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Showing Up Imperfect

by Guest Blogger
Reprinted with permission from Train Your Board and Everyone Else to Raise Money Blog, September 2019, by Andy Robinson with Andy Robinson Consulting LLC.

A consulting colleague has a successful business facilitating workshops on a variety of topics, serving a variety of clients.

She’s supremely well-organized. She designs meticulous agendas, prepares materials days in advance, and rehearses her presentation. As the day of the job approaches, you don’t want to mess with her, because she’s deeply focused on preparation.

Her goal is to show up perfect. In this regard, she’s not unique. Perhaps you feel the same way.
When considering her approach, I have two questions. First, given all that prep time – several days of prep for each day of delivery – how does she make any money?

More importantly, how does “showing up perfect” affect the learning environment? Does it make it harder for participants to learn? Does it set an unrealistic standard for the other people in the room?

Pulling back the curtain

I recently traveled to Maine to lead workshops for the Maine Association of Nonprofits. Our topic: Beyond Bad Training: A Toolkit for Trainers, Teachers, and Facilitators.

These workshops were based on content we’ve been developing through the Training, Facilitation, and Consulting Certificate Program offered through Marlboro College. (The program begins again on October 28 – join us!)

At each training, I engaged with the group on three simultaneous levels:

  • Demonstrating the material – tools and techniques for effective training and facilitation.
  • Unpacking the material in real time. Throughout the workshop, breaking down the exercises while we did them – how they’re built, the ways in which they support learning, how you might use them, etc.
  • Modeling behavior and attitude while discussing these choices at opportune moments.

How do you do that?

Here’s an example. As a morning icebreaker, I facilitated a continuum exercise that begins with people standing in a semicircle.

Demonstrating. Using a series of questions – “How many years of experience do you have as a facilitator or trainer? Where do you stand on the ‘preparation spectrum?’” – I asked people to sort themselves around the semicircle, shoulder to shoulder. Then I debriefed their responses to each question.

Unpacking. We discussed the energy boost from having people get up and move around; the difference between objective (How many years…?) versus subjective questions (What’s your comfort level with…?); and the value of using continuums to get a quick snapshot of who’s in the room.

Modeling. Embracing chaos. Given all the moving and talking, this can feel like a chaotic exercise. Inviting and accepting feedback using questions like, “How would you use this exercise? How might you improve it?” When one participant suggested a better sequence of questions, my response was, “I like it!”

Modeling imperfection

Training on three levels simultaneously feels a lot like juggling. Sometimes you drop a ball.

For this workshop, my strategy was to name it as it happens. “Hey, look what’s on the floor. Did you see it drop? Does it matter? If so, how do we recover?”

These dropped balls can be substantive … or not. In one instance, I jumped right into the content without reviewing the day’s agenda. When I remembered mid-morning, I brought this to the group’s attention. “I neglected to talk you through the agenda. That’s a classic way to start the day, but since we’re already in the middle of things, let’s just pause and do it now.”

At a deeper level, sometime there’s mismatch between the content and the needs of the group. In that situation, the facilitator’s responsibility – and this is challenging! – is to acknowledge reality and work with participants to redesign the session on the fly to better meet their needs.

When you step back, others step up

There’s a concept in Gestalt psychology called sub-optimizing. As I understand it – and I may be oversimplifying things – this means not always doing your best work so there’s room for others to do their best.

Because two people can’t occupy the same space at the same time, good leaders (and trainers and facilitators) need to step back so participants can step up. Sometimes stepping back means embracing your missteps and mistakes, and giving them to the group as teachable moments.

Saying this differently: The work of facilitation and training is not about the expertise of the person at the front of the room. Rather, it’s about uncovering and highlighting the wisdom within the group.

Showing up humble

In the final analysis, your behavior and attitude as trainer, facilitator, and leader may be more important than your expertise, your content, or how skillfully you deliver it.

As one participant wrote in their evaluation, “For me, the most powerful message is the importance of humility and vulnerability.” Added another, “Understanding the value of humility is a great takeaway.”

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