EV Facilitation and Visuals is about organisational health and creative facilitation where participation is the key. It aims to bring meaningful engagement and inspiring visuals into organisations’ processes for growth, active learning and effective communication.
One of my most embarrassing moments as a facilitator has to do with handwriting. I was in front at the workshop, introducing to the participants what we were going to do over the next few days. My co-facilitator, with all good intention and the wisest brain, tried to summarise my introduction in a visual form. It was a great summary with a well-thought content but in terms of handwriting, it was totally unreadable. Although it was not my handwriting, this mortifying episode pierced deeply in my consciousness that I vowed to myself to work on improving my handwriting. This personal pledge even became fierce when I started working with another facilitator who has the most illegible handwriting ever.
I always had a good handwriting but I went astray when I started writing everything on the computer. Now, I try to practice writing by hand as much as I can. I try to draw my letters like I mean it! Within a few months, I’ve really seen how much improvement has happened.
People have been asking me tips on handwriting. Aside from telling them to draw letters with confidence and in the most beautiful way possible, it is also important to start with your own handwriting. For me, this is crucial because I find it important to show your character in your handwriting. I think it’s nice to be able to associate yourself with your handwriting, to be able to mark your letters as your own.
In one of my workshops, I gave the participants very cheap lined practice writing papers intended for third graders. You see, it doesn’t have to be special and expensive papers to get practicing. We practiced writing upper case and lower case letters, a mixture of upper and lower case letters, cursive and in any fonts they like. What was important was to draw each letter with the intention to make them look good and most especially, readable. It is also good to look at different fonts created by other people for learning and inspiration.
Any blank surface has the potential to be written on. Any pen is good than having no pen at all. So find time to practice. As one girl came up to me at the cafe to tell me how beautiful my handwriting is, one day you will be proud of yours too. That I can assure you!
My closest colleagues know that I’m not a name tag lover. Of course, I understand the significance of name tags. Our individual names are very important and wearing name tags is another way of presenting ourselves, of silently introducing ourselves, of saying, “I’m here!”. Name tags are also important for facilitators. Facilitators don’t need to remember all the participants’ names by heart. The name tags will do it for the facilitators.
I know that a name tag is just a small thing that hangs around the neck. They are either in white, in blue or in another colour. But sometimes they are bigger than the nose and eyes put together. They also present no personality whatsoever. In an event, everyone will be wearing the same name tag. And so I love to draw hearts, to letter my name or to not wear the name tag at all. It’s just NOT so creative!
So it was quite a surprise for me when I entered the meeting room of the Creative Facilitation workshop by Partners for Youth Empowerment in Brussels. I was expecting a person sat by the desk armed with name tags, ready and eager to have the participants hang them excitedly around their necks. But no, I was greeted by three tables covered in art supplies. There were different kinds of pens, different colours of papers, stickers, glue, strings, scissors… It was time to create your very own name tag and I really love this idea.
And so I decided to adopt this to my workshops, the very first one was the Visualisation Workshop I facilitated in the Philippines. It was a success. Participants came in and created their own name tags. I sensed the eagerness in the air and all the creative juices flowing. It was fun. In the end, different name tag personalities emerged. It was so lovely to witness the process and to see the beautiful outcome. So let’s do it again!
Many years ago, people were saying that handwriting is going to die soon. And I really believed it as I’ve noticed how my beautiful cursive handwriting was turning into full capital letters. I used to love composing handwritten letters on beautiful papers, then mailing them to the rest of the world. Then I stopped all together. Gone were the days of waiting for the postman, of smelling the scented stationeries, of admiring the stamps on the envelopes. Taking notes was all made on the computer too. Mind you, I can take notes verbatim on my computer. I can’t even recall having a notebook until I feel in love with a stationery covered in red leather that I saw in one shop in Bangkok. The year was 2011 and I knew I was back on. I started writing by hand again. I felt liberated. I felt I was on the right path. But, I was not there yet. At that time, I didn’t even know I was going somewhere.
