When was the last time you spent a year planning something – and then launched it?
If you felt that unique combination of excitement, anxiety, satisfaction, and relief, then you’ll understand what I was experiencing a week ago.
Last Monday, we rolled out the brand-new Training, Facilitation, and Consulting Certificate Program – a shared project of the Marlboro College Center for New Leadership and the Institute for Conservation Leadership. We were joined by 19 smart, curious, and compassionate participants from six states and Canada.
The program continues through April, and I hope to share with you much of what we’re learning and doing.
Here are three takeaways you can use immediately in your work with groups.
1. Honor different learning styles
A confession: Over the past twenty years, I’ve probably written more books about nonprofit management and fundraising than I’ve read. If this sounds arrogant, my apologies – but I learn more by writing compared to reading, and I learn best by doing stuff.
Hence the pile of unread books near my desk.
Having said that, I was struck by how many people in the course requested a bibliography. (Ours listed not only books, but also websites, blogs, and videos.)
I noticed participants carrying around well-used books on facilitation and training, and at least one person wrote “Read three books” as her most important implementation step following the initial workshop.
Note to self (and to you, too): When designing a workshop, consider advance reading assignments and opportunities, and include a bibliography with the materials.
2. Don’t over-stuff your agenda – give people time to process
In a previous post, we discussed the perils of “over-stuffing.”
Over-stuffers begin with a positive impulse – so much cool content to share! This is doubly true when you’re rolling out a new program, haven’t tested the agenda, and you want to present your entire toolbox.
Remember: participants need time and space to work with each tool, discuss what they’re learning, and think about how to best apply it.
Early on, it became clear that our agenda was too ambitious. To stay on schedule, we were ending exercises and conversations while the energy was still high.
We listened and adapted, deleting about twenty percent of the content on the fly. This resulted in a better learning experience for everyone.
As you design your agenda, try to preserve enough time to for people to really engage with the material and make it their own.
3. Space matters – choose wisely
We had the good fortune to gather at the Hallelujah Farm Retreat, which includes one of my all-time favorite training spaces. It’s roomy and beautifully crafted, with lots of big windows, good acoustics, and cushions for those who like to sit on the floor.
When people walk in, they tend to smile and relax. This is great news for the facilitator – your job just got a little easier.
Because space matters, we created an exercise to help trainers and facilitators make a bad room better.
We posted photos of four really challenging rooms – for example, a narrow space filled with a huge, immovable table, or a big theater with seats bolted to the floor – and a scenario for each room. These included a fundraising workshop, a strategic planning retreat for board and staff, a community meeting to discuss a controversial topic, etc.
We divided everyone into small groups, one per photo. They discussed their scenario and designed adaptations to make their room more comfortable, flexible, and functional.
I love this exercise because it reflects reality. My favorite old joke: “I train for free, but I get paid to move furniture.”
If you’re scheduling an event, choose a room that makes sense for the agenda and the audience, and allows for lots of interaction. If someone else selects the space, here’s my advice: show up early, figure out what works, and start dragging around those tables and chairs.
More for you – stay tuned
This new course is a laboratory, with multiple experiments in training design. In the coming months, I’ll be sharing more of what we learn, including the moments when we fall on our faces – because it’s bound to happen.
If you’d like to support this program, please consider a donation to Marlboro College, our host. Thank you!