Like salt in a recipe… participant engagement is everything!

Quick, tell me the first thing that pops into your head when I say, “You have an opportunity to facilitate a session on the topic of facilitating sessions at a virtual conference.”

What areas immediately come to mind?


Number of people, length of session, time of day/time zones, platforms and apps, tech partner, end-of-event survey


Philosophy underlying personal practice, the universe of possible topics to address, resources to share


Dependent on: group size, platform, participant knowledge with platforms and apps, familiarity with each other

Personal expertise

Philosophy re: facilitation, knowledge of models and methods, strengths and preferences re: content and processes — including participants’ autonomy, methods for tracking participant engagement (with the understanding of the impact of differences re: communication styles and learning preferences and differences on participation), personal need/desire for knowledge about an understanding of participants learning.


Conference session not participants’ own work environment (which might run the gamut from consultant to corporate) which may impact participant commitment and engagement


Range of knowledge of the  topic, background (academic and  experience in the field), ages, races, genders, cultures, and classes, (i.e., the reality of power dynamics in the room re: areas of DEI), degree of interest in the topic, and accountability

Where do you begin?

Maybe it’s not so much about where you begin, because all of these factors are important (and it’s not an exhaustive list, of course, there are more factors and variables). Perhaps, it’s more about your priorities and how you effectively integrate these different areas to create stellar experiences.

What’s your vision?

And, what is a stellar experience? I believe there’s not one kind of stellar experience because of all the variables listed. The creation of facilitation is both an art and science from my perspective, and every experience is different! I will say though, as  I wrote about on LinkedIn earlier this week, I believe that participant engagement is like the salt in all my recipes—the essential ingredient!

Just this week, Karina Antons, Charles-Louis de Maere, and Yasmine Corda and I discussed a few of these variables during the bikablo Meet up on the subject of autonomy in facilitated meetings. Of course, we wanted people to not only discuss the topic of autonomy but also to experience it. Participants had the opportunity to experience degrees of autonomy within the two breakout sessions and in the larger group. our 90 minutes together flew by and we just scratched the surface of these topics. We will be continuing the conversation in a few months with more ideas and methods to share. I hope you’ll join us. You can sign up for bikablo Meetups here!

Searching My Treasure Chest for Gems!

When’s the last time you had the opportunity to re-discover a delightful aspect of your work?

Last night was ATDNYC’s Volunteer Connection &  Happy Hour—what fun we had!

I offered to develop an interactive activity that would introduce folks to each other. It’s been a while since I’ve kicked off an event with more than a well-crafted check-in question. I do love my check-in questions yet I wanted to provide a deeper experience. A few different ideas came to mind and then, I had it!

Several years ago, I crafted a networking activity for the inaugural event of the Women’s Leadership Center of the American Management Association. I suggested a storytelling and storycatching experience, in which the women created their own fairytales to introduce themselves and to learn about their colleagues. (A story catcher is a listener with a special intention—who illuminates the gifts and attributes of the storyteller. As listeners, we can become a force for deepening relationships.) The experience was a smashing success.

How often do you make the time to scan the landscape of your past and polish off a gem for a new use?

So I dove back into my materials and created a new fairytale to share as an example. Materials were sent in advance, just in case folks wanted to think about the story they would quickly create during the activity. I had just a few minutes before the meeting to draw a visual capturing the essence of the fairytale—the past, coming to a crossroads, and making a choice. The event arrived and I set the stage by talking about storytelling and story catching, helped participants understand the tasks, and then prepared them for the fun by reading my colleague’s poem, Once upon a time…

Once upon a time…

Once upon a time, she said, is a very good place to start.

It takes you very far away, yet stays close to the heart

Of things that were and things that are, both difficult and true

And yet, if you can look this way, they seem outside of you.


Start right at the beginning, when someone gave you birth

And tell a bit about the frame of sadness or of mirth

Did you come into a castle, a village or a shack?

Did you have everything you need or did you live with lack?


What were those gifts, given there, that stayed with you since then?

What have you used, what have you left, what have you to befriend?

What was it in your character, your nature or your play

That pulled you to the centre or made you stay away?


Of course a child, must grow up soon and leave the family home

So did you find a place to be or take to the world and roam?

What were the challenges you met, what was the love you found?

Where was the world a swampy mess and where was solid ground?


What lessons still remain in you, what have you had to shed

That makes you who you are today, with all the life you’ve led?

What brought you to the crossroads, the place where you now stand

And by what name are they called, that place of sacred land?


Who stands there now to challenge you, what message have they brought,

About that which now could lie ahead, the calling that you’ve sought?

So take courage first, and take a breath and then pick up your pen

And craft a story for us now, the journey can begin…


Mary Alice Arthur

30 April 2011


It was awesome! I had a partner too and discovered so much more about her in the few minutes she shared her story that I had learned over the last half-year we’d known each other. Several of the participants spoke about the experience and others wrote about it in the chat…

“I loved listening and learning about my partner in this creative, fun way. You could learn about the person in a deeper way through this storytelling format.”

“We learned so much more than in a typical intro!”

I closed the activity with the thought that we are the authors of our stories… let’s be sure to write the ones we want.


What activities have you created over the years to amplify the experiential nature of the events you design?

What are some of the best experiences you’ve had as a facilitator, trainer, or participant? I’m guessing that you have your own treasure chest full of ideas, and just a few might have been buried for a while. Time to polish those gems and share them!

If you’re seeking to get more in touch with your story, or have a desire to start a new page (so to speak), let’s get together!

