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Newsletter, February 2007

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At the coal face: running face-to-face workshops

This is the third and last in a series of articles about how we work, written by those who actually manage the process. In each article, one of our project managers describes their own experience of a major branch of our work.

This month Amy Sanders describes the experience of running face-to-face workshops.

Once more unto the breach dear friends…

You never know exactly what to expect with a face-to-face workshop. You know that preparation is key, so you have done your stakeholder analysis, you’ve spoken to one or two potential participants and have even brainstormed some of the issues that might come up.

You have met with the client, probably several times, and gone over the history of their relationship with the participants and what it is they want to get out of the day. You have prepared an extremely detailed process plan covering exactly what will be happening at 11:25 in which breakout room and with which people.

You have brought every conceivable colour of marker pen, a mountain of carefully blue-tacked flipchart sheets, post-it notes of all shapes and sizes and sticky dots in rainbow hues.

You have arranged the room, re-arranged the room, adjusted the lighting, opened the windows and set up the PowerPoint presentation.

But when the people arrive you can’t help having a ‘butterflies in my tummy’ moment.

Will there be an almighty set-to between the NGO representative and the PR guy from the big corporation? Will the lady from the WI and the teenage skateboarder clash? Will the parish councillor and the local MP be at each others’ throats? Will I be faced with total silence? Will half the participants walk out at lunchtime?

The answer is usually, but by no means always, no.

If all has gone to plan then, at the end of the day, you have challenged assumptions, asked the right questions, probed what is really behind the answers, and managed whatever conflict arose, all the while managing to capture the key points for the essential flipchart record. The participants have left feeling it was worth the effort, even if they didn’t get their way all the time, the clients are amazed that they were not completely savaged by the so-called ‘difficult’ attendees, and they have got something really useful they can take away from the meeting.

And the facilitator? Well the feelings are mixed - there is relief that it’s finished and no one lost their rag, satisfaction that the process worked and you have delivered for the client. But sometimes that’s tinged with a little tiny bit of disappointment that there were no major dramas for you to step in and resolve ‘super-hero’ style. Your feet hurt, your back aches, your hands are decorated with permanent marker pen, but its over, it worked. Now who promised to type all of that up by next week again??

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