Master Facilitator Journal

Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0513, November 8, 2011

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Dear Friends,

This week, we explore leveraging the power of first impressions in our favor during group events. We all know that first impressions carry a lot of weight. Once we have an impression of someone or something, either positive or negative, we tend to believe it. And for good or for ill, beliefs don't change easy.

That's why the first 30-60 minutes of your workshops or group events is so important. How we kick it off sets the tone for the entire event. So in this week's article Kick It Off Right, we offer several ideas you can use to get your groups off to a dynamic and engaging start.

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The Point

Kick It Off Right
How your group begins sets the tone for the event.

Group Process Skill

We all know the power of first impressions. Once we have an impression of someone or something, either positive or negative, we tend to believe our impressions. And for good or for ill, beliefs don't change easy. Listen to this account submitted by one of our readers, Kim Stewart about a not so great kick off she once experienced as a workshop participant.

I once attended a mandatory three-day teambuilding workshop as a staff member in an organization seeking to resolve a rift between staff and management. I arrived at the session with a mixture of excitement and cynicism. I was cynical because prior initiatives had been unsuccessful. Still, I was hopeful that we might actually resolve some of our issues in this session. The chosen facilitator created this workshop specifically for our group and was known for his expertise in conflict resolution.

To open the workshop, the facilitator asked each person to share what they hoped to get out of our work together. After each introductory comment, the facilitator said, “Thank you so and so” and rephrased what was offered to validate their response. When he came to me, he didn’t ask my name. When he asked me what I hoped to get out of the session, I said something to the effect that I was just open to whatever develops, to which he tersely responded, “That will just make everyone negative. Next person.”

I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. It took all the control I could muster not to cry, and I vowed from that moment on that I would never volunteer another piece of information unless I was required to. I did get something out of the session in spite of the fact that this interchange essentially shut me down for the next three days. This happened over 15 years ago and to this day when I hear this facilitator’s name mentioned in connection with a workshop, regardless of how I feel about the subject material, I immediately write it off. --Kim Stewart--

So, those first 30-60 minutes of an event set the tone for the entire event. If we get people energized and involved early, we begin to condition engagement as a habit for the remainder of the event. If we insult them, the remainder of the event is clouded over. If we lecture for the first hour while our participants sit passively listening (or sleeping with their eyes open), it will be tougher to get them to open up later.

So what can we do to create spicy openings for our events. I've listed several ideas below. Send me yours and I'll add them to this list and include in this article that I file into the


Whatever activity you kick off with, make sure it relates in some way to the content or purpose of the workshop. This is especially critical in the business world. In other words, don't engage in an activity just to get people talking and connecting. Get them talking and connecting about the topic of the workshop, their learning objectives, or event outcomes desired.

Pre-Meeting Preparation. Get feedback about participants backgrounds, interests, and objectives before the event to fine tune your workshop.

Self Explanatory Logistics
. Include pictures in your handouts to illustrate basic housekeeping stuff so time isn't wasted discussing mundane logistical matters. For example, pictures of phone and cigarette with a red line through it; a picture of a toilet and a map or location instructions.

Group Mingle. After a very brief kickoff I almost always do a group mingle. This accomplishes several very important things. First, it gets EVERYONE engaged early, setting the tone for full participation; it raises the energy of the group; it gets people thinking and verbalizing their reason for being there; and finally, in the debrief, gives you real time feedback from participants about where they are and what they expect from your workshop. Click on this link for an explanation of this activity.

Engaging Behavior. Do something within the first ten minutes to make them laugh. It helps the ease any tension and builds instant rapport. Make sure nobody feels bore or neglected.

Personal Sharing. Have participants introduce themselves by sharing their name and an adjective that describes them that starts with the same letter as their first name. This may start slow but usually picks up to where answers get quite innovative and humorous. A variation on this is to have the adjective pertain to their learning objective or desired outcome of the event.

Peer Introductions. Have participants introduce someone else offering a very brief description that includes name, and location, then some form of information that pertains to the workshop. For example, in my virtual facilitation teleclass, I ask people to tell me one attribute of the best virtual meeting or teleclass they ever attended. This builds a list of ideal behaviors and processes that this group of virtual attendees value.

Peer Rapport. Use the first 15 minutes to get the participants building a rapport by starting a conversation with the person sitting next to them that has something to do with the course content. For example, in a leadership course, they could share one of their role models or a key aspect of leadership they want to develop.

Address Initial Commitment. Ask for a show of hands of those who have been forced, required, or otherwise coerced into attending this event by their superior. This often services to lessen the hostility and often raises a laugh.

Ask Four Powerful Questions. Ask participants to reflect on, answer, and share the following four powerful questions offered in Peter Block's book, Flawless Consulting Skills. Answering these questions causes people to consider their commitment and ownership of the event.

On a scale of 1-7, with 7 being the highest, answer the following questions.

  • How valuable do you plan this workshop to be?
  • How participative do you plan to be?
  • How much risk do you plan to take?
  • To what extent do you plan to be invested in the learning and well being of the whole group?

Add Your Comments


What do you do to effectively kick off your group events? Any ideas you'd like to add? Any of the above you plan to try? Just click on Add Your Comments to share your questions, feedback, or experience on this topic.

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