Facing Workshop Participants While Taking Notes or Mindmapping

As a leader of many workshops during each year, I am keenly interested in the human dynamics of the room. Those who ask me to come and run a workshop will usually find that I rearrange the room to my specification before starting, a process which can take up to 30 minutes (which is why I always arrive early). I want to create a particular ethos / feeling / sense in the room from the moment the delegates enter, and getting the tables and chairs set out just right is a big part of that signalling process for me. While I have a general blueprint of what I want in every room, since every room is different and there are different fixed constraints to work around in each room (e.g., size of the tables, structural poles in the middle of the room, location / position of the data projector), it is a process that has to be done every time I enter a new room. My standard pose at the start of rearranging a room is to stand quietly at the front with my hands on my hips and my eyes closed, so I can see the room as I want it to be done in my minds eye. Once I have an initial picture of this, I shift the tables and chairs to align with that. A few people have seen me go through this process three times in a room to get it right – shifting tables back and forth by a foot here and there to get it just right.

Once the room is set out the right way and the workshop starts, one of my ongoing challenges throughout the day is to have a way to listen deeply to what the workshop delegates are saying. I always carry two computers with me – one for projecting my slides, and one for taking notes on. I tell the delegates at the start of the workshop that when I ask a question of them and then type on my second computer, I’m not surfing the Web nor doing Facebook, I’m “listening through my fingers.” Doing it this way allows me to listen, allows me to see what they’ve said (text on the screen), and afterwards gives me something to share with everyone who came – the document I write during the day becomes one of the artifacts that people take away as a testimony to our collaborative efforts throughout the day. I wrote recently that I’m a “keyboard guy,” and one of the attributes of this is that I can touch type pretty well while looking at the speaker, capturing what they have said without looking at my keyboard or the screen. It’s a good party trick I guess, but I don’t deploy it as a party trick – it’s my way of listening and doing what I need to do during a workshop.

In some workshops I also have a whiteboard or flip chart available, and since mind mapping is a core part of my own work practices, it is something that I feel drawn to in workshops as well. However, the big problem I have with mind mapping on a whiteboard is that it means turning my back on the delegates. It isn’t a showstopper, but it is a human dynamic that I don’t particularly like; it feels wrong to turn away from the person speaking to you, even if as a result of that turning away you are externalizing their words and thoughts.

Trying to overcome the limitation of this practice while still being able to do mind mapping that people can see (on a large board or a large projected image) is one of the reasons I’m so interested in the Surface Pro 3;. And if paired with the newly announced but not yet available Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter, it holds the prospect of near perfection in workshop facilitation – being able to hold a lightweight device while facing the delegates, with the ability to draw a mind map on screen with a stylus, and the ability to display what you are mind mapping on a large monitor or projected screen. I haven’t spent my money on either of these two devices yet, but I’m looking … and contemplating whether the perception of near perfection would be borne out in reality. Of course, the only way to really tell is to buy and try, but I haven’t got to that point yet.

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