Enjoying the Journey

What was your last big project? Take a moment to bask in the memories. As you reflect on your experience, what was the high point and what insights do you have now? How has what you learned influenced your work?

Context for the Queries

Just last week I completed a long-term project for my Appreciative Inquiry facilitator certification. Re-living (through reading my notes, emails, documents, and reviewing recordings of the meetings), reflecting on all the aspects of the experiences, and creating the final report was a significant endeavor.

As I was finishing up, I happened to say to my daughter with a chuckle, “I made this harder than it needed to be.” And, I felt just fine about it! I was reminded of my Signature Strength of Creativity  (from the VIA Signature Strengths Test)—how it excites and energizes me, pushing me into new and different experiences. And, how it is my greatest challenge, while I love to continue being generative, truth be told, there is a time to say, “Done!”

Have you ever done that—embrace a project so completely that you devote more time than you anticipated? How long does it take you to realize that you have gone down that rabbit hole? What is your thought process in assessing if you want to continue in that way? Upon completion and reflection, did you think it was time well spent? Of course, the answers may vary depending on the project.

I discovered, in creating my final report, that I wanted to create a visual story of the process. In itself, creating multi-panel stories is not a new idea for me, though I usually use markers and paper or my iPad. This time, having worked with Miro (the online collaborative space) for over 10 months now, I took a deep dive into it—expanding my skills through extensive experimentation. I had an initial plan and it grew into a fun and challenging endeavor.

Here’s one of the 14 panels I created to share the project—its conception,

The time and energy I devoted to designing and developing the online presentation of the project has led me to savor that aspect of the experience. It’s something I would never have expected—what fun!

What do you continue to learn about yourself? How are you continuing to grow? I’d love to know!

Creating Greater Connection with More Time… Part 2

In seeking to mine for more gold from my various recent experiences with Deep Dive into You (with my colleague/buddy Heather Martinez), the Agile MeetUp groups, the audiences in my Zentangle classes, and a recent meeting with colleagues, I am drawn to thinking more about time, environment, and connection.

Sebene Selassie’s book, You Belong, is also top of mind for me. She writes about reclaiming connection. I wonder about the dynamics of connection/feelings of belonging and their impact on people’s experiences. There are so many ideas and practices in her book that I want to reflect on further and experiment with in my sessions.

In reading, Say What You Mean, Jay Oren Sofer’s book, I am also reminded to create the time and mental space for myself to consider Relational Awareness. It’s “the capacity to include both you and me, the external and the internal, balancing our attention in a dynamic way.” (p. 50)

  • How can I create (and model) more relational awareness?
  • How will I help participants gain greater awareness too?

I believe that knowing and planning for each of these factors alone,

  • time
  • connection
  • audience members relationship with each other
  • setting/occasion

is insufficient. Having two of these variables, or even three working in concert doesn’t “guarantee” a great experience… the more I think about it, having great information about all of them doesn’t promise a stellar experience either. The variables of structure, content, and processes —the design of the experience—and the facilitator’s skills—need to be added to the mix. In my experience, the folks that work effectively with all the ingredients of the recipe, to create the alchemy, are few and far between. There are plenty of folks who can manage one, two, or three aspects of the experience… it’s just not enought.

What’s your experience?

When you connect with your heart and your mind, and reflect on your most meaningful experiences in groups, as the facilitator or as a participant, what are variables matter most? What is your recipe for spectacular deliveries? I’d love to hear about it!

Creating Greater Connection with More Time… Part 1

Earlier in the week, I posted a piece on LinkedIn about my recent, delightful experience with delivering a session on Appreciative Living —Seeing the Positive in Life, for Agile Austin, Agile Leadership Network of Houston, Mile High Agile, and Agile SoCal.

In brief, the session on Monday was almost two hours in length, (half an hour longer than usual) with approximately 45 people. My session design created opportunities to learn about Appreciative Inquiry principles and apply them to our lives in that moment. Participants connected with each other by talking and chatting with each other in the large group, and in trios.

When a colleague asked me about the experience, I was surprised by my strong, heartfelt response. I started wondering what made this session feel markedly different.

I believe it was the intersection of time and connection that created a richer experience than previous sessions. I’ll admit, I love Venn diagrams though perhaps my thinking is better represented by a line graph or discussion of a causal relationship.

And as I ponder further, and think more expansively, I am struck by more variables that I will add to this exploration. Perhaps two variables, the nature of audience members’ working relationship with each other, and setting/occasion.

In this instance, we had a luxurious amount of time for interaction. That spacious container, the nature of the setting (a MeetUp) and the group (their collegial relationships—they did not work for the same organization) enabled us to have some deep conversations.

All these ideas plus my passion for creating interactive experiences have led to me to ask the following questions in my quest to design stellar experiential encounters:

  • Who are the people involved —literally, what are the variables I can discover in advance?
  • How will they be showing up—voluntarily, prepared, interested, preoccupied or some combination thereof ?
  • What atmosphere/container can be created through pre-work?
  • What are the dynamics of the group—power, gender, race, class, sexual orientation, ability/disability? What can I learn about these variables in advance, and how will I plan to be sensitive to them throughout the session?
  • How will the gathering begin?
  • Is there enough space/time in the session for creating  authentic connection among participants—time for reflection, talking with others in small groups, sharing in the large group?
  • What other challenges might arise to impact my guiding the conversation toward self-reflection, understanding, interpersonal connection, and engagement with the practices after the session?

The Appreciative Inquiry work I am doing in these MeetUps and in the Appreciative Living Learning Circles is such a delight. If you are interested in learning more about these offerings, reach out to me with your ideas or questions. You can learn more about the Learning Circle on blog page of my site.