Then slowly, my lined notebooks were replaced with sketchbooks. Instead of endless linear text, I was arranging my notes in different ways. Illustrations too became part of my note-taking. I went on by visualising my thoughts and my ideas. I also started visualising recipes and my travel adventures. Then visualising spilled over to my role as a facilitator. Agendas and processes were presented in visuals. I visualised documents, organisational communication processes, talks, reflections and many different kinds of information, including CVs and self introductions. Communicating in a creative way through the process of arranging information visually has awaken my creativity. I was better at expressing myself. It was also very engaging. People responded to my visuals better than if I’ve written only in text. Workshop participants become more participative and inspired to be creative themselves. For most part, I don’t use my computer when I facilitate. I even stop using powerpoint.
Furthermore, my love for anything handwritten and hand drawn returned. I love illustrating cards and mailing them. My heart jumps for joy when I receive hand drawn pictures. I love composing handwritten notes. I would even love to send you one!
Where are you in your visual journey? Are you staying no to the death of handwriting?
We are mistaken if we imagine there is a perfect structure. Yet so many insist that if only we got the structure right then all would be well. In one organisation I was consulting with, they have changed their structure three times in two years and was about to implement a fourth one! But there is no such thing as the perfect structure. How we choose to divide up work in an organisation will always be full of compromises and challenges. The ways in which organisations behave tend to be deeper than just the structure. So even if we change the structure, the same issues soon resurface, simply in a different place.
This obsession with structure is costly. Every time a new structure is implemented, staff have to shift roles, learn new skills and relate to a different set of people in a different way. This is emotionally and mentally exhausting. It frequently drains vital energy away from the actual mission of the organisation. Organisations who are restructuring often become so inward looking that they lose focus on who they are here to serve. They are demotivating places to work.
Perhaps as leaders and consultants we are complicit in this. We want to appear able to fix problems. And structure is perhaps one of the most visible solutions. Perhaps we should turn our attention away from simplistic structural solutions and deal with the more fundamental and complex issues of people.
This week, let’s not think of the people merely as a workforce to conform to whatever changes appear right to us. Instead, let’s consider how we invest in people, helping them to realise their strengths and to move towards realising their potential.
Have you ever come across facilitators who should never have taken on that role? I recently posed this question to an experienced colleague. Without a second thought, she described to me ‘facilitators’ who would never stop talking. She recalled facilitators who were excited to get up in front, but more to perform than anything else. She told me about facilitators who look for praise and popularity, who love to hear their own voice. She spoke about the dangers of being a star entertainer.
As facilitators in any process whether in organisational assessment, strategic planning or during a conflict mediation, our task is to create an environment that encourages active contribution and free sharing of views, impressions and convictions from all participants. We have to acknowledge that the participants have wisdom and experience. We should equally value the perspectives and opinions of all participants, allowing them to be authentic and to behave according to their values. How do we create such an environment?
I’ve learned to be mindful of the fact that the participants have to own the process. It is about them. It is not about what facilitators think – they are only guiding. To own the process, participants need to feel able to speak from their hearts, to feel heard and have their contributions valued. When this happens, groups and organisations become healthier. Being a good facilitator is an invaluable skill, but one that should hardly be noticed.
As facilitators, do we ever seek stardom in a group? Are we aware enough of both our abilities and our disabilities? How do we manage them for the health of the client?
I was observing a training in a province in Cambodia. It was a very hot day as Cambodia was approaching the hottest season. During the lunch break, the participants laid on the tiled floor of the training room. It was a refreshing break, away from the sun, with the air-conditioning cooling the air. When the time came for the training to continue, the participants sat in a circle. In the middle of the circle, the child of one of the participants was still asleep covered in a red blanket. Nobody minded. We went on with the training.
When the facilitator started talking, the girl who was asleep on the floor in the middle of the room woke up and started crying. Then something happened that I did not expect at all. When the child started making noise, the facilitator did not tell the mother to go and take the child away. He did not say, the child was disturbing the training. But instead he said simply, “Oh, I think I was talking too loud.”
The facilitator’s patience surprised me. He was acting with kindness. Technically, I can see he was a good facilitator. But no, he was better. He was facilitating with patience.
Think about how you deal with unexpected disturbances in your work. How can you relate to others with patience and kindness?