ is not a good enough action point, it’s far too vague and not measurable. What they need to write is ‘On Monday, I will spend 5 minutes with each of my team members to find out what their preferred method of communication is and tell them mine’. If your audience goes away with 3 points that they would action from your session then your mission is successfully accomplished and your message will never be forgotten.

‘What we learn with pleasure, we never forget’ – Alfred Mercier

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